Potential Latino Vote is Not One Giant Bloc
It’s a story that goes back years: If only Latinos would vote in big numbers, Texas might change from Rick Perry red to a game-changing blue.
But despite efforts from both political parties, polls show the so-called “sleeping giant” — the Latinos who make up 38 percent of the state population — remains asleep. Some say that the problem with outreach lies in oversimplifying a diverse demographic.
In a middle-class neighborhood in Southeast Austin, you can find Latino families living in house after cookie-cutter house. It’s a snapshot of the wide cultural, educational and political gaps in this giant voting bloc in Texas. Residents here are everything from Puerto Rican to Mexican-American. Natural-born citizens to undocumented immigrants. College degree holders to “No hablo ingles.” Their interest in who will be the next president also runs the gamut.
Joaquin Delgadillo, 21, became a U.S. citizen seven months ago and says that “they told me when I naturalized, that it was going to be my obligation to vote.”
Delgadillo works nights doing construction. He recently pressed the pause button on college. Amid concerns about how to keep paying for school, he says the last thing he thinks about is, Obama or Romney? Still, he says that if he does vote, he knows who it won’t be for:
“I know it’s not going to be Obama,” he said. “He hasn’t done what he said he was going to do, that’s why.”
Down the street, Mary Jane Torres is five generations removed from Mexico. She doesn’t speak a word of Spanish. She considers herself Latina. Torres has spent a lot of time on the phone recently with family and friends, reminding them to vote. She admits she’s losing the battle against voter apathy, even with her own husband.
“It’s not just that we have the right to vote, yes we have the right, but we have the responsibility to vote, to be counted,” Torres said.
Minutes later, her daughter and grandchildren burst into her home. At 27, Torres’ daughter Jessica Willis had never voted until she caught Obama fever in 2008. She’s still not over it.
“Oh yeah, Barack Obama 2012,” Willis said, laughing.
“It poses a lot of challenges when we talk about ‘the Latino vote,’” said Jason Casellas, an assistant professor of government at the University of Texas. “It’s easy to lump all Latinos in one category, but Latinos aren’t monolithic.”
Casellas says that in Texas, “Latino” usually refers to people of Mexican-American descent. But in fact, it crams more than 9 million people into a one-size-fits-all label.
“That’s why it’s important to think about this in a nuanced way when we’re talking about ‘the Latino community,’ as I call it, that it’s really several communities,” he said.
In what was seen as a bid to attract Latino voters, Democrats made San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro the first Latino keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention this month. But those kinds of efforts are lost on Yuri Rodriguez of South Austin.
“I don’t necessarily think it comes down to race,” Rodriguez said. “It was nice that he’s Hispanic, because it’s nice to see somebody of your own culture up there. But that doesn’t mean that I identify with him just because he’s Hispanic.”
And Casellas says if the “sleeping giant” ever does wake up, it isn’t clear whether Democrats can count on its ballots being blue.