Latino Voters 101

Commentator Gustavo Arellano

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Most of the campaign finance stories this election cycle have been asking different versions of the same question: Where is the money coming from?

We humbly submit there's another question worth asking, as well: Where's it all going? There are, of course, staff salaries to pay, transportation expenses and the zillion other things that grease the gears of politics. But a big chunk of the money goes to ads. A part of that chunk is increasingly being used to target a very specific slice of the voting population.

So today, we wrap up our series on the behind-the-scenes work of an election with a somewhat different spin. Commentator Gustavo Arellano and what it like to be in the campaign crosshairs.


Gustavo Arellano: American politicians want me. I'm a Hispanic voter. Actually, call me Latino. Actually, just call me a voter, won't you?

Every two years, candidates and propositions, Democrats and Republicans bombard me with pleas to vote their way because they -- and only they -- best understand my community. They understand how to make me economically secure. My family and I have made quite a pretty peso recycling all the bilingual fliers sent our way over the years. We've hung up way too many times to count on robo-calls that court us in English and Espanol. And we always laugh when some pol tries to get down with La Raza by slugging back a shot of tequila or eating at a taqueria.

What do Latino voters want? As one of them, and as one who knows hundreds, it's surprisingly simple. Immigration is a huge issue, of course, but we need jobs. The unemployment rate for Latinos is around 12 percent, which is much higher than the national unemployment rate. Of course, we want better schools and less taxes. Also, the American Southwest returned to Mexico -- and before you write a comment on the Marketplace website, I'm kidding! But seriously, the typical Latino voter is more classically conservative than the media hype suggests, and various studies have shown this over the years. We are not glued to any particular political persuasion.

The most important issue for us, though, is respect. The minute some politician rails about Latinos not learning English, or an illegal immigrant invasion, we vote the other side. Lose the hate speech -- if we can cast a ballot, that means we're legally Americans. And woe to the party that crosses us once too often. We'll stop being a sleeping giant, flex our political muscle and make you sigh, "Ay, carumba" come Election Day.

Ryssdal: Gustavo Arellano writes the "Ask A Mexican" column for the Orange County Weekly. You can write to us.

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