Barack Obama. Rahm Emanuel. All we need now is a Cuauhtemoc roaming the halls of the White House. Seriously, it is quite an exciting time to be living in the U.S. as some people with some uncommon names are on the verge of assuming tremendous power. And isn’t ironic that a leading Hispanic in contention for a Obama cabinet post has the disctinction of having a name like Bill Richardson. Or that one of the members of Obama’s economic advisory team with whom he met last Friday is a guy named Antonio Villaraigosa.
Obama hasn’t made any Cabinet appointments yet but most everyone expects that Hispanics will be a significant part of his Administration, and Richardson and others have already figured into the political punditry. Both the Clinton and the Bush administrations included high-ranking officials from ethnic communities, but I expect an Obama White House to be multiculturally transformational in more ways than one. Presidential and Hispanic political history were made last week. But I also believe that we made great strides on the multicultural front in terms of black-Hispanic relations. My experience as I watched the election returns was very telling.
On November 4th, I volunteered for the very first time in an election and served as an “outside poll watcher” at a polling precinct in Miami Beach FL, on behalf of the Obama campaign. I had voted early so I had the entire day to help out. I was accompanied by an “inside poll watcher,” but our tasks were essentially the same: with so many first-time voters expected at the polls, we were there to ensure that everyone, regardless of party affiliation, was able to exercise their right to vote. Given our roles, we were not to do any soliciting nor wear any campaign paraphernalia. My specific responsibility entailed ensuring voters had the proper identification, and answering questions about change of address and change of name. Unlike a lot of other Miami precincts, ours had things moving pretty smoothly because so many folks assigned to this precinct had voted early. You have to understand that in 2000 I was living and had voted in L.A., and today could still recall the images of a Florida in chaos.
By 7pm when the polls closed, I was pretty drained, and didn’t know if I would just go home to watch the results or meet up with friends. So, at 8pm I received a text from an African-American friend, inviting me to join him and a couple of other folks to watch the results at a bowling alley/lounge in South Beach. I arrived at the bowling alley, and joined my friend and four other folks I had not met before–all African-American–at their table.
When CNN made their projection, the entire place erupted in cheers. Remember, this was Miami Beach, so the very eclectic but mostly Anglo crowd appeared decidedly pro-Obama. Our table also erupted in cheers and high-fives but as we have all seen, this has been an especially emotional moment for African-Americans. My friend who had invited me had already mentioned to his other friends at the table that I had voted for Obama.
After a final round of drinks in celebration of “our man” winning, we started to go our separate ways. But what struck me the most as we were saying our goodbyes was when one of my friend’s guests who I had just met gave me a big hug and thanked me for what I had done: volunteer on election day, albeit for a non-partisan task, on behalf of Obama. He also had been told that I had done my considerable share of sending out email blasts to folks reminding them to vote for “That One.”
My friend who had organized the gathering then commented to the group that not only was it great to see an African-American get elected president, but it was great to see such tremendous Hispanic support for Obama, especially among FLORIDA Hispanics. He went on to say that he was feeling pretty good about the future of Hispanic-black relations. I agreed.
In the days right after Election Day, I heard from some black Latino friends who were still in disbelief but just as proud and excited as my African-American friends. And as someone who works in the world of marketing to Hispanics, I am also hopeful that our industry will take this opportunity not only from a black Latino standpoint but also from a comprehensive multicultural standpoint. We are Hispanic–in all of our many colors–and now more than ever have a seat at the multicultural table and beyond.