Monday, June 14, 2004 State Hispanics work to upgrade clout of voters State Hispanics work to upgrade clout of voters

By Kerra L. Bolton, STAFF WRITERJune 13, 2004 9:24 p.m.
RALEIGH - An efficient immigration system and access to higher education for Hispanic youth top the political wish list for Jairo Mercado.

"Many Hispanic families have been on the waiting list for 10 years or more for citizenship," said Mercado, 32, of Hendersonville. "Hispanic kids aren't allowed to go to college after graduating from high school in the U.S. because their families are still waiting for an answer from Immigration."

Hispanic Democrats of North Carolina are meeting today in Raleigh to strategize how to make Mercado's wish list a reality. The group is an official wing of the N.C. Democratic Party.

Miriam Cruz, president of the Equity Research Corp., a nonprofit educational consulting firm, is the keynote speaker at today's event. Cruz will discuss her work in the Carter Administration as a deputy assistant to the president on Hispanic Affairs.

"Her experience working to help the Latino community is one we can learn from as we seek to create a Hispanic identity in North Carolina as united voters," said Ricardo Velasquez, president of the Hispanic Democrats of North Carolina.

"This year, the goal of our caucus is to lay the groundwork for a successful fall election and ensure that all registered Hispanic voters turn out to vote in both the primary and general elections."

North Carolina's Hispanic population has grown by more than 400 percent in the past decade. Of the roughly 500,000 Hispanics living in North Carolina, 33 percent of them are eligible to vote.


"There have been individual Hispanics in both parties who have played significant roles either as office holders or as donors and activists," said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.

"In individual districts like Charlotte, Durham and in rural areas, there are important opportunities. But the Hispanic/Latino community as a political force is only now presenting itself."

Part of the reason, political analysts say, is that Hispanics have not created a cohesive political identity. Generalizations that Cubans vote Republican while other Hispanics tend to be Democrats still hold true.

Also, Hispanics call North Carolina home after coming from 26 countries and various parts of the United States. Some of them are first-time immigrants while other Hispanic families have lived in this country for generations.

"They don't necessarily fit well with the politics of either party," said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. "They are socially conservative and more economically liberal. They're in the position that they can be pulled into either party."

Competition for their votes is fierce. Macon County Republicans passed a resolution earlier this spring to include registered Hispanic voters in their party and work on common issues. The Hispanic Democrats of North Carolina will rev up their get-out-the-vote efforts.

"We potentially have 80,000 votes out there," Velasquez said. "We have the administrative capability to contact all of these people. Our goal is to contact every one of those people and urge them to come out to vote."

Contact Bolton at (919) 833-7352 or KBolton@CITIZEN-


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