Too much at stake to sit idly by

Helena Rodriguez: Local columnist

I cast my vote in the New Mexico caucus last week and, if we’re lucky, we may finally learn the results today — only a week-and-a-half after the fact.

New Mexico will be the last of the Super Tuesday states to announce results from the Feb. 5 balloting.

If we Nuevo Mejicanos follow the nationwide trend, results will be close between Obama and Clinton. Most news services are showing Obama edging Clinton in the number of delegates; however, a few are putting Clinton in the lead.

Whatever the case may be, the March 4 primaries in Texas and Ohio are critical to both Obama and Clinton.

Whatever happens in Texas and Ohio, though, will not be just about numbers. The real story is what these numbers mean. As far as the national media are concerned, this has become a race about race, gender and issue-driven politics such as immigration and more about Iraq.

These numbers are more about people, though. About where our country is headed, about the faces of these voters, many of whom are going to the polls for the first time.

What are the driving forces moving once-silent voices and invisible faces to the voting polls?

More young people, more women, more African Americans and yes, finally more Hispanics than ever are voting in these primaries.

Since the 2000 election, analysts have been saying, “This is the election in which Hispanics will make their voices heard!” but through two Bush presidential elections, that didn’t happen.

That is happening now.

The Spanish-language television network, Univision, launched an aggressive voter registration drive this year and a “Ve y Vota en las Primarias” campaign, which means, “Get Out and Vote in the Primaries.”

Obama, Clinton and John McCain have all been receiving large percentages of Hispanic votes. There is no one so-called “Hispanic-favored candidate” and so it is not all about immigration. Perhaps, the so-called “Sleeping Giant” is awakening.

A news story that got my attention this week from the Pew Research Center predicts major population shifts up to the year 2050. It is predicted our elderly population will more than double in size as baby boomers reach retirement ages, the non-Hispanic white population will increase more slowly than other racial and ethnic groups, with whites projected to become a minority (47 percent) by 2050, and births in the United States will play a growing role in Hispanic and Asian population growth.

The Hispanic population, already the nation’s largest minority, is expected to triple in size and make up 29 percent of the U.S. population, compared with 14 percent in 2005.

Furthermore, according to the Pew Center, nearly one in five Americans (19 percent) will be an immigrant in 2050, compared with one in eight (12 percent) in 2005.

By 2025, the immigrant, or foreign-born share of the population, will surpass the peak during the last great wave of immigration a century ago.

Candidates are feeling the implications of these population shifts, which are already in motion. That’s why, again, Texas and Ohio are critical to all the candidates in both parties.
Ohio is made up largely of working-class white voters and Texas has a large Hispanic population.

Obama gained even more momentum amongst Hispanics with his endorsement by the Kennedys, a family which has been popular for decades amongst Hispanics. Many Hispanic households once displayed, or still do, portraits of the late JFK. And yet polls also show Clinton has her own following of Hispanics, perhaps because of her husband Bill, a supporter of civil rights.
On the Republican side, McCain is also winning a great deal of Hispanic support, and so while America is divided amongst gender and other lines, its largest minority is also divided amongst party lines, candidates and issues.

What do all of these numbers mean to the average American citizen? We are shifting from a once-passive to a pro-active citizenry because so much is at stake now.
Soon-to-be 18 year olds, like my daughter, Laura, once a laidback generation, are eagerly looking forward to casting their votes in the November election.

Americans from all walks of life, from all ages — young to old — all classes, genders, ethnicities and races, are sending a message that they want to be heard.
That’s democracy.

I hope.

Helena Rodriguez is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at: