2012 could be the actual beginning of the long expected Latino political awakening. Why? Perhaps sheer numbers, the reaction to the dire economic costs the community has endured, the evaporation of Latino family wealth in the housing bubble and great Mortgage scams, high unemployment and under-employment, continuously high drop out rates for high school completion of any ethnic group, the appallingly high prison population, and an alarming obesity and diabetes problem that plagues the community. All of these issues are maddening and worthy of action. Simply stated, the Latino community writ large is in crisis.
This crisis is further exacerbated by the anti-immigrant (now largely anti-Latino) social and political movement emerging throughout the country with such mean-spirited fury in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina and many other locales signals a most distressing phenomena. The continued aggressive deportations have helped portray Latinos as a marginalized class of dark, uneducated, criminally menacing and generally undesirable people. Our discouraging lack of unity or even outrage is sadly absent amongst our fellow Hispanics. This general lack of passion suggests that a boiling point has not been reached. Hence, to expect an out-pouring of angry or concerned Latino citizenry at the polls is not in the cards.
This lack of cohesiveness readily explains President Obama’s tepid leadership on Latino issues. At times, the Democrats smack of a craven or pusillanimous approach. For instance, the Congressional Democrats, more specifically those in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, have been reluctant to challenge the President on his record deportations that have separated American born children from their parents and have occasionally caught US citizens in the ICE dragnet. As for the GOP, it manifests irrational derailment (crack up) or plain madness. An example of this is how many Republicans refuse to address the immigration problem humanely, while ratcheting up the heated rhetoric that many Latinos find offensive. Additionally, the Republican approach to Latin American foreign policy is irrational, as evidenced by the recent failure to confirm Ambassador Aponte and the continued linking of Hugo Chavez to Iran. Neither party appears to feel the need to cater or attend to our disturbing issues. It is as if our 50 million + population does not matter and may be satisfied with only a handful of swing states: Florida the biggest prize, which empowers the Cuban Americans out of proportion and the smaller states like New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada give the Hispanics some electoral heft. Overall, the Latino vote in electoral terms is largely viewed as those reduced groups of prosperous or “assimilated” Hispanics.
Leadership is another conundrum. Who and where are the leaders the community sees as following them into a foxhole in the endeavor to improve the general welfare? The current GOP primary debate is at best disquieting. It feels like Latino immigrants are readily tossed together with terrorists, Islamic extremists, drug cartel minions, and folks who are stealing America’s jobs. Being the national scapegoats begins to describe us in these difficult times. Yet, we can publish success stories of our 100 most influential Latinos because they are real. But is this the real pulse of our overall condition? We certainly should extol and applaud our achievements but never forget our less fortunate.
Perhaps 2012 will be the beginning of a more complete discussion of the Latino community. It is indeed merited in the 2012 electoral discourse. However, if one waits for our current national political leadership or presidential pretenders to address the Latino agenda, the betting is it is going to be plainly unsatisfactory. The new year could still bring a dramatic change in the effect Latinos have on the national scene. The most probable scenario for the Latino community is that if they do turn out in historic numbers is: they will be divided….neither party will be able to claim with certainty that the Latino vote is wholly theirs. If that is the case then Latinos could be up for grabs every national election thus becoming a significant swing vote.