Fabiola Santiago

‘That Mexican thing?’ One more reason for Latinos to vote

Mike Pence, 2016 Republican vice presidential nominee, right, speaks as Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, listens during the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, on Tuesday
Mike Pence, 2016 Republican vice presidential nominee, right, speaks as Tim Kaine, 2016 Democratic vice presidential nominee, listens during the vice presidential debate at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, on Tuesday Bloomberg

Mike Pence is tired of “that Mexican thing” — truly exasperated.

But here’s an idea for the Indiana governor and vice presidential candidate as he stumbles along the campaign trail: Check out actor John Leguizamo’s new show at the Public Theater in New York. It’s titled “Latin History for Morons.” Post-debate Pence would be the perfect audience member. He can stand to learn a thing or two about Latinos in this country that surely were left out of his history books in school.

Because only a blockhead would pass up the singular opportunity of the only vice presidential debate, seen by 34 million people, to soothe and reassure Latino voters, so battered by Donald Trump’s constant bashing of immigrants from the onset of the campaign. Some of them were once true believers in the GOP, you know?

Latinos are, after all, a huge voting block — the largest minority group in the United States — and shortly, they’ll be standing at the voting booth with their list of grievances.

This week, for instance, came confirmation that the U.S. Supreme Court won’t weigh in on President Barack Obama’s protective executive orders benefiting more than 4 million undocumented immigrants. Any hope that Supreme Court intervention, following a successful Texas challenge, could have represented a win for permanent protection from deportation has evaporated.

Those affected are the DREAMers, young people who were brought to this country as children and consider themselves Americans but lack legal status. Latino voters see themselves in the DREAMers’ struggle, their drive to excel at studies and work, the never-ending journey to find a place in this tough new world. Every obstacle any of us has ever faced is harder to overcome for DREAMers and their parents. Fear of deportation is part of daily living. And Donald Trump not only has demonized them, he has boasted repeatedly that he plans to round them up and deport them.

There’s only one certain route left to legalization: flexing political muscle to defeat the Trump-Pence ticket. There’s no other road that leads to passing bipartisan immigration reform legislation with a path toward citizenship.

Latinos aren’t single-issue voters. Research shows, for example, that they care more about the environment and climate change than non-Hispanics. But the blatantly anti-immigrant spin of the Trump-Pence ticket has given more urgency and priority to immigration.

This presidential election, Latino voters have more reasons than ever to vote.

Don’t underestimate us.

More than 27 million Latinos are eligible to vote in this presidential election, reports the respected nonpartisan Pew Research Center, and civic organizations across the nation are making an all-out effort to register them in large numbers.

Why would Latinos not want to vote in this election?

Yet that’s some of the political spin coming out of the chatter on the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to weigh in on the president’s plan. Conservative voices in the Latino community who want to discourage the largely Democratic bloc from voting are putting the blame on Obama for the failure to pass immigration reform. This will keep them home on election day, they say.

That’s a ludicrous point of view.

No, we’re not equally disappointed in both political parties. The Republican Party has a landslide lead in the disappointment department. No, a malaise hasn’t set over us like the flu just because the Obama Administration couldn’t make immigration reform happen in eight years.

Some of us might be silent voters, the type who don’t answer telephone polling calls, but don’t count us out of the electoral game. Mitt Romney made that mistake in 2012, dismissing Latinos as part of that 47 percent he wasn’t going to worry about because they weren’t going to vote for him anyhow and boiling down his immigration plan to the comical “self-deport” idea.

Surprise, surprise, Latinos were a significant component of the coalition that helped elect President Obama twice. In swing state Florida, Romney, who was far more palatable than Trump, only won 39 percent of the Latino vote.

When we hear Donald Trump malign hard-working Mexican immigrants and Syrian refugees fleeing war — when he makes their rejection the central piece of his campaign — we can easily put ourselves in their place.

He’s rejecting us, too.

And what do groups of people who feel sidelined do? They retrench, regroup — become stronger.

That’s why the organization Voto Latino was able to announce Tuesday that it has registered 100,000 new Latino voters in four states: Texas, California, Florida and North Carolina.

We can thank Donald Trump — and now his running mate, too.

Leguizamo, who plans to come to Florida to personally register voters next week, said it best:

“Activists have been trying to unify us for years to get us to register to vote, to speak up, to get a Latin Spring going — and Trump has done that for us,” he said on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “We’re registering in ridiculous numbers all around the country.”

No party should take us for granted.

Latino voters have more reasons than ever to vote. Don’t underestimate us.

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