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Latino/as and the Clinton/Obama Vote in the Ohio primary: What is my heart telling me?

By Rubén Castilla Herrera

February, 2008

As a U.S.-American, Latino, and Ohioan, I have been following the Clinton/Obama race with great interest. I find that I am painfully struggling on who I will vote for in the March 4, 2008 Ohio primary. Latinos/as in Texas [The Lone Star State has the same primary date] face the same dilemma.

I know that I am not supporting the Republican nominee.

I have read the stories from the national media on both candidates. Will Latinos vote for an African American? Who is supporting the central issues important to the Latino community? What is their stand on immigrant rights? What are Dolores Huerta, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, Henry Cisneros, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and Federico Peña saying?

From a national basis, “the Latino vote” in Ohio does not make the headlines. From a local perspective, it does. Our vote is important and crucial!

For those that are struggling with me, let me put in the center some issues worth conversation and contemplation.

What is my family thinking?

In general, Latinos/as have a strong sense of la familia. Family input is important and is a starting point. I sought input from family members. Here are some of their responses:

“Well, I am a Republican but it doesn't look like I'll be voting Republican this year. I'd really like to see Barack get the Dem nod because he is a bright, fresh breathe of air. He’s very smart and articulate yet down to earth and humble. I like it. I like him.”

– My niece

“I'm supporting Hillary. She is experienced, and has earned it. She will correct what is wrong with our government, and institute much needed programs for the health and education of our children.”

- Cousin

My wife supports Hillary but I am supporting Barack Obama because to me he is real change and this will bring in the Independent voter that is sick of this WAR! I will support the Democrat that gets the nomination.

- Older brother

I want Hillary because I feel like she can help end the war and it’s time to have a woman president. I liked when Bill Clinton was president, but I think she can do better.

- Daughter


“I’m a Republican and would never vote for Hillary or Obama. End of story.”

- Cousin


Are Latinos/as the same? Latinas/os are brown, white, black and every hue in between. We are immigrants, migrants, residents, refugees, and citizens. We are from México, Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and from every country in Central and South America.

We were born in Texas, California, Ohio, Maine, Georgia, North Dakota, and Washington.

We are Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians and Green. We are gay, straight, lesbian, and bi. We speak Spanish and English (more Latinos/as in this great country claim English as their first language). We are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist as well as other religions and denominations.

We are young and old, but mostly young. We are struggling, middle and upper class, but mostly working class. We are urban, suburban, and rural.

In Ohio, we are all of this and more.

Systems try hard to put us in the same box; it’s easier, convenient, cost effective, and makes a better story. The media, political parties, social services and government agencies all try to count us as one. With this in mind the so called “Black vs. Latino divide” makes no sense to me.

I prefer to focus on how to improve Black/Latino relations. Let’s have this conversation.

What are the community leaders saying? The voices of community leaders are important. To me, a leader is anyone who is currently helping our community. Latinos/as make up their own mind but like to know what community leaders are saying and thinking.

Here are some comments I received form Latino/a community leaders throughout the state or Ohio:

“I'm going with Hillary because I think she deserves it, and by the way, there's nothing wrong all other things being equal with voting for her because she's a woman!”

--Community leader from Central Ohio

“Coalition building is what has worked for progressives. When we set aside barriers and take up our common causes, we have real chance of winning. Obama’s campaign certainly embodies that ideal, a broad coalition of people who are hungry for change.”

--Community leader from Northwest Ohio

“When there is a selection between an intelligent, capable, experienced woman and (maybe the same qualities) a man, I select my gender. We women have fought for equal rights in society, at work and at home. Now is our time. We will show the world that when it comes to “SI SE PUEDE,” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is the only one that can fulfill that slogan, and more. My brother, you can quote me among the Senator Clinton circle.”

--Community leader from Northeast Ohio

“I committed to Hillary a long time ago. I did this because of her qualifications and she committed to Latinos/as long before Obama did.

--Community Leader from Cleveland

What about the Latinos/as in Ohio? While the number of Latino voters in Ohio is relatively small; there are a significant percentage of Latino voters in Lucas, Lorain, and Cuyahoga Counties. That’s not to underestimate the areas of Ohio which are the fastest growing in Latino/a population: Franklin, Delaware, Hamilton, and Montgomery Counties.

The Latino vote will make a difference in the Marcy 4th primary. While the here and now of this primary and election is important, it would be an oversight not to look into the near future. From the rural areas of Defiance and Paulding Counties to the Latino presence in Ashtabula County, from Youngstown to Gallipolis...in Hamilton, Clark, Allen, Marion, Stark and Licking Counties. The Latina/o presence and significance in Ohio is only going to grow. We are in Ohio and here to stay.

It’s all about relationships, relationships, relationships! In general, Latinos/as are relationship based. It is important to come together and develop a real relationship. While relationship is the center of all people, Latinos/as seem to embody this in a more personal way. – If the question is: “Will you vote for me? The immediate response is; let’s get to know each other first! Relationship building takes time and may not actualize with the electoral primary calendar.

Latinos and brand loyalty. Latinas/os have a strong sense of brand loyalty. When we are happy with a product or person, we tend to stay with it through thick and thin. But there are changing variables on this. As a child living in Texas, I remember visiting family homes where the velvet tapestry of John F. Kennedy was front and center in living rooms, not far from the Virgen de Guadalupe and family pictures. I haven’t seen this in at least one generation. We have not forgotten our closeness with the Kennedy’s. With time, we have moved on. So the so called “Kennedy effect” is not easily reinstated just because it’s an election year.

What is my heart telling me? As I am becoming older, I am relying on my heart and instinct in ways that I would not have imaged. Maybe my experience is part of this as well. Here are some questions that my heart is asking me in regards to the Clinton/Obama vote on March 4th.

- Who offers the best leverage needed for a new way of thinking for the Latino/a community?

- What is our shared meaning with Obama? With Hillary?

- What is our shared vision with Hillary? With Obama?

- Who can best put ideas into practice?

- Who is offering significant, sustainable, and enduring improvements?

- Who is better prepared to bring a shift in the system, a shift in our culture, a shift for the betterment of humankind (not just change)?

- Who offers the most “freedom to” rather than “freedom from”?

- Who understands and can facilitate the process of change rather than give us “snapshots” of change?

- Who loves the people?

So at the end of the day, as an Ohio Latino voter, who will I vote for on March 4th? Who will you vote for? What is your heart telling you? Let’s have this conversation. Conversation is action and can lead to meaningful decisions. But don’t forget to vote on March 4th (or before).

iSi Se Puede!

Editor’s Note: Rubén Castilla Herrera is a consultant, specializing in the development of organizations, team learning, and achieving human potential through diversity and inclusion. He speaks and writes on various issues and current events regarding the Latino/a community in Ohio and the Midwest. He is the father of four and grandfather of seven. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.





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