A new PBS documentary will cast a spotlight on the crucial role of U.S. Hispanic voters in picking the next president of the United States.
As the race between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama grows increasingly intense and heated, both campaigns are expending large sums of money, time and attention on the burgeoning block of Hispanic voters. Latinos '08, directed by award-winning filmmaker Philip Rodriguez, examines how the Obama and McCain campaigns are trying to mobilize Hispanics. Going beyond press platitudes and the vacuous spin of politicians, the program challenges the notion that U.S. Hispanics form a unified homogeneous block. Such luminaries and experts as former cabinet secretary Henry Cisneros, marketing consultant Lionel Sosa, Obama campaign co-chair Federico Pena, television pundit Leslie Sanchez, and Rev. Luis Cortes dissect who are Latinos and what is driving their vote today. The ethnic group's identity and role in national politics is evolving rapidly, says Columbia University political scientist Rodolfo de la Garza.
The one-hour program will be shown tonight (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and begins with a historical overview of presidential candidates and their efforts reach the Hispanic voter, before focusing on 2008.
John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign in 1960 was the first to make a concerted effort to reach Hispanic voters, and the documentary features a TV ad, delivered gingerly in Spanish, by Jacqueline Kennedy. In 1980, Ronald Reagan broke through the traditional Democratic-voting pattern of Hispanics by appealing to their conservative family values.
In 2008, the documentary reports, many U.S. Hispanics viewed Sen. McCain favorably for his support of a comprehensive immigration reform, but he retreated from that position amid hostile attacks against illegal immigrants. Those attacks, to some, appeared to demonize Hispanics in general. When the film interviews Ms. Sanchez, a Republican TV commentator, she states, "Some of that rhetoric sounded anti-Hispanic."
Meanwhile, Obama was beaten soundly amongst Hispanics by Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and her support was especially strong among Latinas. This political landscape sets up some key questions for the documentary: Will McCain manage to win significant Latino voters despite the Republican Party's harsh immigration rhetoric? Will Democrat Obama succeed in securing the Latino votes of Clinton supporters?
In 2004, for example, the Latino vote was roughly split between the two parties. How, then, are today's candidates and advocacy groups trying to mobilize and attract this group of voters? This documentary considers current strategies, from get-out-the-vote campaigns to bilingual blogs to mariachi theme songs. Columnist Ruben Navarette Jr. says, "Most of the people who run for president, they're all mostly white males, and when they show up, they show up with mariachis, they show up with chips and salsa. We get tired of being defined by a food group."
Predicting how Hispanics will vote is a risky exercise, the program shows, because of the heterogeneity among Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Central Americans and other national groups. Hispanics, like other groups, are divided by class and education, and the lives of more recent immigrants are often vastly different than those born in the U.S.
Rodriguez, the film director, is know for his previous documentaries, which include Brown is the New Green: George Lopez and the American Dream (2007), Los Angeles Now (2004), Manuel Ocampo: God is My Copilot (1999), and Pancho Villa & Other Stories (1998).
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