Dems must in­clude Latino voices, or lose their votes

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - OPINION - Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

In­cred­i­bly, His­pan­ics can si­mul­ta­ne­ously be the cen­ter of a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion, yet be vir­tu­ally ignored when it comes to dis­cussing im­mi­gra­tion as a fac­tor in the elec­tions.

With few ex­cep­tions, Latino jour­nal­ists, po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists, de­mog­ra­phers and im­mi­gra­tion ex­perts — were all but shut out of English-lan­guage elec­tion-night re­port­ing and anal­y­sis that, in many cases, fo­cused on the role im­mi­gra­tion and His­pan­ics played.

“How can we be 59 mil­lion Lati­nos in the U.S. and not be in­vited to the news desk? MSNBC had a Lat­inx re­porter from USA To­day — ONE. Shak­ing My Head,” tweeted Re­becca Aguilar, the founder of the Latina Jour­nal­ists Face­book group and di­ver­sity chair of the So­ci­ety of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists.

This is why I took to Twit­ter to ask Latino jour­nal­ists for the elec­tion-night in­sights the whole coun­try should have ben­e­fited from but didn’t.

Many of the re­sponses I re­ceived said that the dearth of Latino jour­nal­ists and pun­dits was es­pe­cially galling in light of this year’s big head­lines. “Lati­nos were sud­denly dis­ap­peared from elec­tion coverage de­spite Hur­ri­cane Maria, [the] Puerto Rico vote, Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­gra­tion, bor­der-se­cu­rity is­sues, can­di­date wins, etc.,” said Tanz­ina Vega, the host of WNYC’s “The Take­away.”

Jour­nal­ists on the ground were ea­ger to talk about de­lays, bro­ken ma­chines, re­jected bal­lots and poor cus­tomer ser­vice at the polls, misfires that were am­pli­fied by un­der­whelm­ing in­vest­ments in ba­sic Latino voter out­reach.

“We don’t have lead­ers in place that are mak­ing our votes im­por­tant. Here in Chicago, at my polling place, there was no Spanish trans­la­tor,” said Su­san Rivera, a free­lance writer at WGN-TV. “I had to help a Mex­i­can cou­ple in their 80s, two el­derly Puerto Ri­can women [and] an 18-year-old new ci­ti­zen vote. The 18-year-old I helped stood out the most ... she had ba­sic, fun­da­men­tal ques­tions about vot­ing. Who is reach­ing out to Lati­nos ahead of elec­tions?”

Not only did cam­paigns un­der­in­vest in help­ing new Latino vot­ers cast bal­lots, there were re­ports from all over the coun­try that or­ga­ni­za­tions pro­vid­ing in­ter­preters for lan­guages like Spanish, Man­darin, Can­tonese, Korean, Hindi and Ben­gali weren’t al­lowed to trans­late for the peo­ple they showed up to as­sist.

“The Demo­cratic Party has A LOT of work to do with Latino/a vot­ers. A LOT,” said Maria Hi­no­josa, pres­i­dent of the Fu­turo Me­dia Group and co-host of the “In The Thick” po­lit­i­cal pod­cast. “They could have de­liv­ered Beto [O’Rourke]/[Andrew] Gil­lum. And then the peren­nial ques­tion: Who are th­ese Repub­li­can Lat­inx vot­ers in Texas and Florida? What moves them? And if they vote Repub­li­can now un­der Trump, then, will they ever turn away?”

Suzanne Gam­boa of NBC News noted three de­tails that of­ten get over­looked: “Latino Tai­lored out­reach in Spanish and English has im­pact. There are still enough Lati­nos vot­ing Repub­li­can to help Repub­li­cans win in some places. [And] the ‘sub­ur­ban vote’ in­cludes Lati­nos.”

In­deed, most of the writ­ers that weighed in said some­thing along the lines of what free­lancer Clau­dia Gar­cia-Ro­jas shared: “Lat­inx peo­ple are treated as a mono­lith. There’s lit­tle to no re­port­ing, for ex­am­ple, on why such a big per­cent­age of Lat­inx peo­ple voted for GOP folks. The face of Lat­inx is­sues are Mex­i­cans, but even within the Mex­i­can di­as­pora, there are dif­fer­ing po­lit­i­cal views. Bet­ter re­port­ing by me­dia, please.”

Ques­tions about why so many Lati­nos vote Repub­li­can ref­er­enced Demo­cratic Rep. O’Rourke’s loss to in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas. But even though O’Rourke — who is not His­panic — lost the race, his Latino-cen­tric cam­paign sent a few clear mes­sages.

“A bilin­gual and bi­cul­tural An­glo was the ma­jor force be­hind driv­ing Texas His­panic turnout,” said Roque Planas, a na­tional im­mi­gra­tion and po­lit­i­cal re­porter for The Huff­in­g­ton Post. “Tar­get­ing a mes­sage to spe­cific Latino com­mu­ni­ties and stak­ing out clear po­si­tions on their is­sues is as im­por­tant — or maybe more so — than the eth­nic­ity of the can­di­date.”

Mul­ti­plat­form jour­nal­ist Matthew Re­ich, edi­tor of the “In Fo­cus: Amer­ica” news­let­ter, added, “I think it has to be un­der­stood a can­di­date needs an ‘over­all’ mes­sage for Lat­inx peo­ple beyond im­mi­gra­tion.” Jour­nal­ism stu­dent Luciano Gonzalez of the Univer­sity of North Carolina at Greens­boro added, “In many cases, it wasn’t the big me­dia at­ten­tion and celebrity en­dorse­ments that won the day for ei­ther party but solid ground game and or­ga­niz­ing.”

I’ll let Re­fin­ery29 re­porter Andrea Gonzalez-Ramírez close out with a thought on the op­por­tu­nity that last week’s elec­tions il­lu­mi­nated: “Women of color, in­clud­ing Lati­nas, are 10,000 per­cent electable. But there needs to be in­sti­tu­tional sup­port, both from Lat­inx and main­stream or­ga­ni­za­tions, in or­der to cre­ate a pipe­line for fu­ture can­di­dates.”

Es­ther Cepeda is syn­di­cated by the Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group. Her email ad­dress is es­ther­j­cepeda@wash­post.com.

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