Latino candidates work to awaken the 'Sleeping Giant'

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Robles, a vice president at Zions Bank and a Tijuana native, would cross the Mexican-American border daily to go to high school in San Diego. She is the daughter of engineers and came to Utah to attend the University of Utah in part because of her Mormon upbringing.

The education issues she witnessed in Utah became a passion for her in public policy.

"What really got me going (in politics) is the huge disparity I was able to see with regards to children in education and health care for people of color," Robles said. "Ethnic disparities were too obvious for me, and the need for changing policy it's always been my passion. I felt this was the most active way to have a bigger impact was through politics and found a great niche here in Utah."

Her Senate district intersects with Romero's House district and Muniz's House district. The three candidates hope to represent the Northwest side of Salt Lake County where a big part of the education gap exists.   

"You still have to go through the process of education, and that is a challenge when we (Latinos) have the highest high school dropout rates," Robles said. "You think of what makes someone successful and it is quality education and quality health care so that you can be healthy to pursue your education."

Romero said that the biggest concern in her House district is giving the Latino and refugee youths an opportunity at quality education. She said that the achievement gap is significant in the Latino and refugee population in her community and that funding pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs would be a start in closing the gap.

Paredes, Romero's counterpart, also recognized the education gap.

"A lot of Latinos are registered Democrats and they didn't even know they were registered Democrat," Paredes said. "Being able to inform them, 'here is two parties and let me show you about this party and showing you things that they can offer you.'

"There is that gap, but everyone is different," he said. "To be able to address it like a blanket wouldn't work, and so it is good when we have a new community coming into our community to incorporate them," he said of the need for multiple solutions.

According to Wheatley, the education gap has existed since researchers have been gathering data on the issue and not much has improved.

"I don't think it is just one magic bullet that is going to solve that achievement gap; it has to come in from all angles and make sure we are always included in the discussion," he said.

Seeking engagement

There is also a gap in the number of individuals who can participate in the civic process because of immigration status or language barriers, which places civic responsibility on the youths.

"Their children are the ones that can come forward and take the next step, becoming full-fledged Americans, as they have every right to. They have every right to participate in this process and every obligation to their family and to their children who are yet to be born," said Gonzales. "This is a representative democracy which means they (Latino youths) ought to represent the people who are there."

Gonzales urged the undocumented community to get involved in expressing opinions and identifying problems, and not worry about the ramifications of deportation when getting involved.

"I have yet, ever, to hear one of these representatives ask somebody in the course of listening to the problems whether they are documented," he said. "I have yet to hear 'well that is well and good but are you a citizen?' What they say is, 'what are the problems and how can we resolve them? How can we get these things fixed?'"

Participation from the undocumented community can be another key into getting the wheels rolling in the Latino political arena.

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