Latinos are the fastest growing voter group in America, prompting campaign strategists on both sides to try to find out what they want and how to reach them.
Both Republicans and Democrats have newly-crafted efforts underway to woo the Latino voter.
The question is: who is this Latino voter?
Latinos and Hispanics in the United States are a diverse community.
They have a wide variety of concerns and priorities.
Reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe, of the public radio collaboration Fronteras, found that out when she interviewed her own family members.
To all you politicians running for office: My family’s vote is up for grabs. But first you have to engage them.
Take my mom. I stuck my microphone in front of her while she washed dishes.
Monica Ortiz Uribe: “Do you pay attention to politics?”
Teresa Ortiz Uribe: “No, I don’t. I don’t have time. I’m too busy working.”
My mom is a wife, a homemaker and a very busy business owner in El Paso, Texas. She provides entertainment at kid’s parties. On a typical weekend she can do up to eight events.
The last time my mom got excited about voting was in 2000, after her grandmother became a US citizen. She and my mom were very close.
“I remember as a little girl in the summer going with my grandmother to vote. And it was very important for her and my grandfather,” she says.
That was back in a small town in northern Mexico. I ask why her grandmother’s civic engagement didn’t follow her to the United States.
“Where my grandmother used to live, you would go outside at night and sit down with all your neighbors to talk about politics. And it was a lot of fun you know, going to the campaigns and here we’re always so busy working, we don’t even talk to our neighbors. So we really don’t know what’s going on,” she says.
Deep down my mom feels like US politicians don’t listen to people like her. She says they only listen to college-educated people or rich businessmen. She suggests candidates throw neighborhood block parties so people like her can get to know them.
Monica Ortiz Uribe: “So let’s say if one of these candidates came up and knocked on your door and said what are your concerns?”
Teresa Ortiz Uribe: “Well first of all my concern is, like health insurance. Like we don’t have health insurance, I would like (that) a candidate have health insurance for everybody or something that we can all afford to buy.”
My mom is only vaguely aware of the health care reform package Congress passed two years ago, mainly because it hasn’t been fully implemented.
Health care is one of top three concerns among Latinos nationally. The other two are jobs and education. Immigration ranks high, mainly among immigrants themselves. My mom, though, is first generation.
Next I call my cousin Valerie Uribe.
Valerie lives in San Francisco and is in her late twenties. She just got her first big job out of law school. She gets her dose of politics via Facebook and news alerts from the Wall Street Journal.
This is how she describes herself as voter: “Well, I’m independent right now. It just depends on the issue. Sometimes I’m more conservative in my voting, sometimes I’m more liberal.”
Last presidential election, Valerie supported Republican John McCain. So did my grandparents. When I ask Valerie what issues are most important to her, she says education and gay rights.
“My best friend in the whole wide world is gay… And I think that civilly they should be given the same rights as we are,” she says.
A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos are like my family: divided between liberal, conservative and moderate. On gay rights, most Latinos are more liberal. But on abortion, 51 percent think it should be illegal. Younger Latinos, like my cousin, tend to believe in a woman’s right to choose.
Next I spoke to my uncle, Cesar Uribe. He’s a middle school principal in El Paso in one of the poorest zip codes in the country.
On a sunny morning recenty, he high fives kids outside the football field.
My uncle Cesar didn’t vote until he was 26-years-old, in college. His education, he says, has made all the difference.
“I was educated and came to school and I became successful. And I think people should be given that opportunity,” he says.
My uncle is a supporter of the DREAM Act, which would give undocumented students a chance to become legal US residents.
His vote will go to whichever candidate he feels is a stronger advocate for education.
Ultimately, he believes, it’ll be educated and empowered Latinos who will awaken the sleeping giant to the ballot box.