Why Did Latinos Vote?

Dec 302008

By Mario Cerna Palacios

On November 4th a new beginning in U.S. history was written. Latin America had a presence in this new start, though —it could be said— it came about without an invitation.

Almost 11 million voters of Hispanic origin showed up at the ballot (Latino participation increased almost 4 million compared to the 2004 election) without a formal invitation. Throughout the political campaign season, neither Democratic candidate Barack Obama nor his Republican counterpart John McCain elaborated widely about Latin America or issues facing the Latino community.

Regardless, Latino turnout was visible. Voters knew that a set of priorities filled the top lists of candidates, including the economic turmoil, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the oil crisis.

My first observation led me to confirm the sense of belonging that Hispanic communities express towards the U.S., which dissipated any resentment over the well-grounded obliviousness to Latino issues seen during the election campaign.

In addition, Latinos felt a sense of obligation to exercise the right to vote in the U.S. election and to do it responsibly, a feeling that is dying in Iberian-American countries.

Florinda Cáceres, a native from Honduras, exercised her right to vote for the first time (after 23 years of being in this country). She said: “I want to feel that I am part of this country… I don’t want to give up on my faith in this generous land”. She stated that she wouldn’t vote in Honduras, regardless of her right.

Florinda cleans houses and makes $70 per house. “I didn’t hear [the candidates] address the immigration reform issue… I heard talks on the economy and I hope for more houses to clean the next four years.” That is her only concern.

The hope for change and better days to come addressed by most Latinos during the elections led me to infer that most Hispanics went to the ballot with this promise in mind. Faith in the United States is endless.

In addition, the climate dominating this election -- from its very beginning -- brought along an unprecedented feeling of hope. Due to this characteristic, people did not want to be left out and Latinos were no exception.

They voted, I observed, to keep a sense of belonging to this nation, which can be compared to the feeling of a mother and child relationship, and were recognizing years, decades and even generations, of gratitude and hospitality. Therefore faith and hope for change in this country, to my joy, is something renewed in Latino communities and their US motherland.

The fact is that Latinos set a precedent in this election: they translated their numbers into votes (for the Democratic ticket), signaling that in this renewed path that the U.S. is on, the Hispanic voice can play a major role. Indeed, Latino voters understood the importance of being part of the political process, while the downside would have been to watch the political landscape from their TV sets.

The writer is an investigative journalist with El Heraldo in Honduras.