Election 2012: Latino Voters Are The (In)Visible Political Giants

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About one year ago, I was advocating for more mainstream news coverage of the Latino vote. The 2010 U.S. Census confirmed what most of us who are Hispanic knew: our population had grown to 50 million or 16 percent of the general population and is expected to increase to 25 percent by 2050. Unless you turned on Univision or Telemundo, you would have no clue that this growth is changing the face of our communities and schools and that our one trillion dollar buying power is transforming business.

One Washington, DC political correspondent, who is a household name, said the Latino vote will not be covered because no candidate will touch immigration with a ten-foot pool.

Now I can’t emphasize enough that this assumption is so many types of wrong: that in poll after poll, Hispanic voters care more about jobs, the economy, health care, and education than immigration. But it does matter and is a hot button issue for many who feel antagonized by the anti-illegal immigrant sentiment that turned, in some cases, anti-Latino during the Republican primaries, and as tough immigration laws like that of Arizona and Alabama wind their ways through state legislatures and courthouses.

Then events within a short period in June changed the game: first, President Obama announced that the deportation of DREAMers would be put on hold. Second, both the President and likely challenger Mitt Romney spoke at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials annual convention. Finally, the Supreme Court struck down two parts of Arizona’s tough anti-illegal immigration law but kept in place the so-called “show me your papers” controversial provision.

Everywhere you turned, Latinos were in the house. Even DC must-read Politico devoted a good part of its website to covering every angle of this emerging voting bloc and its impact on the presidential campaigns, prompting me to tweet: “@politico @mikeallen I'm adding the accent 2 Político. Nice 2 see so many #Latino issues on top pub homepage--#immigration +#economy #jobs.”

Am I happy? No and not because I’m hard to please. Unfortunately, we are largely being talked about, with only a handful of Latinos such as Maria Teresa Kumar who regularly appears on MSNBC or Maria Cardona on CNN, plus a few other elected leaders and policy analysts, giving insight. I mainly hear, read and see the usual suspects like the previously mentioned DC correspondent reporting about Hispanics but not having the depth or context to explain what this news actually means (an excellent study and infographic by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts explains the “brown-out” or lack of Latinos on Sunday morning public affairs shows, which each week frame the political debate).

All of a sudden, the “sleeping giant” (as Latino voters have been called) is visible because of the news, but invisible because in the mainstream, Hispanics aren’t regularly contributing to this national conversation.

This has to change because we are living a unique opportunity where our community has reached a critical mass: we are U.S. born and English-dominant. That’s power if we engage, if we become informed and involved, if we show up equally to PTA meetings as to November’s presidential election. It’s an opportunity to not be defined by others, but to define ourselves as a voting bloc and as an integral part of our country.

Let’s put our numbers to good use: if we start asking questions, if we speak up, if we participate, if we demand, people in power – whether they are politicians or network execs – will listen.

With so many of us engaged, they won’t have a choice. 

Tell Us: Are you seeing more Latinos in politics and media, suggesting a change?

Viviana Hurtado, blogger-in-chief at The Wise Latina Club, is a Washington, DC-based Latina politics columnist. Read more of Viviana's political posts here.

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