Hispanic Link Service, Commentary by Arnoldo Torres
There is growing doubt today whether our political system is able to deal with
the realities that confront us and significantly impact our futures. U.S. voters
were uneasy with the two presidential candidates they had before them. The
turnout, lower than in 2008, reflects this disconnect.
In the country
where newscasts and networks speak daily about democracy and its greatness and
candidates are compelled to wear a U.S. flag pin on their lapels, 93 million
eligible citizens did not vote: 57.5 percent of all eligible voters turned out
this month, compared with 62.3 percent in 2008 and 60.4 percent in
I have been involved in Latino politics and public policy since
1975. I have participated in, and observed, national elections since 1976. I
have been through the "sleeping giant" claims about Latino political power, the
so- called "Decade of the Hispanic" in the 1980s, the steady ascendance to
elected office by Latinos in the 1990s, and the recognition that both political
parties are committed to the attainment and maintenance of power at the expense
Throughout this time, the liberal and conservative media
controlled and set the narrative for Latino political growth. We were talked
about and analyzed but seldom were we part of that discussion on NBC, CBS, ABC,
CNN, Fox, CSPAN or MSNBC.
Now, for the very first time, I believe Latino
voters have arrived at a point where we can claim political power. The role we
played in the election outcomes in key swing states of Nevada, Colorado and
Florida are proof that we have arrived. The facts allow me to reach that
conclusion. We went out and voted probably for the lesser of two damaged
While our turnout efficiency was less in 2012 (78 percent) than
in 2008 (84 percent), we now comprise 10 percent of the national electorate.
This is consistent with the constant increase since 2004 at 8 percent and 2008
at 9 percent. Nationally, as demonstrated in these three key states, Latinos
made up a growing share of voters.
We have spent better than four decades
working to get to this position. Many of our political mentors have been in the
Democratic and Republican parties. We have run for office on the platform that
to be fair and democratic, politics needs more Latinos. Seldom have we pressed
political visions of specific policies we would introduce to remedy the problems
we have talked about for the last 40 years. I believe we have not prepared to
get to this point. We spent entirely too much time talking about our desire to
Now that we have arrived, what will we do?
it. We have three Latinos in the U.S. Senate, all of Cuban heritage. One each
from Florida and New Jersey and now one born in Canada representing Texas. We
have 28 in the House of Representatives, a net gain of four in an institution
that has little support or respect from the public. It has been phenomenally
dysfunctional during times when it needed to be at its best.
Few of the
newly elected Latino members have spoken yet about how they would help change
these serious structural problems in Congress. Their campaigns were standard
fare as campaigns go. In other words, they were not campaigns of new ideas,
vision and specifics. With the exception of the Texas U.S. Senate race, most of
these campaigns hit Republican incumbents hard or criticized the Republican
position and philosophy. The campaigns were not about competing ideas, solutions
or philosophies. The Texas race hardly addressed any of the main issues of
concern to Latinos or the fact that the Republican and Democratic strategies had
excluded the reality of Latinos that "one size does not fit all."
the ink was dry on President Obama's victory speech, the liberal left in D.C.
was orchestrating Latino immigrant groups to call out the president to move on
immigration now that Latinos had "elected him." This is so very disconcerting.
Once again rather than initiate, we demand, we complain, we request - we react.
Rather than propose our version of what should be done on the issues of the day,
we demand payment.
This history-making contingency of Latino members of
Congress should begin a serious and inclusive dialogue within our own large and
complex Latino community on the economic issues that have historically hamstrung
our future. Since we argue that the political establishment does not take such
interest, our Latino politicos should demonstrate how to do it. While we are at
it, we should include the issues of education, health and crime in our
We should not allow Senators Chuck Schumer and Lindsay
Graham to lead the way on immigration reform legislation. They are not
solution-driven, they are elements of appeasement! Both members are very far
removed from the realities that are necessary to reach reasonable and practical
solutions. We cannot afford to approach this challenge from an ideological or
It is imperative that Latinos lead this debate with
ideas that solve the human suffering, dilemmas and conflicts, unintended
consequences that undocumented flows from various countries to the United States
cause in this nation as well as in the countries of origin. Since we have
bitterly pointed out the poor leadership this issue has received from both
parties, since we have long been troubled by the separation of families, abuse
of workers and discriminatory treatment of immigrants, we must set the standard
for approaching this complex issue and not forget that it impacts all of society
in one form or another. We cannot be myopic!
We should be proud of what
everyday Latinos and Latinas did this month. We all participated in a process
that can lead to change. We must not lose sight of the fact that this is simply
the first step followed by the responsibility to govern. The hard part is making
things happen, bringing about the policies that benefit a nation, not one group.
Remember the saying, "Be careful what you wish for!"
Our wish has come
true and we better perform a lot better than those we have been criticizing for
Sacramento-based public policy consultant Arnoldo Torres
served as the national executive director of the League of United Latin American
Citizens (LULAC) in D.C. from 1979 to 1985. He testified more than 100 times on
immigration legislation and wrote several provisions of the 1986 reform bill
signed by President Ronald Reagan. He has served as an expert on Latino issues
for Univisión network over the last 12 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
November 20, 2012