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Puerto Ricans Must Embrace Voting

By Natalia Muñoz

July 28, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE REPUBLICAN. All rights reserved.

It's a contract, it's a clamor, it's a bargaining chip. It's a vote and the Puerto Rican community here is in dire need of its powers of persuasion.

Mari Carmen Aponte, executive director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, was in town recently to exhort area Puerto Rican leaders to gather voters for the upcoming election. Her office is spearheading a national voter registration campaign to get Puerto Ricans to participate in this democracy.

Her message: Vote! Que nada nos detenga! Let nothing stop us!

Of the estimated four million Puerto Ricans in the U.S., about 640,000 are eligible to vote, according to her office.

Since 2002 and with a $12 million budget, the Puerto Rico federal office has registered 240,000 stateside islanders in 31 cities.

If they actually vote on Nov. 2, that'll make the difference in the presidential election that everyone says Latinos are positioned to make this year. It will also make a difference in the daily lives of Puerto Ricans.

The federal affairs office set a goal to register 300,000 Puerto Ricans. But registration is not enough.

"With each ballot cast our voice gets louder," Aponte said. "Our community gets the attention it deserves."

But that attention is still far off, judging by the scene at the Hispanic Family Festival in Holyoke earlier this month.

U.S. Rep. John Olver, D-Amherst, and Holyoke Mayor Michael J. Sullivan led the parade down High Street to City Hall. It appeared that many people did not know who they were or if they did, only vaguely.

That's too bad. And sad. Puerto Ricans in the States do not vote in droves the way they do on the island.

Here they don't know the issues or the people. They don't have the phone trees that get instantly activated whenever a politician does or says something off the mark. Here, Puerto Ricans just endure and talk about it among themselves and not at the polling stations.

Reasons? Some say language is a factor. Some say it's because here, there's an election for every little thing in the world, from school committee elections to tax overrides - that it's confusing.

But nothing should be confusing about a right more than half the world hungers for. There's a vote, so go out and get informed about it. Read the papers. Tune into the radio, watch television news. Ask around. Sign up a relative for an English class if language is a barrier.

We all want the same things: health, a good home, good schools, job opportunities, some spending money.

Aponte's message is clear: If you have a complaint; if you think something is unfair; if you've been treated wrongly; if your children need better schools; if your family needs better health care; and a thousand other ifs, then register to vote - and then vote.

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