There’s a difference between waking up and standing up. And there comes a point where old, tired analogies should be scuttled. Latino politics are at that point; the recent national election emphasized it with several ending exclamation marks.
72% to 75% of the Latino vote went for Barack Obama, depending on which poll you’re reading. And overall consensus seems to be that close to 12 million Latinos went to the polls. So I can understand the easy reach to the “sleeping giant” analogy. But there’s a larger thing happening that get’s understated in the image of an over sized voter, yawning and rubbing the sleep from its eyes.
Latinos didn’t wake up this election.
The fact is that the number of registered Latino voters has been growing steadily for several decades and the percentage of Latino participation has been increasing as well. The false image is a result of slippery percentages, because as the real number of participating Latinos has increased, the percentage of the total has been diminishing – but that’s because the community of eligible voters is growing so fast that we’re unable to maintain the percentage above water.
All that to say that Latino voters haven’t suddenly woken up. If anything, many other-than-Latino politicians have woken up, with a start, and at first glance, because they’ve never given Latino voters a close look, suddenly see a giant where they hadn’t seen one before. So it’s their problem, no one else’s.
Latinos stood up, and that’s different.
Latinos felt compelled to go to the polls and have their voices heard because of the nasty rhetoric coming from the conservative right. They felt empowered to stand in line in some cases for hours at a time in response to the threat and deliberate acts of voter suppression. So if there is a word to describe what Latinos felt this election, something that stood out above other issues and other election, I’d say it was respect, or it’s flip side disrespect.
Latinos felt disrespected.
Not that it’s anything new. But this time the disrespect was more blatant, loud and obvious than ever. So much so that Latinos felt compelled to stand and vote. And now the politicians who missed the call are scrambling to understand what happened, re-wording their past in a contrite assessment of their negligence, as if admitting their mistake erases the blunder.
But it’s going to take much more than that. Because, if they haven’t yet noticed:
Latinos are awake, standing and listening.