Latino candidates work to awaken the 'Sleeping Giant'

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

"Luz's (Robles) strong education, her strong involvement in business community and her previous experience as an advocate for low-income people, all those things affect people who are eligible to vote, (also) people who aren't," said Gonzales. "So those folks who are undocumented who aren't eligible to vote can participate by encouraging people they know who are eligible to participate."

Diaz also put the problem on education but had different views on how Latinos view immigration. He said Pew research polls show that Latinos are not single-issue voters, with both white and Latino families with immigration issues low on their list of priorities.

"People think that Hispanics wake up every day and are thinking about immigration," Diaz said. "You know what, jobs and the economy is by far (more of a concern), education and health care is more important to any Anglo family and to any Latino family than immigration is."

Melodía Gutiérrez, the Latino outreach director for the Utah State Democratic Party, said that her party has made moves to reach out to Latino communities in Salt Lake City.

"They (Democratic Party) recognize that we are a fast growing population here in Utah and that it is important to have representation to our population in the state," Gutiérrez said. "The National perception (of Utah) is this really monochromatic state that doesn't have a lot of cultural diversity when in fact it does and it does more so than people realize."

Not all of the districts are Latino or ethnically diverse, but the voice of Latino politicians will resonate with the community, according to Robles.

The loyalty of the Latino population doesn't lie with either party, Wheatley said.

"Latinos put President (George W.) Bush in office when he appealed to a lot of the issues that we (Latinos) are concerned about, and Latinos put our current president in position," Wheatley said.

Means to an end

As both parties look to improve the state through active participation by the Latino community, the candidates say higher education will be key in closing the gap as the Latino population increases.

"We need to have an education that reflects that and we need to have leaders ready to be engaged and involved," Gutiérrez said.

Many of the candidates attributed their success to having role models and mentors guiding them into public service, while allowing them to engage in civic causes. They acknowledged the examples of their families and felt that is one key in promoting higher education and closing the gap.

"If we can have people that can inspire us, I want more of those people, and hopefully this election cycle will bring some of that stuff and bring more Latinas and Latinos saying, 'wow, yes I want to participate, that could be me in a few years from now,'" Robles said.

"The moment that the so-called 'Sleeping Giant' wakes up, it is going to be pretty dramatic for both parties and the whole process itself," Robles said.

E-mail: jreyes@desnews.com Twitter: @_JulianReyes_

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