As Election Day came to a close on Tuesday night, the first family looked amazing as they took the stage in Chicago before President re-elect Barack Obama made his acceptance speech. And I didn’t even vote for Obama. Obama’s rhetoric mentioning the immigrant’s daughter, gays, the disabled was meant to sweep us off our feet as we begin a new term with the same president. I live in the “safe”, blue state of California, voting my conscience, voting for a third party and not for the lesser of two evils, was a viable option for me, even if my five year old cried the morning after because I wasn’t part of the “winning team”. But has the Latino community won? It’s probably too early to tell.
I’m not going to get into too many of the numbers. You can read them here at the Pew Hispanic Research Center, or read about them in the papers, hear about it on conference calls, watch mostly non-Latinos crunch the numbers and talk about us, instead of to us, with us. The majority of Latino voters chose Obama over Romney, even in important swing states. The Latino electorate grew compared to the 2008 election. But Latino voters shouldn’t congratulate themselves too much in the wake of the election. If the last four years were any indication, we have a lot more fighting to do. We need to put some punch beyond the polls.
Many pundits are talking about immigration policy as a factor in the surge of Latino support for Obama. Latino voters certainly were not going to be down for Romney’s self- Deportation solution. Many orgs credited (please don’t call it the DREAM Act because it’s not) Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals as key in regaining the votes of Latinos frustrated and angry by the failure to pass the DREAM Act, promised comprehensive reform that never arrived, and record breaking deportation numbers thanks in large part to the expansion of enforcement programs like Secure Communities.
Some people have expressed hope that this term President Obama will come through. I have seen statements assuming that programs like DACA are assured for another four years when DACA fell far short of the blanket relief some activists were asking for in the wake of the DREAM Act failure. What will make this four year term different than the last four, especially for Latinos? Has the anti-immigrant atmosphere suddenly shifted? Sheriff Joe Arpaio won a sixth term as Maricopa County sheriff in Arizona, home of the anti-immigrant SB1070. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Steve King (R-Iowa) will return to Congress. Secure Communities and the flawed employment verification system E-Verify are slowly becoming mandatory. While the Maryland DREAM Act may have won, allowing Maryland high school students, regardless of immigration status, the right to pay in-state tuition at a Maryland college or university if they can show the have paid Maryland income taxes, this won’t protect anyone from deportation. Congressional candidates saw historic wins across the country, including Senator-elect Ted Cruz (R), the first Latino to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate.
But this election was about more than immigration. Latino poverty and unemployment remains higher than other ethnic/racial groups. Latinos still make a huge portion of the uninsured, I among them. The United States uses military power against foreigners and citizens in unprecedented ways and money is corrupting across the party lines (just look at the infographic via Hoy) All the above reasons are why I voted third party and would do so even if I was in a so called swing state. When we act out of fear, when we choose the evil we know over the unknown evil then we have failed not just as an electorate but as human beings. We can’t think so little of ourselves that we allow ourselves to be reduced to cutesy nicknames like sleeping giants while we get crumbs of what we deserve. We need to move beyond the vote. So many of the DREAMers that didn’t, couldn’t vote yesterday didn’t need me to be their voice via the ballot. Such a paternalistic attitude shows a limited political imagination and relegates us to using one tool among a whole arsenal of weapons for change.Not reform. Transformation. We shouldn’t limit our asks to the least politicians can give us. We need to demand the most we can give ourselves, our families, our communities and that is nothing less than true equal access beyond ballots y beyond borders.