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Martinez Urges Hispanics To Get Involved in Politics… Spanish Common In U.S. Congress

Martinez Urges Hispanics To Get Involved in Politics

Hispanic Summit was the first regional gathering of its kind in Orlando.


March 6, 2005
Copyright © 2005 THE LEDGER. All rights reserved.

ORLANDO -- U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez urged Hispanics to unite and become politically involved at the historic Hispanic Summit on Friday.

His comments as a keynote speaker at the first-time regional gathering in Orlando responded to recent studies concerning Hispanics in Central Florida.

The studies examined Hispanics' regional economic impact and political perceptions.

"The bottom line is it's a terrific opportunity for us to be a vibrant community of the 21st century," Martinez told the crowd of more than 500 government, business and community leaders serving the Hispanic community in Central Florida.

In only 10 years, the Hispanic population of Central Florida has increased by 175 percent, according to "Hispanic Communities of Central Florida: Economic Contributions to the Region" -- a study prepared by Fishkind & Associates Inc.

Statewide, the Hispanic population grew 70.4 percent in the 1990s -- from 1.6 million in 1990 to 2.7 million in 2000.

Hispanics also contribute more than $6.9 billion in spending to the region.

Martinez said Hispanic faces were rare and Hispanic businesses unheard of during his youth in Orlando.

He emigrated from Cuba as a teenager in 1962 as part of an airlift of children known as Operation Pedro Pan.

"To find a Hispanic business, we had to go to a small converted gas station on Washington Street (in Orlando)," Martinez said.

Now the Orlando area boasts about 130 Hispanic-owned-andoperated private businesses.

Polk County was not included in the study.

Hispanic personal income is also rising and with it Hispanic spending power.

One of the studies found that Hispanic communities in Central Florida contribute more than $6.9 billion to the region.

By 2007, that number is expected to increase to more than $8.2 billion, according to the study.

The growth in population and economic power is followed by political involvement.

Another study said 57 percent of Hispanics in the region voted in the 2002 election.

That's less than the 65 percent vote from the rest of the population.

For Martinez, the degree of political involvement isn't enough.

"Every one of you needs to be involved in the process," Martinez said to a full ballroom of listeners. "If you are heard, if you are part of the process -- you are important. If you set yourself apart, you are easily ignored, he said."

Spanish Common In US Congress

July 17, 2005
Copyright © 2005 NEWS24.COM. All rights reserved.

Washington - It has not yet replaced English, but increasingly, Spanish is becoming a requirement to work in the halls and make laws on the floor of the US congress.

With a few prominent senators daring to address their colleagues in Spanish, others taking Spanish lessons, and many more legislators adding Spanish speakers to their communications teams, the language spoken by the largest minority group in the United States has a solid foothold in the halls of power here.

Spanish has become so important that the Republican leader in the senate, Bill Frist, who has presidential aspirations, began studying Spanish and dared to record in Spanish a political statement on the contentious Central America Free Trade Agreement (Cafta), in his unmistakable Tennessee accent.

"Many politicians are studying Spanish. It is a phenomenon that reflects the demographic, cultural and political reality of the country," said Michael Shifter of Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based research institute.

"The trend of speaking Spanish will increase over the next few years," not only inside Congress but also in public, Shifter said.

Shifter jokes that "Soon no one will speak English in Congress."

But no one jokes about accommodating the increasing political weight of US Latinos, whose votes have become a key to political success in recent years.

The spread of Spanish inside the buildings of congress has been going on for five or six years, said Fabiola Rodriguez, director for Spanish media in the office of senate minority leader Harry Reid.

Rodriguez, whose post was created at the beginning of this year, said the embrace of Spanish follows the sharp growth of the US Latino population and of Spanish-language media. Spanish language newspapers have tripled their circulation since 1990, she noted.

"The politicians have come to understand that there is a void, and that they have to give information in the preferred idiom of many Hispanics," said Rodriguez.

Alejandro Burgos, who has been responsible for Spanish language communications for the Republican Party for just over a year, said "the future of our party depends in a great part on our skill in attracting more Hispanics."

Latino support was important to the success of President George W Bush in the 2004 election, Burgos said. Bush received between 35% and 45% of the Hispanic vote, and Burgos does not conceal his determination to increase that share.

"We aim to expand the audience receiving our Republican message, with the goal of increasing our support" among Hispanics, Burgos said.

Like Frist, a number of legislators like Democrats Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have hired bilingual communications assistants, producing more official communications in Spanish and holding bilingual press conferences inside congress.

Spanish has made its way onto the floors of the senate and house of representatives, where the many elected Latinos speak among themselves in their original language.

More boldly, in February, Florida Republican Mel Martinez spoke on the Senate floor in Spanish to support the candidacy of Alberto Gonzalez as US attorney general.

And more recently, Colorado Democrat Ken Salazar used Spanish to justify his opposition to Cafta

"I like to speak Spanish," Salazar explained, saying he is proud of the language of his ancestors. Shrugging off the public criticisms Martinez reaped for not limiting his speeches to English, Salazar said he was determined to continue Spanish oration.

"Up until now I have not been told to shut my mouth," he said.

"They can't tell me not to speak for at least five and a half years," referring to the next election for his seat. "I can say anything that I want to, in the language I want to," he said.

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