After I received my very first “I voted today” sticker, I felt that I didn’t quite grasp the concept of politics and I never understood why people felt so passionately about it.
As I’ve grown in my academic career and become more aware about the world around me, I’ve realized how important one vote can be to the future of the entire country. This year, the campaigns for possible presidential candidates have pushed for the support of the Latino community – but who exactly are they targeting?
Now that I am more appealing as a Latina voter, I feel even more uncertain about my choices for the election.
Entering into a world of professionals and academics, I wanted to explore why my vote matters in the first place.
To make more sense of my thoughts on the upcoming election, I decided to speak to a professional Latina, UCLA’s Chicano Literature professor Marissa López, about her outlook on the upcoming election.
One issue that we both agreed has gotten much attention and needs to be addressed is immigration.
“I feel that the Republican Party has the power to drive immigration policy into a very ugly place, and for me that is my primary concern,” she said.
This is a common issue amongst Latinos, especially with the implementation of the DREAM Act and initiatives that are meant to help immigrants. However, it seems that these issues cannot be conquered simply by one president. Professor López elaborated on why she felt immigration issues have not been resolved in the Obama administration.
“I feel that the president is a figure-head who cannot necessarily do that much on his own. Obama, whom we thought would be good for immigration, actually turned the tide on immigration policies since the Bush administration, and as a result deportation has actually increased,” she said.
Her comment resonated with me because I also believe that immigration is an extremely large issue for the United States and it has been a difficult obstacle to tackle. I know that in my family, immigrating to the United States was the only option for a better life – which I still believe holds true today. That is why I believe people should not be refused the right to come to a country with better opportunities for their future.
However, I feel that because candidates are seeking the Latino Vote, their campaigns are catering to Latino issues only as a means to an end: to be the next President of the United States.
But do any of the candidates truly appear to be fighting for immigrants? Or are they blatantly using them as tools for their own personal gain?
“Well, the honest answer is that Latinos are instrumentalized in politics, but will hopefully become a big enough economic and tax-base that people will have to pay attention. I can’t really see how any of the things I am concerned about are being addressed. However, there has been a little bit of movement on the Federal DREAM Act,” said Professor López.
Although voters are targeted and used as tools for votes – there is also a great sense of voter apathy. Most of the time, I feel as though people are checking off a bunch of boxes for people and things that they have never even heard of.
Voter ignorance is what concerns me most. I felt this way when I first turned 18, and I feel this way now going into the next election because I want to be knowledgeable about ALL of things I vote for. However, Professor López had a very different opinion about the first time she voted and the way she feels about it now.
“I used to follow presidential politics very closely, but after years of doing that, I am more convinced that it’s a show. It’s hard for me to follow presidential politics in the way that people do. It feels like reality TV, it is reality TV – it’s even packaged that way,” she said.
As far as televised debates are concerned, I can’t say I enjoy them much because it always seems to amount to bickering and disagreement. Because the debates are so sensationalized, it has made them more popular because they appeal to the emotions of the audience, ultimately entertaining them.
“I may say that I’ve become more jaded about politics, but at the same time that is our governing system. And Cesar Chavez said ‘We don’t need perfect political systems, we need perfect participation.’ I believe this to be true. I will vote like I’ve done every year. We have a participatory government even if it doesn’t work out the way we want it to; it’s really about individual choice. People are always smarter than the ‘media’ gives them credit for,” said Professor López.
I agree with Professor López that voting is vital to our government, and that it is the participants that make a difference in the future of this nation. But at the same time, I want to make sure that I don’t get caught up in the sensationalism of the media that will reduce me to simply a pawn in the game of politics.
I know that my vote is important and I want to be counted. But, I know that if I don’t ask the right questions, or worse, let someone make the decisions for me – I will be just as bad as the apathetic voter. The only question I am left with is – who will convince me that they’re worth my vote?
Karla: “Ugh! I hate these ads! Why do they waste my time?”
Me: “Well, it is that time of the year, election season.”
Karla: “Yeah, that is a waste of my time too.”
That was a conversation my roommate and I had one night while watching television. The extent of our conversation was short, yet it was enough to get me wondering: what did Karla mean when she said that elections were a “waste” of her time? Weren’t the aim of election ads to motivate viewers to vote in the upcoming elections rather than make a person change the channel in disgust?
When first starting this article, I wanted to gather a detailed consensus on the Latina/o student vote, who was going to vote for which candidate and why? But instead of answers in favor of the Democratic or Republican candidate, I received a lot of shrugs and head shakes accompanied with “I don’t know” and “I don’t plan on voting.”
My roommate is not the only UCLA student who I know who has expressed apathy in regard to the upcoming 2012 presidential election. As a Chicana/o Studies major, I am constantly in conversation with students who have well-established opinions on political and social issues such as immigration reform and international relations with Mexico.
But the prospect of voting in November? Forget it. A lot of students, even beyond the Chicana/o Studies department, are showing severe signs of apathy when it comes to engaging in the upcoming election and choosing to vote.
Miguel Murillo, a third-year transfer Chicana/o Studies and Women’s Studies double-major, is unable to vote due to his legal permanent resident status. Despite this, he makes an effort to stay informed on mainstream politics and the upcoming election, though he’s observed that fellow Bruins seem less interested. “I think majority of professors try to stress the importance of politics, voting, and the upcoming election but I’ve heard a lot of students use the excuse that they are too busy with school to stay informed,” stated Miguel. “Also, not seeing real, tangible change in society has discouraged students.”
That is not to say that every student holds no interest in politics. I attended the Janet Napolitano protest at UCLA earlier in the quarter. The group of supporters consisted of members from various organizations based on campus and in the greater LA community. Majority of students were not open to discuss the election at the event, which is understandable, considering we were there for a specific reason. Yet, if a political rally is not the place to discuss the upcoming election, then where can I find other UCLA students willing to talk about it?
“UCLA is a reflection of what we can see happening in Latino communities across the nation. People have jobs, financial worries, familial responsibilities, community activities, and just generally struggle to survive. So it may be hard to stay on top of political news,” said Pepe Aguilar-Hernandez, a Chicana/o Studies TA and PhD graduate student. “The biggest group of students I saw politicize the campus during the 2008 presidential election was UCLA IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success). Even though undocumented students are unable to vote, they tend to stress the importance of voting to those that can. Hopefully there can be the same movement of Latino student voters centered on voting as an act of solidarity to their communities.”
If daily obligations and a sense of disappointment about Obama’s first term are discouraging Latino students to vote en masse, how can they make their opinions effective in mainstream politics? “The important thing to realize is that there are other means of political mobilization. Students may choose to work in non-profit organizations, produce political commentary via the arts, film, and education trajectories,” stated Aguilar-Hernandez. “There are different ways to create political change within the community instead of voting and students are creatively seeking them out.”
There are several factors to consider to why there is an atmosphere of apathy amongst Latino student voters. Students might be intentionally isolating themselves from mainstream politics because they feel discouraged. Or students might have a hectic school, work, and life schedule that does not allow time to catch up with election news. Whatever the reason, the Latina/o student on campus needs to make an effort to exercise the citizen right to vote because the reason of “I don’t have time for politics” is not good enough.
The clip starts off with a boy waking up to his alarm and getting ready for work while listening to the television news’ warnings about excessive air pollution. As he exits his home, he is robbed at gunpoint and the thieves run away. The thieves encounter a police officer who takes their stolen materials and dismisses them.
The video continues, portraying many of Mexico’s problems such as public unrest, authority abuse, corruption, and criminality. A young girl ends the video with an explicit statement that demands the candidates for a true transformation of the country and dismisses previous superficial changes.
The American citizens demanded change and then presidential candidate Barack Obama promised to make that change. Now in Mexico, the insurance company Grupo Nacional Provincial (GNP) took the initiative of empowering Mexican citizens to demand change. GNP helped citizens voice their demands to the candidates of the 2012 elections through a short video.
The GNP launched a campaign titled “Mexico del futuro” where they had interviewers ask people on the streets what specific changes they wanted to see in Mexico. Some of the people’s responses were: safer streets, less delinquency, less violence, no corruption, and cleaner air. All responses were recorded and revised in a three-minute film acted out by children. This piece is titled “Niños incomodos exigen a candidatos.”
People deal daily with the criminality in Mexico. Liliana Salinas, 31-year old homemaker in Guadalajara, Jalisco, recounted her experience of being held at gunpoint, “He sentido lo amargo de tener una pistola en la cabeza amenazando mi vida.”
Liliana, like many other citizens, have experienced threats to their life. Citizens demand a change and have different perspectives of what will bring it. Recent graduate from la Universidad de Guadalajara Addilene Hernández said, “Se necesitan cambios inmediatos y como prioridad la educación ya que considero es la base para evitar la delincuencia, esto fomentando valores y promoviendo mejores vidas con conocimiento y así aspirar a una buena economía.”
Although the video is very impactful, there has been much controversy around it due to the people behind the campaign, who are rich businessmen. Alberto Bailleres is the owner of GNP, the company behind the “Mexico del futuro” campaign, and also the second richest man in Latin America.
Gemma Gonzalez, 26-year old resident in Mexico city, does not care where the video came from, “Me parece muy bueno que alguien con la posibilidad económica gaste un poco de su riqueza para compartir un mensaje y hacer conciencia para la gente que la ha perdido. Ojala muchos pensaran como él y empezaran a hacer cosas así por el país donde vivimos.”
Román Luján, Spanish professor at the UCLA and Mexican citizen, said, “El mensaje está allí, es cierto, existe esta violencia, corrupción, es como funciona el país. I want my country to succeed, that’s why I am critical of it.”
This video also caught the candidates’ attention and all agree with the message. Candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador from Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD), assures that he will change all those issues.
Candidate Josefina Vasquez Mota from the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN) stated through Twitter that the message of the video has not gone unseen and she will meet with the organization behind the campaign to discuss Mexico’s issues. Candidate Enrique Peña Nieto from the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) also tweeted his support for the video and affirmed that he hears the same message from the citizens during his campaign tours: “Time has run out” for superficial candidates and apathetic citizens. Peña Nieto states that it’s time to renew hope and to change Mexico.
No matter who is funding this campaign, the message it conveys is a reality. Mexico is infested with violence and corruption and it is in vital need of change. Like professor Luján reflects, “Mexico está infestado de corrupción, vacunarlo no, hay que cortar pedazos enteros de la estructura official.”
What are your opinions about Mexico’s upcoming election?
Unless we are avid followers of newspaper, television, talk radio, or any other mode of information regarding politics today, then it is unlikely that we will be adequately informed for the upcoming November election.
The event “Latinos DO vote” which took place in April at Placita Olvera–a village known as the birthplace of the city of Los Angeles and replete with historical buildings, souvenirs, food, and music that reflect the Angelinos’ Mexican culture–attempted to remedy just that. At the front of a long line of avid listeners and fans waiting to greet him was Fernando Espuelas, host and managing editor for “The Fernando Espuelas Show” on the Univision Radio Network- where he encourages Latinos to be informed citizens, documented or not. Espuelas and his group of staff and volunteers, along with the League of Women Voters, were present at the event, informing and registering voters.
When asked how he would account for low voter turnout or apathy among Latinos come election time, Espuelas explained, “Some of us have relegated politics to the background of life’s concerns. Many of us come from countries – or our parents did – that have failed at democracy. Voting in many of these nations has literally been a futile exercise in most occasions. It is no wonder that there are many people that don’t believe that their vote counts, that it is valuable, that it is critical for the success of our democracy.”
A majority of the Latinos here in the US are undocumented, which means they are not able to cast a ballot, but Espuelas believes that even they can have an impact in politics regardless of their immigration status.
“They should connect with American citizens that can vote. They should share with them their knowledge of what is at play in the elections, which candidates have which positions, and advocate for the best possible candidate.”
In a sense, Latinos who are not able to vote can become the lobbyists and advocates for policies they wish to see implemented in government–by speaking with those who are able to vote.
At the opposite end of the voting spectrum are college students. Because they are pursuing higher education, they are expected to be informed citizens and vote. However, they do not vote in great enough numbers. Espuelas believes that “education is critical. But no education or number of internships can compensate for a rotten political system or a political leader lacking the right vision to build a brighter future for the American people.”
Every Latino can impact the elections in some way and become informed about political issues that affect their communities. For college students, an eight-page paper or midterm might seem more immediate and for a struggling Latino family, the main concern might be making enough money to put that same student through college while also supporting a family. However, if neither one bothers to play some kind of role, then the Latino voting population is sending a message that they do not care to affect change in government. Failing to vote gives free reign for others to make decisions for them–and if one does not vote, then one cannot complain about these policies.
Voting strategically can bring greater strength to the Latino voting bloc, and can and will garner political power behind the issues Latinos wish to see at the forefront of decision making, for example, that of immigration reform. But all this can only happen with the vote, which starts with an informed populace.
Will you vote?
Despite arriving in the States as a single parent with only two dollars to her name,unable to speak a word of English, and without papers, Eusebio Preciado’s mother worked three jobs to support her family. Although she was ineligible for welfare, according to Eusebio she wouldn’t have accepted it anyway, adamantly having believed it to be akin to stealing. Eusebio takes his mother’s narrative as proof that welfare is an unnecessary burden on society as a whole and a hindrance to individual prosperity.
Amidst the crowds of curious students and die-hard supporters at last month’s Ron Paul rally, stood Eusebio, calling out to passersby as he fervently endeavored to spread Paul’s political vision to the masses. An active volunteer for the Ron Paul campaign, he commits most of his free time to advocacy work in his local area and making phone calls on behalf of Paul’s campaign. Firmly believing that direct democracy and self-determination for the Latino community will never come about through the efforts of either major American political party, 40-year-old Eusebio Preciado has been a devoted Ron Paul supporter ever since the unorthodox conservative politician’s first bid for the presidency back in 2008.
One of Paul’s initiatives that resonates with Eusebio is the elimination of the social safety net, or welfare. Critical of the “food stamp trap,” he believes these types of relief policies impinge upon the freedom and empowerment of the Latino community, “People end up being in the system for the rest of their lives.”
In Eusebio’s model of Latino empowerment, success and prosperity come from “relying on yourself, your neighbors, and your community.” Central to his political philosophy is the notion that as the common people, “We have forgotten the power we have. We are the power.”
As a dual Mexican-U.S citizen who has often traveled back and forth between the two countries, Eusebio has an intimate understanding of the immigration issue. In fact, for Eusebio it is a “non-issue” since immigrants are no longer coming because of the economy.
“Immigration is not a problem. Whenever we have a good economy, we want immigrants. We need immigrants whether illegal or not for the benefit of America. [But] people have been lied to by the politicians. They always blame the immigrants. Immigration is the boogeyman,” said Eusebio.
Eusebio believes the sole motivation for immigrants to come to the states is simply the drive to work but “Americans seem to believe that everybody is coming over here for free crap. It’s for the opportunities.” According to Eusebio, the same exact welfare system exists in Mexico, “[But] over there it’s a stigma [food stamps and medicare]. People don’t look down on you for being poor, they look down on you for not being able to take care of yourself.”
Considering the Dream Act, Eusebio said, “People who want legal status should do something for it. I think that should be enough that should be their reward as long as they give back to society.”
Although the majority of the Latino community believes that the Democratic Party is more concerned with its interests than the GOP, for Eusebio Preciado, there is no major difference between both parties.
“The same bankers that supported Obama are supporting Romney,” said Eusebio, reflecting on the upcoming presidential election. While Eusebio viewed the beginning of Obama’s presidency as satisfactory, he became disillusioned by his failure “to keep campaign promises,” referring to the prolonged withdrawal of troops from the Middle-East as one of his primary criticisms.
With the upcoming election, Eusebio continues to labor under the Ron Paul campaign, hoping to take American politics and the Latino community in an uncharted direction.
What is your political point of view?
Peruvians in Los Angeles and surrounding areas headed to the General Consulate of Peru to vote for an important referendum that affects millions of Peruvians. Surprisingly, when they arrived to cast their votes, no one was there.
It was 10:30 a.m. and the doors to the 3450 Wilshire building in Los Angeles were closed. A sign on the door read that voters must head to another location in Hollywood. The Los Angeles office currently represents Peruvians as far as San Francisco, San Diego and even Arizona, hence frustrating many who drove long distances.
Complying with their civic duties of compulsory voting, 150 Peruvians arrived at the Hollywood building.
But none of the assigned volunteers showed up.
“Many people were shouting and expressing negative reactions,” said Alhambra resident Maria de Asin, one of many Peruvians hoping to vote.
Peruvians were scheduled to vote that day for various important issues such as regional elections and a measure which would return money to a large number of people who paid taxes for housing projects but never got their fair share when the project collapsed in 1998. The elections for mayor were particularly important since it resulted in Lima’s first female mayor.
Peruvians were met by Gabriel Pacheco, the Deputy Consul General of Peru. According to those who were present, Pacheco stated that none of the volunteers decided to come, so they were forced to shut down the building. Many determined voters advised Pacheco to select new volunteers so they can proceed, but he declined.
“This is not fair. Our rights as citizens have been violated by the lack of organization and care by the administration in Los Angeles,” said Luis Yunis, who initiated a sign-in sheet for the frustrated voters to document who was there. Pacheco refused to sign it, stating that he was no “superstar.”
Pacheco said he needed to follow the protocol of La Oficina Nacional de Procesos Electorales, which states that if no volunteers show up by noon, they must close the tables and no one can vote. He noted that it was the responsibility of Peruvian citizens to help this event work and they did not collaborate.
“If we were in Peru we would use public force to obtain new voluntaries, but here in Los Angeles we do not have that, so there is no way to enforce people to be volunteers,” said Pacheco.
The day ended with security guards escorting Peruvians out of the building.
“It was heartbreaking to see our fellow Peruvians being turned away from one of the most basic rights that we have as citizens of our country: the right to vote,” said Peruvian citizen and Los Angeles resident Veronica Ponce de Leon as she exited the premises.