If the presidential primaries are any indication, voter turnout on November 4 will be very heavy. Some electoral analysts believe this will be especially true in key ethnic communities, including among Latinos, who appear set to turn out in record numbers. At a recent Feet in Two Worlds town hall forum on “Deconstructing the Immigrant Vote,” political organizers and ethnic media journalists agreed that anger is among the most important factors motivating immigrant voters this year.
Journalist Pilar Marrero speaks at the forum on Deconstructing the Immigrant Vote at the New School. Josh Hoyt, Executive Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and journalist Aswini Anburajan were also on the panel.
“When an electorate gets angry they go out and vote,” said Feet in Two Worlds journalist Aswini Anburajan. “And it’s starting to mobilize people.”
According to Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric have been “the driving force” pushing a growing number of Latino immigrants to become naturalized citizens. “It’s out of anger, it’s out of fear, and it’s out of the sense that if they become a citizen and vote it’s an act of self defense,” he said.
Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of NALEO responds to a story by Pilar Marrero on Latino ‘s who are becoming citizens so they can vote in this year’s election.
Speaking to an audience at The New School, where the forum was held, Vargas said Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform is also motivating Latino voters. “We saw it in 2006 when millions of people took to the streets of America demanding … immigration reform.” Vargas noted that many of the protesters in ’06 were teenagers who have since reached voting age. “We have now a new generation of Latino youth who have reached the age of 18 in a very politicized environment where their consciousness has been raised,” Vargas said. “They told us two years ago, ‘Today we march, tomorrow we vote.’ Well, tomorrow has arrived.”
It’s not just Hispanics who may vote out of anger. Asian American outrage over a racially charged remark by U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia played a key role in his razor-thin loss to Democrat Jim Webb in 2006. Webb’s victory gave the Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 1994.
According to Anburajan, politicians in Virginia “had never considered the Asian population in that state before. And then a man named George Allen points to a kid at a campaign event and goes, ‘look at that Macaca.’ It was caught on You Tube, it became a huge campaign issue.”
The George Allen “Macaca” video.
The “kid” turned out to be a Webb campaign worker of Indian descent who videotaped Allen’s remarks. Within a month, Anburajan said, Asian Americans had raised half a million dollars for Webb’s campaign. In previous elections Asian voters in Virginia had split their votes between Democrats and Republicans, but in 2006 they overwhelmingly supported Webb, giving him the edge he needed to beat Allen.
Feet in Two Worlds journalist Aswini Anburajan at the New School on Sept. 25, 2008.
Will it happen again in the 2008 presidential election? Pilar Marrero, a journalist with La Opinion in Los Angeles, and a Feet in Two Worlds reporter, said anti-immigrant rhetoric–including comments by a number of Republican elected officials across the country–hits immigrants personally. “When you attack immigrants, sometimes people feel you are attacking all the people that look different, that come from a different ethnic background. Or you’re attacking my brother, or my cousin, or my neighbor.”
Marrero added, “Every election we hear the same thing, ‘oh Latinos are very important, they are going to elect the president.” But, she argued, that hasn’t happened in the past. With growing Latino anger over government immigration raids, the faltering economy, and the lack of immigration reform, Marrero said, “this time it might be true.”