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The Political Influence of Hispanics and the Spanish-Language Media that Serves Them

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Washington – New Census data on the growth of the Hispanic population continues to underscore the importance of this group in our national fabric-and to the electoral map.

The Hispanic population in Arizona, for example, grew 46% in the last decade (from 2000 to 2010), and now constitutes 30% of the population of the state as a whole. In California, the Hispanic population grew by 28% over the course of the decade, now representing 38% of the state’s residents.

While it can be argued that not all of this population growth translates directly into political power, there are important political factors to note here as well. For example, Census data confirms that California kept its 53 seats in the House of Representatives thanks to the growth of the Latino population, and Arizona has added a seat as a result of its Latino population boom.

Additionally, Latinos represent over half (51%) of all Californians under the age of 18, and 43% of all Arizonans under voting age.

As more Census data continues to be released, it remains clear that although Arizona and other states have led the push to pass anti-immigrant state laws, Hispanics are central to their present structure and their political future.

For example, Hispanics under 18 years old are future voters, whose political decisions will be influenced, in large part, by what they’re seeing done now to their relatives, friends and acquaintances who lack voices and votes.

Consider, too, that the Hispanic population (and its growth) in these states will play a role in the Congressional redistricting process that will take place as a result of the new Census data.

As usual, Spanish-language media led the efforts to urge Hispanics to participate in the Census, informing them of what was in play as a result of the decennial count.

These media outlets also continue play a central role in keeping Hispanics informed about ongoing developments on the issues that affect them – immigration, for example.

Recently, America’s Voice and the Center for American Progress (CAP) held a panel entitled “Spanish-Language Media and the Issues that Move Latino Voters” on the importance of the Spanish-language media in informing Spanish-speakers in the United States.

The panelists, María Elena Salinas, Co-Anchor for Noticiero Univisión (Univisión’s nightly news broadcast); Teresa E. Frontado, Online Editor for El Nuevo Herald; Henrik Rehbinder, Editorial editor for La Opinión; and Samuel Orozco, Executive Producer and Host of “Línea Abierta” on Radio Bilingüe, agreed that both the English-language media and politicians shouldn’t ignore the fact that immigration is one of the most important issues to this community.

María Elena Salinas asserted that “immigration, regardless whether it’s number one on any poll, it’s number one in the minds and hearts of all Hispanics.  Even when it doesn’t show that it’s their number one concern, it’s the most important, and the most symbolic that unites all Latinos.”

Univisión, which is available in 95% of all Hispanic households in the United States and whose nightly news telecast is watched by over 2 million viewers daily, was one of two Spanish-language television networks (the other was Telemundo) that “went live” to the Senate floor last December to broadcast the vote that killed prospects for the DREAM Act at the end of the last Congress.

The issue of immigration has also been at the center of the four hearings that have been held by the House Immigration Subcommittee in the current Congress, all of them with the goal of discussing the issue from a negative point of view without offering any real solutions. In fact, in an editorial titled “A radical agenda,” La Opinión wrote that the Republican leadership of the subcommittee has used the hearings to scapegoat immigrants for the country’s economic woes, without offering a real solution either to the economic crisis or the broken immigration system.

Interestingly, Hispanics have been the main audience for some of these hearings, largely due to the Spanish-language outlets that covered Republicans’ attempts to use them as a platform to scapegoat immigrants.  In fact, 62% of the coverage of the first hearing on immigration raids and worksite enforcement was reported by the Spanish-language press.  So if Republicans are looking to appeal to Latinos on the way to the next presidential election in 2012, they’re doing a good job of making that task even harder by driving them even further from the party.

Nevertheless, Rehbinder warned during the panel that both parties should stay on their toes. “Because of the anti immigrant rhetoric coming from Republicans, Latinos are now stuck in the middle because Republicans want to get rid of them and Democrats use them during the elections and then discard them.”

Whether considering their impact on the Census and Congressional allocation or their interest in immigration, whether we’re talking about citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants, the influence of the Hispanic population is palpable and quantifiable – something that neither political party should ignore as we plunge into a new electoral cycle coming up on the 2012 presidential elections.