May 28, 2016
By Sharon Hernandez
The large, yet quiet group of Latino voters is often referred to as the “sleeping giant,” and though experts talk of that giant awakening in almost every election, the numbers show little evidence of it actually happening.
On the national level, nearly 6.8 million Latinos voted in the November 2014 election, a record total. But the turnout rate among Latinos fell to 27 percent, the lowest ever recorded for Hispanics, according to the Pew Research Center. By comparison, turnout among both black and white voters in 2014 was more than 40 percent, the center said.
A similar trend can be found in Goshen, where nearly 30 percent of the population is Latino.
In the 2011 municipal elections, only 150 of the 1,500 registered Latino voters cast ballots — a turnout of 10 percent, according to city records. By comparison, overall turnout in that election was 34 percent.
Four years later, in Goshen’s November election, more Latinos registered to vote, but turnout still lagged behind the overall figure. Total voter turnout in Goshen was 28 percent in 2015, while the Latino turnout was 10.5 percent, a review of voting records showed. There were 2,300 registered Latino voters last fall, and 240 actually cast ballots.
Former and current Goshen mayors Allan Kauffman and Jeremy Stutsman say they have seen growing participation among the Latino community. However, they haven’t seen it translate into higher turnout numbers, even though Latino leaders are working to mobilize the community.
“There was definitely more activity in the last election than there was in any prior election,” Kauffman said. “So the leadership’s evolving.”
Indeed, Latino leaders in Goshen made an effort to register as many Latino voters last year and have encouraged candidates to listen to the concerns of the Hispanic community during last fall’s campaign.
Felipe Merino, an immigration attorney who recently opened an office in Goshen and bought a house there, was one of those leaders who helped organize Latino voters last fall.
Merino has been active in various political cycles before, but he said this was the first time he had been involved in a community with such high level of synergy.
“What happens is that as individuals, oftentimes in our capitalist society, we get caught up in work, our property, our assets and our family,” he said. “We only look after our own well-being, but the collective well-being is just as — if not more — important because what affects my neighbor will eventually affect me.”
Jose Chiquito, a senior at Goshen High School, was tapped to help create an arm of Stutsman’s mayoral campaign that specifically targeted the Latino population.
“For me, it was a good time to learn about what the mayor could do for the community and how you could get more teenagers involved,” Chiquito said.
What began as an opportunity to learn more about local politics became a force that pulled Chiquito into the political process.
GOSHEN DIFFERENT THAN MANY CITIES
The attempt to mobilize the Latino community is nothing new — it has happened in other cities, said Luis Fraga, a political science professor at the University of Notre Dame. What’s different in Goshen is that unlike other cities, it didn’t take a large institutional change or a specific Latino candidate to motivate Hispanic voters.
Instead, Stutsman, who was running for mayor on the Democratic ballot, reached out to local Latino leaders and asked how he could best address their needs.
Fraga said there are generally two patterns in the way a candidate responds to an emerging growing community.
In some cases, a candidate will go out of his or her way to encourage the emerging community to participate by finding out who these voters are and what their concerns are.
That candidate will think, “this is a community that’s growing here in our city, so if I want to be mayor of this city or a council member, I need to be informed by what this part of the constituency thinks is important,’” Fraga explained.
The other pattern is where a candidate sees a growing community as a threat to traditional voting patterns and politics. Those candidates will usually abstain from soliciting any information about that specific community and don’t try to mobilize it. Some candidates may even try to demobilize those voters.
“They send all kinds of signals that suggest this community is not going to be welcomed,” Fraga said.
Fortunately, the second scenario did not materialize in Goshen.
Instead, the city saw a combination of candidates willing to listen and reach out to the community as well as Latino leaders organizing meetings with those candidates so Latinos community had a chance to be heard, which doesn’t happen everywhere, Fraga said.
That kind of mobilization of voters may not be possible on a statewide level without the work of Latinos leaders, or the support of candidates or elected officials. And even then it would be difficult because of the state's relatively small Latino population.
Hispanics make up only 6 percent of the total population in Indiana. Mostly Democratic voters, Latinos have concentrated heavily in certain areas of the state, like the northwest region and Indianapolis, which tend to lean to the left.
With Latinos primarily living in parts of the state that are Democratic, and with a small percentage of the overall state population being Latino, they don’t have as much power in what is traditionally a conservative state.
In the future, that may change. Fraga said, noting that about 15 percent of all students enrolled in Indiana public schools are Latino.
“A state that understands not just the present but its future given the growth of the Latino population… might take the attitude of ‘we need to bring these folks into our institutions and promote their success as much as possible,’” Fraga said.
BEYOND THE ELECTION
After mobilizing Latino voters in 2011, leaders saw a decline in participation in local engagement once again.
Leaders in the city and organizations have often wondered why many Latinos don’t participate in meetings or other activities. There may be various factors as to why. It could be a language barrier issue, or it could be that Latinos don’t feel welcome.
Jose Elizalde, neighborhood organizer at LaCasa Inc., has been working on a program that aims to bring Latinos to neighborhood association meetings in Goshen.
Over the last year, he learned many things about the Latino community’s participation — or lack thereof.
“I think the Latino community has never learned about neighborhood associations,” he said. “Those who knew about it, they didn’t know if they were welcome.”
The same could be said about other organizations. Lack of awareness and simply lack of time could be attributed to few, if any, Latinos participating.
It might take a while for Latinos to become incorporated into different organizations and institutions in the city.
“This immigrant community is busy. They have kids, tend to have families, they go from work to school,” Elizalde said. “The concerns for their neighborhood are pretty much the same, but how much time they have to give to the neighborhood association may not be there.”
Having a strong leadership base representing an emerging community and having candidates willing to listen to that base are two important parts of political engagement that are happening in Goshen, Fraga said.
A third part, and one that could help the Latino community continue its momentum post-election, is when established political leaders and institutions actively solicit and work with them.
“So when those three factors converge, then you are likely to see patterns of increased responsiveness and increased participation,” Fraga said. “If any one of those is absent it becomes less likely.”
Source: Elkhart Truth