DNC 2012: ¿Latinos, Interrupted?

Charlotte, North Carolina

"This is a big night for our community."

"El Julián is going to go national after tonight."

San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro opened the 2012 Democratic National Convention, one sign of the Obama campaign's aggressive outreach to Latinos, an emerging community and voting bloc.  In addition to Castro's keynote address, other important roles include the chair of this event--L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa--and speaking roles for Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and congressman Xavier Becerra.


But as I walk the streets of Charlotte, I'm not celebrating.

I'm not celebrating that Julián and his brother Joaquín are exceptions and not the rule. Despite recent Pew Hispanic research that shows more Latinos are entering college, our educational attainment remains low with a lasting impact on future earnings and building wealth.

I'm not celebrating that the recession has been especially brutal on Hispanics. Unemployment has trended two points above the national average.  Household wealth plunged 66% from 2005 to 2009 and is stubborn to recover.

I'm also not celebrating that the Democrats, who have historically been the party of choice for Hispanics, are--at least in one respect--surprisingly "off message."

"I love Latinos!" is what's practically rolling off the lips of every Democratic operative I run into, echoing the GOP convention theme of "I love women!"  Just as Republicans are trying to peel away some female voters who aren't "feeling it" for President Obama, as a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll reveals, Democrats are trying to hold the "Latino vote"--which may feel it has little choice but to re-elect Obama after the hardline immigration rhetoric of the Republican primary debates stained Mitt Romney.

You would think that Hispanics would be included in just about every session the convention holds throughout the day, devoted to all kinds of issues, with heavy messaging that the President's policies have been successful, and re-election will protect them and help him fulfill his agenda for the next four years.

Instead, a glaring absence.  On Tuesday, I attended one panel devoted to voter suppression in several states sponsored by Impact.  There wasn't a single Hispanic on the stage, even though Latino voter rights have been targeted in Texas and Florida.

Unfortunately, Latinos were absent on a small business panel as well--which is shocking given that Hispanics open businesses at a rate that's three times faster than the national average.  It's hard to believe that the Obama campaign couldn't find one Latino business owner (psst: start with the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, whose leadership I bumped into on the streets) to talk--not just about being a "jobs generator" but also about the significant challenges holding them back, such as accessing funding and growing your enterprise.

Indeed, the opening of this convention was a big night for our community.  My heart swelled with pride when I heard Julián Castro give the keynote address.  But it would have been bigger if the Democratic convention had synched actions and words across every layer of institution.

Free advice for future conventions and both parties that are trying to secure votes and loyalty from a growing segment of the electorate:

Latino issues are American issues.

This post was first published as DNC 2012: Latinos, Interrupted? on September 6, 2012 in BlogHer for a special assignment covering the Democratic National Convention.

To read and see more of Viviana’s 2012 DNC and RNC coverage, click here.