Latino, Asian and black voters show increase, but political leadership still needed

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By Jaena Rae Cabrera

Latino, Asian and black voters increased in number by more than 15 percent, or 5 million voters, between the 2004 and 2008 elections, according to a report published in August by the Immigration Policy Center.

The report is a compilation of data from the U.S. Census Bureau and voting numbers from the 2008 election, put together by researchers from the Immigration Policy Center in Washington, D.C. The organization releases various reports each year that highlight the factual information about immigration and immigrants in the United States.

“The state-by-state fact sheets are syntheses of existing data, from census data and reports from universities,” said Wendy Sefsaf, communications manager at the IPC. “We compile the data and pull out the most relevant information to make it handier and more at the finger tips for people to use.”

“We want to show that immigration has strong political implications and economic benefits for states and the country,” she said. “A lot of the voting stuff we did was after the elections last year to show how much it’s grown in California.”

The voting data from the 2008 election reveals that nationally, the number of minority voters increased upward of 15 percent between 2004 and 2008, with Latino voters in the lead with a 28.4 percent increase. In raw numbers, the largest increase was 880,000 Latino voters in California, from 2.1 million in 2004 to 3 million in 2008.

Asian voters in California increased by 20.7 percent within the last four years.

The report states that the data “should serve as a demographic wake-up call to politicians that they cannot ignore the concerns of minority voters without paying a price at the polls.”

Sefsaf said that IPC reports are more intended for media, policy makers and advocates because it’s helpful for them when they make their cases to their respective audiences.

Eric Quezada cautions that while data prove that Latino and Asian voters are rapidly increasing in numbers, democratic participation is more than just voting.
Quezada is the executive director of the Dolores Street Community Services on Valencia. The organization provides several services for the Mission and Castro communities: the Dolores Housing Program, the Richard M. Cohen Residence, and the Valencia Community Center. One of their goals is to educate immigrants about the democratic process.

“The vote is critical but we want people engaged in their community,” Quezada said. “The numbers are crucial but mean nothing without actual participation.”

Even encouraging other people to register to vote is just as good as actually voting.
“If they have the ability to vote, we encourage people to vote,” he said. “Even if they can’t vote, we teach them that there are other ways to participate, beyond electoral politics.”

One of the ways Quezada believes people can use this emerging political power is to foster leadership in the community.

“If there is no emergence of leadership in these communities, then the power remains untapped,” Quezada said. “How do you engage strategically in electoral politics? Active participation. You need others in the community to step up.”

When Quezada ran for the position of District 9 supervisor in November, his campaign revolved around engaging the least likely voter, which included immigrants and young people. He believes that there is a lack of investment in young people, especially young people of color.

The authors of the IPC report point out that the majority of Latinos and Asians are immigrants or children of immigrants, making immigration reform a high priority for this demographic.

According to the IPC report, one out of ten voters was Latino or Asian in the 2008 election, meaning that “one-in-ten voters likely has a personal connection… to the immigration debate.”

While Quezada agrees that immigration reform is an important issue, he also contends that economic issues are equally important to these voters.

“The economic downturn is hitting the immigrant community harder than others,” Quezada said.

(Produced in collaboration with El Tecolote.)

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