By Evelyn Perez-Verdia
I sometimes drive through Little Havana, which in my view is one of the most enchanting neighborhoods in Miami to go through during the night. You look inside one barber shop, and all the men are getting their hair cut as they are covered with smocks with the Cuban flag. Men are playing dominos in a park surrounded by murals.
There was once a little boy who lived in this neighborhood and who possibly every day took a glimpse east toward a powerful downtown Miami while he had nothing in his pockets. Born in 1981, the little boy grew up in the midst of drugs, neglect, and corruption in the ghetto known as “la Pequeña Habana”. At 3 he could recite the poems of Jose Marti, Cuba’s national hero. He grew up in rough circumstances, in a time where so many had so much dislike for the influx of Hispanics that had arrived to Florida. What is so amazing is that those same conditions were what gave him the power to overcome fear and try to take all of his pain out through the spoken-word known as rapping.
That little boy was named Armando Christian Perez, the son of Cuban expatriates, born from a Peter Pan Mother and a Mariel Boat Father. Destiny picked Armando, a powerful man now known to the world as Pitbull to overcome it all and become the skin and bones of the “American Dream”.
Pitbull and Politics
Pitbull started getting a name for himself, stopped dealing drugs and started building a relationship with his father that ended short due to a cancer diagnosis. His father passed away in 2006. According to an article from MTV: “From then, his father’s memory and his Cuban pride fueled Pit’s career. That year, Pitbull and a host of artists recorded a Spanish version of the U.S. national anthem which even caught the radar of President George W. Bush and allowed Pit to speak out on behalf of Latino immigrants.”
In 2012 Pitbull appeared at an Obama Rally where he gave a speech sharing the fact that it does not matter what color of skin we have, we must be united and moved forward. See video here: Pitbulls speech at Obama event, source EFE:
In 2014, Pitbull tweeted a picture of him to his 19.3 million followers at a fundraiser for Florida Governor Rick Scott a week before Scott’s re-election campaign for Governor. Pitbull wrote: “Proud to meet and discuss Florida’s future with Governor @scottforflorida LG @lopezcantera and Rep @ErikFresenFL”
Focusing on the Unknown
Now, due to not showing his affiliation to one party, Republican and Democrats are going crazy trying to figure out who Pitbull is going to support in 2016. With presidential elections coming around the corner, the influence of the Hispanic vote is key in winning the White House. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 2012 presidential election, more Hispanics voted in Florida than in any other state in the nation. Latinos came out to vote by 62%, while the average Hispanic turnout for the rest of the United States was 49%. Florida Hispanics even beat California where the turnout was 48.5% and Texas where it was 38.8%…all states with high Electoral College votes.
Danny Alvarez, a Republican and former Tampa Bay Political Director for the Rick Scott Florida Gubernatorial Campaign, thinks that the targeting of Pitbull as a surrogate is genius. “Whoever thought of it should get a big pat on the back. We are not in the day and age where one message fits all and Pitbull appeals to a very broad range of targets that we are trying to reach as far as politics and government is concerned.”
Fighting for NPAs
So, the question is, if both parties are fighting for Pitbull who is registered as ‘No Party Affiliation’ according to the Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections, shouldn’t both political parties fight for NPA’s in the same manner? In Florida there are approximately 600,000 NPA Hispanics registered to vote—a little less than Democrats and more than Republicans. According to a 2012 Gallup poll, 51% of Hispanics identify as NPA in the United States. However, once they are questioned further, their leanings show that most affiliate with the Democratic Party (52%) and this is consistent across generations. However, 23% identify with the Republican Party and Hispanics with longer connections to the United States are more likely to be Republicans.
In politics, there is a division of thought on how important NPA’s are to an election. There are two schools of thought, one which believes that they are important and the other who thinks the opposite. Some Hispanic organizations are encouraging Hispanics to register as NPA since they believe that this will be the only way that political parties will not take Hispanic voters for granted. According to Dr. Daniel Smith, professor of political science at the University of Florida, more Hispanic youth are now registering as NPA. However he is not convinced that being NPA is the way to go when we live in a nation with a two-party system. When asked about Pitbull being NPA he states: “People in politics are not targeting Pitbull because he is NPA, they are targeting him because he is Pitbull.”
However, others think that Pitbull being NPA is a great example of why the Hispanic independent vote should not be taken for granted:
Angelette Aviles, a Republican and former political consultant thinks that both parties need to focus their energy on NPA’s. “What is so odd is that political parties do not tend to target NPAs until 3 months before the General Election. One reason is because they consider them a waste of time being that they cannot vote in the Primary Election.” However, she believes that it is important to target them way before the Primaries. “Like my husband, I see many Hispanics are in the middle when it comes to issues. One day their main concerns are based on fiscal issues but the next it could be about education, or for some they may vote on a candidate who can better relate to minorities.” Angelette’s husband recently changed his party affiliation to NPA.
Luisana Gonzalez is a 24 year old Venezuelan-American who lives in Weston, Florida and who holds a degree in International Relations from Florida State University. Luisana is registered NPA and believes political parties should not forget about people like her. “NPA’s are more objective in their decisions. I vote on the leader and their vision, I focus on the candidate’s policies and who the leader is, and not based on the stereotype placed by a political party,” she says.
Looking a little deeper
Most individuals interviewed all came to the same conclusion: whoever gets Pitbull, gets a great portion of the Hispanic youth vote.
However, Christian Leon, a Democrat and Political Creative Strategist says that this mentality from the parties is too general: “Hispanics are so diverse and you are trying to find something that unites them. Everyone’s is gravitating to Pitbull because he is the common denominator that they believe all Latinos know. It shows the hunger of the parties. It also shows the lack of knowledge or leadership of the community. What leaders are they going to turn to that appeal to Hispanics? What person can most Hispanics relate to except for maybe the pope? If Pitbull wants to be neutral, the best thing he can do for the Latino community is write a song encouraging Latinos to vote.”
More than being neutral, it seems Pitbull has a bigger responsibility at hand. Being an example to Hispanics, by not only talking the talk, but walking the walk. According to his voting records, he registered to vote 5 months after turning 18. However, from his voting history starting in 2008, the only election he has voted in is the 2008 General Election and Presidential Preferential Primary.
Maybe the next step for Pitbull is to teach the Latinos who hold our future that Politicos need to fight for their vote just as they are fighting for his. The step is to vote himself and possibly go back to the campaign that changed the mentality of so many Hispanics living in Miami in the 80’s: “Vota para que te respeten” which means in English: Vote so that you are respected.
However, I think Pitbull knows that it is in his power to do much more than this. He has proved he wants to see change focusing on a group of Hispanics and other minorities that we tend to forget about and who will be unstoppable in years to come. His students at his charter middle and high school Sports Leadership and Management (SLAM), which he helped build in the same little neighborhood (Little Havana) where he lived and lacked what these children have now gained: An avenue to not get involved in drugs, receive attention, and be given the tools to become individuals that will be the leaders of tomorrow. He needs to start voting and teach these kids the importance of voting.
The moment of truth
Republicans and Democrats should not only be fighting for Pitbull’s approval, they both should be focusing on all Hispanics and especially NPA’s or what we call political independents.
Armando Perez’ name represents Latinos who could sway either way. The name Pitbull represents the power of Latinos and the power that we can have in politics, if we become vocal and vote. 2016 is on its way. Make a wise choice Mr. Worldwide. Like C.S. Lewis said: “There are far far better things than any we leave behind.” It’s time to start voting. All politico eyes on you—keeping the rapping aside.