President Barack Obama may have surprised the nation and specifically Republicans with his decision to halt United States deportations of (some) young illegal immigrants, but it certainly does not guarantee that he will win over Hispanic voters in November. As a result of this decision, Marco Rubio must re-evaluate the Republican's plan for Mitt Romney to ignite loyalty amongst Latino voters. Regardless of the outcome - there is one simple strategy that both Obama and Romney must hone in on: Make the authentic and genuine commitment to become an integral part of the Latino voice.
Latinos are sending a powerful message from their local communities and in particular the swing states across Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Florida: "Respect our voice to earn our trust and our vote." This has been made clear during our non-partisan 2012 Hispanic Voice Town Hall initiative that aims to help Hispanics define an agenda for a better America.
The 2012 Presidential election will be defined by how well the candidates authentically embrace and become an integral part of the Latino voice. This will be the key to Presidential victory and for the advancement of Latinos in America in the next four years.
Here are three ways the Presidential candidates can begin to earn the respect, trust and loyalty of Latino voters.
1. Speak with the Hispanic Community - Not at Them
By ignoring the Hispanic voter, the candidates are minimizing the value of the Hispanic voice. Attempts to play it safe are weakening the credibility of their candidacy. Not just with Hispanics, but minorities in general. Believe me, the changing face of America is paying attention. The key is to solve problems together with the Hispanic community, not alienate them. For example, the candidates must take the time to help Hispanics understand the pros and cons of specific policy making issues that may directly impact their families and in particular their children. Like everyone else, Hispanics want to understand what the issues mean to them and the candidates are not explaining it in ways that naturally connect to their cultural values. Because Hispanics have trouble trusting others let alone themselves, they want thorough and purposeful explanations - not dictations. It is an imperative that the candidates must invest in to build relationships with Hispanics all across America. They may not have the time, but showing genuine intention is more powerful than they think and gets them closer to earning the trust they desperately need to win the election.
2. Don't Marginalize the Hispanic Community - Listen to Them
Mandating the rules for immigration reform and the Dream Act is interpreted as a sign of disrespect. The Hispanic identity represents much more than the importance of these two policy issues. Hispanics want to align themselves with the candidate that strengthens their identity by allowing them to become a more prominent part of policy making conversations. For example, Latinos feel marginalized because the candidates are attempting to define their voice rather than giving Latinos the opportunity to create a more influential voice. How can the candidates accomplish this? Listen carefully to what the Hispanic community desires. Stop assuming that your false promises will win them over. Remember, Hispanics have heard this rhetoric for decades in their mother countries.
This is why the majority of eligible Latino voters have not yet registered to vote. And for those who are registered, they have yet to be given a reason to vote. The majority of Latinos in America are not convinced of who they should support in the 2012 Presidential election and they have every reason to feel this way. Beyond their policy concerns, Hispanics are fighting to hold onto to their cultural identity and this gets lost when their voice is marginalized. Hispanics want a leader that can respectfully represent their voice.
Hispanics believe they have heard it all before from candidates that don't understand them. As such, Hispanics have become sensitive about issues that directly impact them. Hispanics have become quick to judge and react to certain words and phrases because they have grown to interpret these words and phrases as being offensive. What is a candidate to do? Drop the rhetoric and empower the Hispanic voice.
3. Empower the Hispanic Voice - Change the Conversation
The most important piece of advice to the 2012 Presidential candidates: change the conversation about how you define Hispanics in America. The candidate must integrate their campaign messaging to empower the Hispanic voice. For example, here is a message that has direct implications to the U.S. economy, jobs and its future: Hispanics will represent 30% of America's population by 2050. What will happen to America if 30% of its voice is not respected and responsibly utilized? I assure you, a bigger economic and political problem will arise than what we have experienced since 2008. The candidates can then talk about the importance of creating more resources and infrastructure to support Latino advancement in schools, businesses and in their local communities. This doesn't disrupt their campaign - it strengthens it and in the process empowers the Latino voice.
The Presidential candidate who puts these three areas of advice into action will have a significant competitive advantage. He will help to shape a refreshed mindset and an empowered identity for Latinos in America. If Hispanics become part of the national conversation in ways that elevate their responsibility, slowly the victimization identity will begin to wane. The Hispanic voice will begin to shift from "are you listening to me?" to "I can trust to follow your lead."
In the end, Hispanics want a Presidential candidate who enables them to have an opinion and be heard. They want leadership that speaks to their authentic voice and family needs. Even more than a candidate who delivers upon his campaign promises, they want a leader who is committed to protecting the Hispanic community and standing by their voice.
In fact, we must all become a more integral part of the Latino voice for everyone to win.
The changing face of America demands it. Like the presidential candidates, we can no longer ignore the Hispanic voice and its growing influence; our economic recovery and our very futures depend on it. Unfortunately, this demographic shift represents uncertainty and change and so it is met with resistance by those who are uninformed about who we are and what we represent to America's growth and return to global competitiveness.
You can get educated about this business and societal imperative at Hispanic Training Center.
Learn more about us at www.CenterforHispanicLeadership.com.