By Evelyn Perez-Verdia
Hispanics make up over 1.6 million of Florida’s 11.9 million active registered voters. “Inclusion” is the latest chic word in the political scene. Republicans, Democrats, activists, almost everyone is now using the word “inclusion”. It seems that the term “Outreach” is nearly passé. While in theory this ‘outreach’ may have seemed lofty, in practice, the term often was reduced to party leaders simply picking a minimally vetted person with a Hispanic last name, giving him very little money or other resources, and simple instructions to engage the Hispanic community sometimes as a ‘check’ on a task list. But there is much more to reaching the Hispanic community than that. I like to refer to the Hispanic Community as the Sleeping Giant. The Hispanic vote is a sleeping giant waiting for something, someone, somehow to wake him up.
The sleeping giant is also an unpredictable giant. This is largely due to the fact that the community is very diverse. While most of the South Florida Cuban-American community leans Republican, the I-4 Corridor Puerto Rican community and Mexican community lean Democrat. Other Hispanics have shown to be chameleons and change to the party color of the candidate that they like the most. Sadly enough, Hispanics have the same relationship to politicians as they have to their doctors…most prefer a Hispanic like them, and many times, they will vote for him or her just because of this. Statistically, the Hispanic vote is divided the following way: 39% Democrats, 30% Republicans 29% NPA and 3% other minor parties compared to the black vote where 82% are Democrats. This diversity in party affiliation is important. It adds to the degree to which Hispanics can shift the whole “enchilada” around in politics.
It isn’t a secret that advisors to political parties are sitting around the table, thinking and determining how they will entice the 2.1 million Hispanics in Florida that are eligible to vote. This represents a very strong voting block, a strength that the community itself still hasn’t realized. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, among Hispanic eligible voters in Florida, 43% are naturalized U.S. citizens. This means that most likely they are primarily Spanish speakers. Hispanic eligible voters in Florida have a different Hispanic origin profile from Hispanic eligible voters nationwide. One-third (32%) of Hispanic eligible voters in Florida are of Cuban origin, 28% are of Puerto Rican origin, 9% are of Mexican origin, and 30% claim another Hispanic origin. This group comprises your ‘undecided’ voter-your chameleons. These are the ones focus groups should study. Find out what makes them tick.
The small allocation of funds for Hispanic outreach and media buying are no longer going to work. But in my experience, it is not just about the money. The Hispanic media must be respected as a line of communication to voters, and they should not be taken lightly. A relationship with the Spanish language media takes time to build.
Working as a consultant in Florida, I have always made it a priority to communicate my client’s message in Spanish and to work closely with the Hispanic media. I have seen a two term incumbent lose to an excellent candidate who understood my advice. We focused and reached out not only to Hispanics, but to all minority leaders in the community she represented…she won and the incumbent was baffled.
To really generate interest, politicians and their advisors need to authentically respect the Hispanic media, because this will naturally convert into a productive relationship in both directions.
At the end of the day, this boils down to a very simple concept: Constituents want to know, “As a politician, do you care enough to sit down and talk to me?”
The beauty of being Hispanic is that we are Chameleons. We speak either English, Spanish and of course Spanglish. You cannot use the same cookie cutter for all of us. We are blue and white collared workers. We can be conservative for some issues and a bit more liberal for others, even though we are Democrats, Republicans or have no political affiliation. We are individuals with etiquette, who like to be invited for a cafecito (coffee) and to have a deep conversation about what makes us passionate. Like Cesar Chavez said: “If you really want to make a friend, go to someone’s house and eat with him… the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
Latinos come in all colors, some of us eat Chile or Empanadas, and some of us eat Arepas. We make up a very wide spectrum of people. Do not ask us if we are Spanish, unless we are from Spain. We are Hispanic, Latino or Latin Americans. We are not attracted by a simple 5 de Mayo party, we are attracted to those who understand our values, who understand that having jobs, better health care and good options for our children’s education are the things that matter highly to us, just like any other American. The only difference is, try to speak to us in the way that we enjoy being spoken to. The effort makes all the difference. The registered Hispanic voting population in Florida could wake up from their nap and go out and vote. They are registered to vote …all we need is to give them a good reason to do it.