I want to thank Tarah Taylor and Stephanie Caballero from the Houston Obama For America office for putting on a great Fired Up! Friday Documentary Night. Last night’s film was Undocumented by local film-maker and UH alum Jesse Salmeron.
Undocumented is a documentary which profiled the 2006 organizing and actions against the Sensenbrenner Bill (HR 4437). The bill would have criminalized being an immigrant, anyone who would help immigrants, and a lot of other bad stuff.
What began as protests by students walking out of their schools in response to a bill that would criminalize their parents turned into a huge rally in Downtown Houston and then another rally at the offices of John Cornyn. The actions brought out thousands, and in cities like Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, and New York, hundreds of thousands. The response to HR 4437 was so strong, the bill died from a lack of compromise after different versions were passed in each chamber.
2006 turned out to be a great year for Democrats as any gains made by George W. Bush with Latinos were erased. In fact, Democrats re-established majorities in the House and Senate. Unfortunately, Comprehensive Immigration Reform and/or the DREAM Act could still not be passed, and any bipartisanship went out the window with all of the hatred for President Obama.
The film prefaced my remarks about immigration as a “Latino” issue among many other issues that move the Latino electorate. In fact, immigration becomes a hot issue for Latinos when Republicans use it to bash Latinos like a pinata, it seems. A poll by Latino Decisions tracked how immigration rated as an issue Latinos wanted to see action from Washington on, and from August 2011 to January 2012, one saw a 10 point spike. Immigration was in the news much of this time as Republican presidential candidates debated Rick Perry’s Texas DREAM Act, and Republican voters tried to determine just how anti-Latino each could be. If Latinos felt on edge on this issue, it was during this time.
But one could not but agree that immigration is only one issue, despite what the Sunday TV talking heads tell you. It seems when the talk is about Latinos, it gravitates toward immigration. But any polling will tell you that jobs and the economy rank higher, and education and health care rank strongly, too. In other words, capturing the Latino vote is about candidates defending their platform, while also having the ability to defend Latinos when attacked. Ultimately, Latino attitudes toward policy trend toward “Democratic” stances on major issues.
I also talked a bit about some who call for “more investment” in Latino outreach and GOTV. I argued that whether it goes toward more blockwalkers, or mail, or TV, we need to ensure efforts are culturally relevant and not simply bad translations of English language efforts. And I added that perhaps being bold and doing some different things is now in order, providing the example of Latinos. Engaged. United. Voting. and some of the things they have been testing in the community.
Let me tell you, the documentary provided a great (and recent) backdrop of where we’ve been. Unfortunately, the fights remain very similar today to those of the 50s and 60s, and perhaps worse as some attempt to turn back any progress that has been made in civil rights. Meanwhile, there are also other issues impacting the Latino electorate that also affect every other demographic group.
The discussion afterwards was very productive and supportive. The diverse group of activists in the room agreed that only by working together can change that benefits the most truly happen. It gave me a lot of hope which will surely grow when President Obama is re-elected.