By Adam Rodriguez
State Latino leaders are working hard to mobilize the Hispanic vote for the upcoming November elections.
“Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the country,” said Tony Yapias, director of the State Office of Hispanic Affairs. “These [Hispanic] votes will be able to sway an election.”
The Latino population in Utah has more than doubled since 1990, but immigrants face many challenges that prevent them from participating in the democratic process.
Yapias said that of the nearly quarter million Hispanics in Utah, 60 to 80,000 are actually citizens and eligible to participate in elections.
“It takes five years [for a new immigrant] to become a permanent resident, and another five to actually become a U.S. citizen,” Yapias said. “We”re looking at 10 to 15 years before these people can actually vote.”
Hispanic Democratic Caucus Chair Archie Archuleta said many eligible Hispanic voters avoid elections because of culture barriers. Few Latinos are familiar with voting booths and the ballot system. And unfortunately, Archuleta said, the majority of volunteers work the polls on Election Day are older and speak English only.
Archuleta said Latino Utahns have the responsibility of reaching out and helping each other.
“We as a raza [race], have to take the job upon ourselves to educate out people,” Archuleta said. “Not as parties, but as our own people.”
Yvette Diaz, a Republican, is a civil attorney working out of Salt Lake. Like Archuleta, Diaz believes that the responsibility to unite Hispanic voters transcends political views or religious beliefs.
“We have realized it doesn”t matter if you are a Catholic, Jew or Mormon,” Diaz said. “If you have brown skin and a Spanish surname, we share common interests and passions.”
Yapias said although Utah Latinos are traditionally Democrats, many of them are crossing party lines to support candidates who make the extra effort to address Hispanic issues.
And Yapias, Archuleta and Diaz all said the strength of the Latino votes lies in the ability of Hispanics to vote Hispanic first and party second.
Diaz said the Latino vote is already becoming a bloc to reckon with.