Education Matters Most To Latino Voters This Election

"Immigration" may seem key to what will determine the Latino vote but Angela Clexton interviews Zelica Rodriguez-Deams, a community organizer for Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network(SIREN) who explains why education matters most.

When a local political outreach organization was asked about which one issue could be the top priority of the Latino community when going to the polls this November, the answer was a surprise. Here’s a hint: the mainstream national media seem to have yet to notice this issue might matter especially for Latinos.

That answer was education, and the recent budget cuts to all areas related. 

Contrary to this, the national media outlets have yet to expand their coverage or analysis of the Latino vote beyond topics like immigration or religious conservatism ties. The national media might be missing the mark when it comes to analyzing the potential Latino Presidential vote, as looking at the Latino community as one solid block is a mistake. There is a large amount of diversity within the Latino community.

Looking in-depth at issues that matter most for the community to take to the policy level might be best done locally. For the South Bay area, there are a large number of topics and concerns that come forward as priorities, and immigration is just the tip of the iceberg. Education, immigration, and the way in which the Church plays a role politically, are all areas that need to be addressed. 

That being said, there are a lot of reasons "education" might register first for Latino voters. Zelica Rodriguez-Deams, a community organizer at SIREN, (Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network), explains that “the budget cuts to education have the biggest impact on immigrant families. The reasons [Latino immigrants] are coming to this country are to provide their kids with a better opportunity and a better life. There's an understanding of the way to get to a better opportunity is through education.” Education and budget cuts have been widely covered topics in the news, but not in specific correlation with the Latino community and the way its members will vote in November.

Rodriguez-Deams explained the relationship further by stating that potential Latino voters who were parents tended to be directly involved in the school, so educational budget cuts and their effect is clear. Rodriguez-Deams cited another concern that would result in a higher priority of education: “When we talk immigration reform, that’s a big monster. … Yes, we want it, we’ll fight for it, it’s extremely important, we see our families dealing with all of this [fallout from immigration], but all of our kids go to school. It’s more immediate.”

Pamela Gudino, a staff member with Somos Mayfair, agreed. “The local schools have been letting down families for a long time. For Latinos, the graduation rates are shockingly low compared to other ethnic groups in this county.  And it starts with elementary schools.”  She continued by explaining that the lack of funding often hits ESL programs, making these budget cuts felt to an even greater extent by Latinos, especially as need for those programs grow. Gudino estimated that a local school in the Mayfair neighborhood in San Jose might have a Latino student body as high as 60 to 70 percent. 

It’s not as though immigration falls far behind, or that the national media has skewed this topic’s importance, however. “[Immigration is] always, always, something that the Latino community cares about ,” Rodriguez-Deams began. She listed the issues that one had to keep in mind, like the promised action of the 2008 Presidential campaign by Obama that never came. Record deportations under Obama’s administration, the lack of passage of the Dream Act or similar legislation, and no true immigration reform since the 1970s make the issue hard to ignore according to her.

Gudino’s experience made her agree. “Immigration has always been a huge concern. The lack of a just immigration process impacts people in so many ways,” says Gudino, “I think people have changing levels of hopefulness about what’s going to happen [about immigration].” Perhaps this is another reason immigration takes a backseat to education for policy level concerns, as there has not been the kind of political disappointment in this area as in the past.

But like education, immigration is a uniting factor. When asked about any differences that may exist between members of the community that had been in the country for generations, versus those newly arrived, Rodriguez-Deams described why such a divide didn’t exist: “You’re seeing that, regardless of whether you’ve been here for generations or you’ve been here for a few months, immigration affects everyone.”

Before, says Rodriguez-Deams, extremist anti-immigrant rhetoric never went anywhere. But with the passage of legislation in Arizona and Alabama that limited civil rights of immigrants, the community can’t just write off a threat she calls “ridiculous:” “There was a direct consequence to that anti-immigrant rhetoric. Which is something that I don’t think we could necessarily say before, because it was so ridiculous, that’s so extreme, it wasn’t necessarily taken seriously.”

“When it comes to immigration, you haven’t really seen progress. You’ve actually seen the opposite,” says Rodriguez-Deams.

The national media has also been eager to suggest a relationship between the Christian heritage of the community and its potential voting pattern, but here too, there are gaps. Ties between moral issues and voting conservatively need to be addressed, although these issues are more complex than a simple yes or no: does religion matter to the Latino constituency when voting?

There have been a large number of articles debating this idea that other issues take precedence, and a few that revert to the election of 2004, when Bush’s moral campaign seemed to resonate with the Latino community.

The national media so far lacks any mention about other roles of the Church, which is a big part of this community. In the south bay, Rodriguez-Deams states that the local Latino community is primarily Mexican American, and almost entirely Christian or Catholic.

Gudino brought forth a concept that hadn’t even been part of the moral discussion. She says that churches in her neighborhood are sites for activism and organization, and are more than just a source for moral values:  “We have the Lady of Guadalupe Church that’s very active and involved seeing social justice issues as the heart of religion. The new Father starting in June has been very active and vocal for immigrant rights.” Gudino goes on to explain that from the Latino community’s point of view, some Churches focus on morality issues, but others find more alignment between religion and social justice issues like immigration.

Therefore, religion, or involvement of the Church,  may in fact be a major factor when it comes to voting and political involvement, which is not always the way the mainstream media has considered the issue. The piece “Moral values not a defining issue for Latino voters,” published in the Latino Decisions magazine, looked at the pull of moral values to Latino voters. This is an example of the primary direction the national media has considered the Church’s involvement in the political activity of the Latino community. But as seen above, there is more to the whole picture.

It seems the way the Latino community will vote is dependent on much more than the issues presented by the mainstream media alone. Ultimately, Rodriguez-Deams reminds us of the main question: “Making sure that people will come out to vote, making sure their voice is heard. If we do that, what does that mean for our community?”

This article is part of the category: Community 
This article is part of the tags: Angela Clexton  / Election  / Election 2012  / Latinao Vote  / Latino  / Obama  / San Jose Latino Vote  / SIREN 

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