Miriam “Mimi” Madrid’s disillusionment about the political system, in general, and President Obama, in particular, was gradual. Such tends to be the nature of crumbling faith — hope gives way to disappointment. That Madrid acknowledges this is not the same thing as saying she has succumbed either to resignation or cynicism. She is an LGBTQ activist and works as a community organizer. She’s not wired for surrender.
But Madrid is also not the euphoric 20-year old who sailed out of a precinct in Denver, six years ago after casting her first ballot for president of the United States. She is no longer the young woman who believed Obama, as a historic figure with roots in community organizing, would unify a country and hold the Democratic Party accountable to its promises.
The years have given rise to the kind of indignation that comes from believing oneself repeatedly misled when it comes to war, to corporate power – don’t get her started on Monsanto – and to immigration reform. Especially immigration reform.
“That si, se puede, si, se puede, there was so much hope,” she says “But now I’m afraid Obama will leave his presidency with ‘yes, we can’ becoming no se pudo. No, we couldn’t.”
In the Latino community, Madrid’s frustration is common. Latino support for the president still runs higher than that of the general population, but it has nonetheless tumbled to nearly its lowest point since he was elected in 2008, according to Gallup polling data released last week.
Right after Obama’s reelection in 2012, the year in which he instituted an executive policy that grants temporary legal and work status to certain undocumented youth, his support among Latinos hit 75 percent. By August, his approval rating had fallen to 52 percent, about 10 points higher than among the national population.
The drop, Gallup researchers said, can be attributed “at least in part to the failure of the president — and Congress — to enact these promised legislative changes” on immigration reform.
Also last week, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press poll found that about half of Hispanic Democrats said their party is not doing a good job of representing their views on immigration. Forty percent said the party was not willing enough to allow legal status for those here illegally.
While immigration reform also eluded President George W. Bush, the Obama presidency has been marked by record numbers of deportations, an inability to push a gridlocked Congress toward compromise and most recently, a backtracking on his pledge to take executive action on immigration after Democrats said they feared such a move could cost them the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.
In a battleground state such as Colorado, where 20 percent of the population and 14 percent of the eligible electorate is Latino, that reversal is reverberating through the ranks of Hispanic voters.
The president and Democrats made “a cold, political calculation,” said Ricardo Martinez, a founder of Padres Unidos, an activist nonprofit in Denver that focuses on education and works with immigrant families. And, he said, it could claim as collateral damage Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who is running neck-and-neck with Republican Rep. Cory Gardner.
“There are folks really seriously thinking of sitting out this election. The political calculation is that Latinos will vote Democratic and that mid-term elections are low-turnout elections anyway, but for how long can the party make that calculation?” Martinez asked. “I think what’s always missing from these political conversations are the children of parents who have been deported, the children who are U.S. citizens. One day they will reaching voting age, if they haven’t already, and they are not going to forget who deported their parents, their sisters, brothers, uncles and cousins.”
It should be said — because it can’t be said enough — that Latino perspectives on immigration reform are diverse. In poll after poll, Latinos identify education, the economy and health care as issues more pressing than immigration reform. The tendency to reduce Latinos to a monolithic voting bloc with a single issue is a constant source of frustration to many.
Which explains Mannie Rodriguez’s sigh when the subject comes up. Rodriguez, based in Denver, is a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee. He says he sympathizes with the disappointment around immigration reform, but “the Latinos I talk to want to talk about education, jobs, the quality of life. They are tired of immigration, immigration, immigration, and those who are saying they won’t vote in protest don’t understand or don’t care about the consequences, nationally and locally. If the Republicans win in Colorado, they’ll rescind the ASSET bill [a program for in-state college tuition] and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.”
The canvassers who register voters and conduct get-out-the-vote drives in heavily Latino neighborhoods hear frustration over immigration reform every day – but they also hear excitement among those preparing to cast their first ballots, says Carla Castedo, Colorado state director for Mi Familia Vota.
“Too many of us are not involved in our democratic process, and we cannot afford to remain invisible,” Castedo said. “If we choose to not participate, we will continue to be attacked on one side and ignored on the other.”
Madrid, now 26, said she finds herself at a troubling intersection: “I see the power of voting and the power of being involved in local and national politics. I also see how difficult it can be to change things at the national level and the way in which the president is limited by Congress and other elements and how the decisions he makes can be detrimental to my own self and my own values. I can’t help but think that the man whose roots started in community organizing, the man I voted for, would disagree with the man who is president today.”
But, she said, sitting out the election is not an option for her. “My ancestors worked so hard to get this vote, to be recognized as human, as Latino, black, native. I have to respect the blood, sweat and tears that our ancestors went through,” she said.
The Latino electorate is growing and, she said, “we need to continue to connect as a community, to dig deep into our roots and values as a people who are resilient because when the time comes that we do have the numbers and we do have the power, when we are the majority, then, as a community, we can truly say si, se puede.”