Last Spring, America saw the potential power of the Latino community as a political force. Millions of people, in cities across the country, poured into the streets, marching in solidarity for equality and justice for immigrants. In November of 2006, Latino voters proved again that they could help deliver victories, as their turnout increased by 33% in Congressional races, and was much more heavily Democratic than in years past, according to a recent report by NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center. The GOP's constant drumbeat of anti-immigrant rhetoric has opened up an incredible opportunity for Democrats and progressives to solidify Latino voters as a reliable - and fast-growing - part of our coalition.
But in California, where the largest majority of Latinos in the country live, that potential has barely been tapped. In our state, there are still more than 5 million Latino voters who are eligible but not registered to vote, or who are registered but don't regularly come out to the polls. When you consider that only about 3.2 million people voted in the 2004 Democratic primary in California, you can see the potential that the sheer numbers of this population could have on the outcome of our state's upcoming primary election on Feb. 5, 2008.
And yet few campaigns on the Democratic side have invested any resources into Spanish-language or Latino-focused media in this state, and the 2008 Presidential Primary is no exception. Vote Hope, a new statewide political network, has stepped in to fill that void. Working with the Los Angeles-based Amigos de Obama, another independent group trying to increase Latino participation, we have produced a series of 4-minute, Web-based films called Tu Voz, Tu Voto, which are inspired by the wildly popular Latin American telenovela genre, and promote Barack Obama as the candidate for hope, unity and change in America.
The films were written, produced and acted by California Latinos, and they reflect issues and experiences that are rarely, if ever, portrayed in mainstream political media. Like telenovelas, these films use humor and drama to convey serious messages. They follow the journey of a typical Latino family in Southern California, the Ortiz family, and how they come to support Barack Obama for President. They are significant not only because they represent the first Spanish-language media effort in the 2008 primary elections, but because they are a unique attempt to connect mainstream politics with Latino culture.
The first episode, "La Marcha," invokes the excitement of the immigrant rights marches of 2006, and puts forward the desire that many Latinos felt to take that energy and transform it into voting power.
In the second episode, "Amigos," the immigration issue hits home for the Ortiz family, and 19-year-old Gaby Ortiz grapples with her own political involvement. This episode features the hit "Obama Reggaeton" song produced by Amigos de Obama and heard by thousands of people around the country.
In the third episode of the series, "About Us," Latino and African American characters grapple with the difficult issues of multi-racial unity, and come to see how Obama's candidacy can help bridge old divides and galvanize a new multi-racial movement for change.
Each of the stories touches on a different, but very real, part of the modern Latino experience, in California and America. Vote Hope's goal is to reach Latino voters and potential voters who may not have thought much about the upcoming primary yet, but who will respond to this unique kind of outreach.
At Vote Hope, which employs Latinos and Latinas at all levels, we support Obama because we see him as the only vehicle for real change - change we can believe in - in this country. We see him as an opportunity to build multi-racial unity and solidarity - one that has not come around in a very long time. And we believe that his life experience, from growing up as a person of color in America and overseas, to working as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago to teaching constitutional law and going on to serve his state and his nation in public office, is exactly the kind of experience we need to lead this country right now.
We also believe in the overwhelming need to create more long-term, lasting infrastructure that can engage Latinos in politics more regularly throughout the year, avoiding the cyclical abandonment that happens with campaigns that actually do outreach to Latinos. That is why Vote Hope will continue to work on registering voters, and building political networks, in the Latino community even after the 2008 election.
It's an incredible political moment we are in. Vote Hope is here to seize it, and build on it for the long term.
Jenifer Fernandez Ancona is communications director for Vote Hope.