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Court Hispanic Voters With Actions Issues Should Guide Voters, Not Nationality
Court Hispanic Voters With Actions
By ALEJANDRO GARCIA
October 8, 2002
Hispanics must not be swayed to support politicians only because these office-seekers speak a smattering of Spanish.
This year, Hispanic Heritage Month coincides with congressional and local election campaigns at their peak. Politicians nationwide are recognizing Hispanics' increasing political power and are attending Hispanic festivities.
The more than 35 million U.S. Hispanics are beginning to flex their collective political muscle. Politicians are polishing their Spanish to attract voters. However, it appears that this language fluency and affinity for Hispanics are forgotten as soon as the last vote is cast.
Hispanics should demand more than symbolic attention from politicians and be prepared to ask important questions about issues critical to their communities. For instance:
How will you ensure that the police and the courts protect Hispanics' constitutional rights?
How will you ensure that welfare-reform legislation offers adequate child-care and healthcare benefits as well as training and educational opportunities?
How will you ensure that the widespread discrimination that Hispanics face in housing and employment is eradicated and that current anti-discrimination laws are enforced?
How will you ensure that Social Security benefits are secure?
What will you do to improve the deteriorating schools and bilingual programs?
Where do you stand on a new amnesty program for people who have lived a long time in the United States? How will you ensure that the rights of illegal immigrants picked up by the Border Patrol are not violated?
Where do you stand on affirmative-action programs in education and employment?
How will you help Hispanic students to be admitted to institutions of higher learning so that they can compete well in this society?
Candidates for public office will receive the support of the Hispanic community only if they respond with actions that support Hispanics on these and other important issues.
If politicians are learning Spanish to communicate better with Hispanic constituents, then Hispanics should applaud them. But learning Spanish should be seen only as a beginning in the politicians' efforts to represent Hispanics in a way that promotes social and economic justice.
Alejandro García is a professor of social work at Syracuse University.
Issues Should Guide Voters, Not Nationality
October 16, 2002
The secret is out. For months, Spanish-language radio has been encouraging listeners to "vote for the Puerto Rican."
It's a not-too-subtle way to distinguish between the two Hispanic candidates running for House District 49, which covers parts of Orange and Osceola counties.
Republican candidate John P. Quiñones is Puerto Rican, and rival Democrat José Fernández was born in Nicaragua.
The campaign has come down to nationality because District 49 is heavily Hispanic as well as heavily Democratic. In order to get Hispanic Democrats to cross party lines, Republicans and many Quiñones backers, including Quiñones himself, are pitching the Puerto Rican angle.
The effort is crude, lacking in finesse. But it wouldn't be the first time nationality has played a role in an American political campaign.
Such campaigns irk me. First, it assumes that Puerto Ricans are dumb and cannot differentiate between one candidate and another based on substance. Second, it appeals to the most tribal instincts in people, instincts we all share. And third, the tactic signals that somebody, most likely Quiñones, has run out of ideas.
The strategy can backfire in a big way. If all voters were to think and act along these lines, then blacks should vote only for blacks, and non-Hispanic whites should vote only for non-Hispanic whites.
Under this scenario, minority candidates are the losers, because non-Hispanic white voters are the majority in every Central Florida legislative district, including District 49. No minority group in the region can elect a candidate on its own.
Voters may get a look at how this may pan out in Senate District 19, where Republican Anthony Suárez is running against Democrat incumbent Gary Siplin. Suárez cannot win without black and non-Hispanic white voters crossing ethnic and party lines.
It's understandable that Puerto Ricans, being the largest Hispanic group in Central Florida by a hefty margin, want to see a reflection of themselves in Tallahassee. Many think a Puerto Rican senator or representative would fill a political void.
This thinking is not new. It represents the first phase of political empowerment, but it's a long way from political maturity.
For example, Cubans in South Florida became politically empowered in the 1980s but haven't reached political maturity -- the point when candidates are judged on the issues. A well-known saying in that community is "Cubans vote Cuban."
We saw a good example of this when Maurico Ferré, the former Puerto Rican mayor of Miami, ran for mayor this year against Manny Díaz, who is Cuban. The Cuban won.
Another example includes black voters, who last year didn't support a Mexican-American for mayor of Los Angeles, and this year didn't back a Cuban for mayor of Houston.
What motivates voters is a mystery. Maybe it's the issues, or maybe it's something else. Still, voters should demand that political campaigns focus on issues. Otherwise, you're not being respected, and you don't know what you may get.
Now that nationality is out of the bag, the Nov. 5 elections will reveal how effective -- or destructive -- it is to the political aspirations of the Puerto Rican community.