Voting Young, Voting Latino

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Whether Barack Obama or John McCain is inaugurated next year, the future leader will take over a dire situation. Specifically, a country where 6.1 percent of the population is unemployed, more than 4,170 soldiers have perished since the onset of the Iraq War in 2003, the average price of gasoline is $3.68, and $600 billion has been spent in tax dollars overseas, and an additional $700 billion has been invested in the United States banking system to sustain the economy.

Whoever takes over these ills has his work cut out for him, and it’s up to voters get the right person in office. The work of pollsters has become increasingly difficult as they attempt to estimate who will vote and how they’ll vote. A snap shot of those expected to vote in November captures newly naturalized citizens and young voters eligible to vote for the very first time. According to a recent survey conducted by AARP, a nonpartisan organization, 82 percent of the 600 Latino registered voters ages 18 and older surveyed said they “are almost certain to vote in the November 2008 presidential election.”

The turn-out for the 2008 Presidential election is dependent on the motivation of eager, educated, dedicated individuals campaigning on the streets, knocking on doors, calling their peers, and organizing in support of their candidate’s vision.

Youth appear to be more involved, concerned, and visible than in prior elections. Several factors have contributed to the growing interest of young and diversified voters, starting with access to information about the candidates and the unique candidate options.

“I believe in the core ideas of the Republican Party and in keeping what you earn and getting what you want,” said Preciado, who works conjunctively with his brother to promote the ideology of his party’s candidate by organizing viewing parties for presidential debates and starting a Republican group at school. “I felt alienated when I was 18 because all the information that was provided to Latinos was about Democrats and I felt like I had no other option, but to vote Democrat,” said Preciado.

Preciado and his parents, who migrated to the United States from Mexico, live about 20 miles south of Los Angeles, California in an area nicknamed, “Little Tijuana.” The issue of immigration is very private and familial to the Preciado family.

“I try to help my family members keep from being deported,” said Preciado, who supports Senator McCain because he is the only one who “distinguished rights for illegals and didn’t turn a blind eye to the issue.”

Zuraya Tapia, 27, the national coordinator for the non-profit group Latinos for Obama, is also promoting the upcoming election by training Latino organizers through the Casa Blanca Project and sending them back to their individual communities equipped with information and confidence.

“An organizer can commit to getting ten people and pulling together a phone bank,” said Tapia, who believes in the effectiveness of group activity and taking advantage of existing networks, such as a local chamber of commerce, bible study, or professional organization.

In New York, added Tapia, Latino volunteers have committed themselves to building a network and fundraising by arranging salsa competitions, and recruiting students.

Latinos are identifying with political affiliations based not only on the issues, but on the principles that have been instilled in them growing up Latino. “Young Latinos are in the mainstream and have grown up in a multicultural society with no preconceived notion of race and ethnicity,” said Tapia, who first became an Obama supporter because of his honesty.

Young Latinos are voting because they can and want others who have the privilege to follow in their lead. Culture plays a role in the judging process. Young Latinos have been taught to be proud of their traditions, many of which are connected to their respective religions. If a candidate takes a stance or circumvents the question of abortion, gay marriage, and deportation, it is noted by those whose lives are molded and shaped by such issues.

Ana Jimenez, 23, was raised Catholic and attended Catholic elementary school until her family could no longer afford it. She then enrolled in a public high school, where she became a volunteer at the League of Young Voters.

“I immediately saw the difference in administration and the lack of resources, so I joined a course that introduced us to the voting process and how we can get our issues addressed,” said Jimenez, who immediately made the connection between resources and keeping people in power. She is now a part of the San Francisco chapter of The Young Voters, which encourages youth to participate in the democratic process.

“I’m all about taking Bush out of office and letting young people know what issues on the ballot they can vote on,” declared Jimenez as she described the other crucial choices on the ballot in California, including banning abortion and gay marriages, denying bail for undocumented immigrants, regulating affordable housing opportunities and the reduction of revenue from property tax and home sales.

Jimenez and other volunteers use movie nights to compel and incite non-college youth and those from low-income or minority communities.

Jimenez also goes to schools to encourage other students like her to take a stance. Her strategy includes being prepared to communicate with existing social and cultural networks composed of unlikely voters, whether in person or on websites.

There are similarities in approach being embraced by both party supporters; technology has made information more accessible and interaction readily available. Organizing phone banks and online groups or creating websites and blogs are popular options, as well as online groups that encourage discussion and promote events. Campaign groups are tapping into these resources with the intent of making the Latino community aware of what is at stake in this election.

Tapia, Jimenez, and Preciado all agree that they will not support tokenism and vote for a candidate because they are black, a woman, or experienced. They are all focusing on each candidate’s words, actions and deeds, especially when regarding the issues of immigration, abortion, and even the cost of energy.

“Youth are supposed to be liberal, but that doesn’t mean I should be a Democrat,” said Preciado, noting the disparity between some members in his bible group who support gay marriages.

Jimenez isn’t looking at gender. “I don’t assume,” said Jimenez, who would love to see a woman in power, “a woman will relate to what I support.”

“Whoever is chosen as President must have a relevant path,” added Tapia, who feels that the topic of immigration is one of many that impact the lives of Latinos, and that alone should be reason enough to vote.