Election results do not lie. As statisticians break us down, Latino voters went 75 percent for President Obama this November. I saw campaign ads in Spanish whenever I turned on the TV. Linda McMahon’s ads sat on the sidebar of my computer whenever I logged on to Facebook, but translated into Spanish. Now, the immigration debate is creeping into political coverage across the board. America must keep paying attention.
This election we voted against those who tried to suppress our votes. On Yale’s campus, we responded to voter suppression and sent canvassers of all kinds to Fair Haven. On several doors that we knocked that week, we met registered voters in Fair Haven who were told by the others that their votes didn’t count or that they could not vote because their driver’s license had recently expired. What began as voter outreach turned into a full-blown campaign, as Americans alongside Latin Americans and undocumented students reminded residents across the city where they could go to vote.
Now, it will be our students who make lawmakers keep paying attention. The DREAM Act — a piece of federal legislation offering undocumented students a pathway to citizenship, provided that they serve for two years in our military or completed high school — grabbed everyone’s attention when it reached national headlines. While it did not pass, states across the country have considered their own versions of the bill, and Massachusetts became the 13th state to pass its own version of the DREAM Act this month. “Groups like Connecticut Students for a DREAM,” a local immigration activist group, are pushing Connecticut’s legislature to improve access to colleges and universities for undocumented but very well-qualified students. This was the first time that undocumented students held such a symbolic voice in politics, and politicians like President Obama and Sen. Marco Rubio reached out to them with variations on the bill.
This past week, local activist Lorella Praeli, who stared the Connecticut Students for a DREAM and now works for the national umbrella organization United We Dream, was featured in a New York Times article discussing immigration reform. On the same weekend I heard Gabby Pacheo, the other woman featured in the article, speak for senior partners at Morgan Stanley, startup gurus and nonprofit heroes at TEDxWomen. She shared her story with the crowd, about growing up as a very successful student whose options were limited by her immigration status. Every face in the room was deeply moved. The stories of our students are everywhere and permeating different levels of society than they could before.
We’re still a mixed bag: As the recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center reminds us, Latino voters were not solely concerned about immigration. More often, our immediate concerns were focused on economic, education or health care issues. I’m a Massachusetts liberal, but I still work in communities that aren’t familiar with what homosexuality and gay marriage entail. While I support decriminalization of marijuana for numerous reasons, I have never and will never smoke in my lifetime. I still cringe whenever I smell marijuana smoke because statistics from the drug wars flood through my mind, and all I can see are images of violence.
Our views are more nuanced than politicians often give us credit for in campaign ads and targeted speeches. We are not a one-issue community, and we never will be.
One of my professors made a joke at an election panel we held this year about how the “Latino vote gets rediscovered every four years.” After this election, we are no longer in the shadows, waiting to be “rediscovered.” Our activists are in the streets, spreading information and dispelling myths. Politicians are reaching out to our communities, even in states like Connecticut where the Latino presence is quieter than it is in states like North Carolina and Texas. We’re here, and we’ve been here for a long time. I’m looking forward to seeing what comes to the table for immigration reform in these next few months.