By Jose Cancela
If the May 1 marches had that feeling of dÃ©jÃ vu all over again, they should. The immigration reform demonstrations held across the country this weekend are reminders of the nationwide rallies that caught most non-Spanish-speakers by surprise four years ago. And they’re even stronger reminders that immigration is a hot-button issue that runs deep with the country’s close to 50 million Hispanics – one that will get us out into the streets, and out to the ballot box when it comes time to vote.
It has before. Just ask Pete Wilson.
The former California governor rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment into the statehouse in 1994. He ran for office as a strong supporter of a controversial law, Proposition 187, designed to cut off social services for undocumented immigrants. It prohibited their children from getting public schooling.
Both Wilson and Prop 187 won by significant margins.
But here’s what happened afterwards:
The backlash caused a massive increase in Hispanic voter registration that was lead by Spanish language media. So effective was the effort, that in 1996, the very next election after Wilson’s win, 700,000 more Latinos voted than did just two years before. Almost a third of them were first-time voters.
The significance of immigration – and its direct link to voting – was proven again four years ago this month.
On May 1, 2006, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators poured into the streets of cities across the country, calling for a comprehensive and fair immigration policy. The marches were widely announced on Spanish-language media. One of the most popular Spanish-language radio stars in the country, Eddie “Piolin” Sotelo, used his show to call his fellow Latinos to action. Word of mouth – en espaÃ±ol – took care of the rest.
More than half a million marched in Los Angeles, another 400,000 in Chicago. Many carried signs with a clear and simple reminder of the sleeping giant the anti-immigration forces had re-awakened: “Hoy marchamos, maÃ±ana votamos.” Today we march, tomorrow we vote.
When the 2008 Presidential elections came around, Latinos showed up at the polls like never before. Hispanics all across the country and even in Florida had gone back to voting Democrat, rolling back all the in-roads that President Bush 43 had made with Latinos everywhere.
This time, with the racial profiling Arizona law as motivation, hundreds of thousands marched in over 30 states. With voices not just calling for Latino rights and the repeal of the Arizona law, but also with a loud call for comprehensive immigration reform which is long overdue. But it is going to take much more than marches to get the President and Congress to act.
It’s going to take the clarion call of Spanish language media all across the country, to call on the millions of Latinos that have been sitting on the sidelines to register and become eligible to vote, and then it’s going to take an even stronger call to make sure that Hispanics turn out and vote.
It needs to be a clarion call that brings everyone to the table working together like never before. It should be lead by Raul Alarcon, Don Browne, Cesar Conde and Monica Lozano, who together would represent a very powerful coalition. A coalition that could then bring all other interested parties together and once and for all, assure the passage of a comprehensive immigration bill.
Working together will assure that this issue becomes a front burner issue; working separately will assure that one of them will get an award for a great Public Service Campaign that did little or nothing to move the Latino agenda forward.
It is time for Spanish language media to work together and come to the rescue.
BY JOSE CANCELA
Jose Cancela is Principal of Hispanic USA Inc, a Hispanic Market Communications firm. He has also the author of “The Power of Business en EspaÃ±ol, Seven Fundamental Keys to Unlocking the Potential of the Spanish Language Hispanic Market” Rayo / HarperCollins.