Latinos must reconsider Obama

Much is being said in the media, town-hall meetings and rallies about Latinos choosing between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama as the next president of our country. Some pundits, Latinos included, predict the longtime “rift” between Latinos and blacks will come into play.

I disagree with those who buy into this so-called racial division. We should challenge that old view every time we hear or read about it.

Some also say the “older” working-class generation of Latino Democrats will go along with Clinton because of the Clintons’ connection with our community. The reference has some truth to it, but it is a hollow truth that leaves much to be desired.

In contrast, these same pundits say Obama is relatively young and new to the political realities of our country and even less knowledgeable about the needs of Latinos. They point to his lack of experience on global matters as something that could set us back internationally.

Well, maybe yes, maybe no. Then again, how much of a setback can it be, measured against our downward spiral under George W. Bush. There is no place to go but up in our standing — up in world affairs, up in our economy, up in citizen participation and certainly up in hope for a better future, away from the class, racial and religious divisiveness of the last seven years.

Insofar as Latinos are concerned, Obama may not know how to speak Spanish, but he is not alone. Many, many Latinos don’t, either.

He is not an immigrant from Latin America. Here again, he is not alone. We Latinos are increasingly second-, third- or fourth-generation.

Obama is the biracial son of a white woman and African man. Bottom line, he is a U.S. citizen who knows the sentiments of our community.

He has worked organizing with Latinos in Chicago. He has experienced the pressures faced by the working class and has consistently fought the challenges posed by racism and exclusion.

When I see Obama and hear him speak of his vision for our country, it reminds me of where I walked 43 years ago, on a picket line with the United Farm Workers in front of a Safeway store in San Diego.

I was 21 years old, in the Navy and excited to be involved fighting for the rights of farmworkers under the leadership of Cesar Chavez. While the store no longer exists at that site, I am still reminded of the first of many “political” activities I would engage in.

After serving in the Navy for four years, I joined the social-justice fight for inclusion of Chicanos and Latinos in education, health, economic development and our political representation at all levels of government. I was involved in the founding of many local, state and national civil-rights organizations representing the interests and rights of Latinos and low-income students.

I share this background with you so that you will understand where I am coming from with my public endorsement of a political candidate.

My experience is not unique when compared with other Chicano/Latino social-justice activists who rose up in the late ’60s and those who continued with the fight since then. I attribute my passion and involvement to Chavez, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, Latino Vietnam vets and many of the unsung men and women warriors throughout our communities who participated right along with us in our struggle for justice.

We were inspired by great leaders who looked like us, spoke like us and lived amongst us.

Those were challenging times. Our friends were beaten up and locked up because we demanded our civil rights. My younger brother and I were tear-gassed when we took part in the first Chicano Moratorium March in Los Angeles, where journalist Ruben Salazar was killed by police.

Our participation in countless demonstrations across the nation, helping open the doors to institutions of higher education, allowed our community the opportunity to gain a higher education and join the professional and political ranks in this country. We made some gains. We still have a long way to go.

Unlike the family members I grew up with in Texas, my own family now is multicultural and multiracial. I see great and wonderful opportunities for it. The election of a compassionate leader like Obama will spread the path for us, our country and the world. Take a look at your own history and story, take a look at his, and then join me as we cast our vote for Barack Obama.

(Gus Chavez, now retired, served as director of the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs and Ethnic Affairs at San Diego State University. Readers may reach him at guschavez2000(at)


  1. JoyfulC

    So what does Obama have to offer Latinos — or anybody — other than a pretty face and the ability to give inspiring speeches?

    We’ve been through some rough times lately, and so it’s appealing to find a candidate that inspires us to feel good again. But this country’s problems can’t be fixed by a cheerleading rally.

    And so far, that’s the only unique thing that Obama offers. He’s cuter than a bug’s ear — but there’s just no substance there.

  2. Justin

    Hillary gets tough on illegals.

    Or does she?

    Texans should ask her about her CURRENT position on this issue.

    The Lady tends to flip-flop ,to say whatever voters want to hear at the moment.


    Hillary Clinton came out firmly against illegal immigration.

    Saying that she is strongly opposed to “illegal immigrants,” New York Sen. Hillary Clinton announced Tuesday that she would support a national identification card for U.S. citizens if other measures to keep illegals out of the country failed.
    “I am, you know, adamantly against illegal immigrants,” Clinton told WABC Radio’s John Gambling. Then, a few moments later, the Democratic Party presidential frontrunner added, “We might have to move towards an ID system even for citizens.”
    Clinton said she would support a national ID card as part of an overall effort to improve the U.S.’s national security.
    “Clearly we have to make some tough decisions as a country,” the top Democrat warned. “And one of them ought to be coming up with a much better entry and exit system so that if we’re going to let people in for the work that otherwise would not be done, let’s have a system that keeps track of them.”

    “People have to stop employing illegal immigrants,” she told WABC. “I mean, come up to Westchester, go to Suffolk and Nassau Counties, stand in the street corners in Brooklyn or the Bronx (and) you’re going to see loads of people waiting to get picked up to go do yard work and construction work and domestic work. You know, this is not a problem that the people coming into the country are solely responsible for. They wouldn’t be coming if we didn’t put them to work.”

    Hillary repeated her argument that we should be using more technology to protect our borders.

    “I don’t think that we have protected our borders or our ports or provided our first responders with the resources they need, so we can do more and we can do better,” Clinton told Fox News Channel’s Greta Van Susteren.
    To enhance border security, Clinton explained, “there’s technology now available. There are some advanced radar systems. There are biometric and other kinds of identification systems that we’ve been very slow to deploy and unwilling to spend money on.”

  3. Sheep

    To Joyful C: May I suggest you read Mr. Obama’s books and you will find that he more than just a pretty face. It’s unfortunate that you are so shallow in your thinking.

    If you could only look beyond the sum of what you think you know, you would be surprised by what you may learn!

  4. sherry

    Forget the inspiring books. He voted present 139 times in the State Senate.
    The vote to name the Iranian Army a terrorist organization was soundly criticized by Obama, but he never bothered to show up for the vote.
    He voted to fund the war a few times, then when it became an issue, he did vote against it, but only AFTER the bill had already passed.
    His legislative record in the US Senate is quite thin. Let’s see, it was ethics reform. Wow.
    Not exactly a workhorse now is he?