Work begins to awaken ‘the sleeping giant’: Hispanic voters

All data provided by The Pew Research Center. Compiled by Stefani Quihuis.
All data provided by The Pew Research Center. Compiled by Stefani Quihuis.

Eduardo Sainz calls himself a “Son of SB1070.”

He says the fear he saw in his community and family over possible changes in public policy, including Arizona’s 2010 anti-illegal immigration measure, inspired him to get involved in politics a few years ago.

His commitment comes at a time when the numbers of potential Hispanic voters are climbing, but concerns continue about whether this traditionally low-voting demographic will show up on Election Day.

He joined the national nonprofit organization Mi Familia Vota as a volunteer in 2013, and now is the program coordinator for Southern Arizona.

“I remember when I first started working here I was flipping through a magazine and the statistics called our people the sleeping giants, having so much power but just simply not using it. Ever since I read that, I knew I needed to make a change” Sainz said.

A recent Pew Research Center study shows that eligible Latino voters are at an all-time high with more than 27 million registered. Millennials, those ages 18 to 35, make up almost half of that figure. That potential voting power, and with immigration issues a central issue this election year, makes it essential to ensure Hispanics vote in Arizona, said Vince Rabago, chairman of the Pima County Democratic Latino Caucus.

“Latino voters have a high voting power, but they are feeling underrepresented, especially in counties like Maricopa, where there are more elected officials and polarizing figures,” Rabago said.

This year, the Hispanic electorate is projected to make up 11.9 percent of all eligible voters nationally, but Pew studies have shown that Hispanic voter turnout lags behind other races. In 2008, about 50 percent of eligible Latin voters made it to the polls, while 65 percent of black and 66 percent of white voters participated.

In the 2012 election, 51 percent of all Hispanic voters were registered as Democrats and 31 percent as independents, compared to 18 percent as Republicans.

“A lot of people are saying they’re independents because they don’t want to associate with either party, when really they have opinions that clearly lean one way or another,” said Samara Klar, a University of Arizona assistant professor of political science.

In Arizona, Rabago said that lobbying for political parties won’t begin in earnest until later this summer, so the power lies in nonprofit groups around the state to get Latinos registered and to the polls this fall.

Groups like Mi Familia Vota are active in communities and are honing on the element of uniting Latinos statewide.

Sainz explained that the organization is focusing on citizenship workshops to inform Hispanic immigrants on how to gain residency.

“We give them information, and help them understand the forms, and once they pass their tests and go through the ceremony we’re right outside to get them registered to vote,” Sainz said.

More recently, Mi Familia Vota expanded its reach to area high schools to inform students how to be civically engaged. In Tucson, this includes districts such as TUSD, which is 64 percent Hispanic, and Sunnyside, which has an 81 percent Hispanic population.

“Based on our culture, there might be things that discourage us from doing our part in elections, but we have the message that our vote really does make a difference,” Sainz said.

Sainz said Mi Familia Vota will extend its reach by canvasing areas that saw low voter turnout during elections.

“We build a relationship with these people because we’re not a politician going door-to-door talking about our campaign, we’re talking about the issues,” Sainz said. “It’s a Latino talking to another Latino.”

One Tucson-area politician who has continuously succeeded upon a similar platform is U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat.

“We haven’t changed our tone, we’ve remained consistent, and that’s what voters want to see from their elected officials,” Grijalva said. “That’s what’s helped me with our young people because they realized I haven’t changed my tune. It’s my credibility.”

Grijalva has been in office since 2002 and has campaigned on a platform that advocates for underrepresented voices within the community. He said he understands how some might feel that their vote in the upcoming election will not count.

“There’s reason to be cynical, there’s reason to feel like your needs and the needs of your family don’t matter,” Grijalva said. “But when you go out to vote you’re voting for your family and for your future.”

He added that in this election now more than ever the Latino vote is serving as more of a personal statement, and the community should use the threat they feel by certain politicians as a fuel to get out to the polls this fall.

“We have been characterized as a ‘sleeping giant’ for decades,” Girjalva said. “That characterization in 2016 is really important because it’s time for the giant to wake up and get out to vote.”

Stefani Quihuis is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at sequihuis@email.arizona.edu.

 

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