Feet in 2 Worlds senior producer Jocelyn Gonzales is interviewing first-time, first-generation voters — youngsters born to immigrant families who this year will formally take part in their first election.
In this new video, Jocelyn talks to Avinash Ramsadeen, a recent college grad from New York now working for Fox News online. His parents are originally from Guyana, a tiny South American country that, according to the CIA’s World Factbook “achieved independence from the UK in 1966, and since then … has been ruled mostly by socialist-oriented governments.” Although it’s neighbors with Venezuela and Brazil, Guyana is not considered a Latin American nation since it was colonized by the Dutch and British. The main population groups are of black African and Indian heritage.
Ramsadeen, who grew up in Jamaica, Queens, says those earlier leftist Guyanese governments strongly influenced his parents into more conservative views, many of which he shares. Here, he talks about his and his parents’ involvement in U.S. elections, and about the issues that influenced his decision to support Republican candidate John McCain.
First-time voters are getting lots of attention this year — both foreign-born Americans who have recently become naturalized citizens and American-born young people who’ve just reached voting age. Patrick Ng falls into the latter group, but he also comes from an immigrant background: he’s a first-time voter and a first-generation American.
Born in 1987 to parents who immigrated from Myanmar in the 1970s, Patrick is a filmmaker and a third-year student at New York University. He says he’s the one who brings an American influence into his family’s home, and that his parents -who are now U.S. citizens- don’t seem overly concerned with the political process in general and this election in particular. Watch him talk about this and more in this video by Feet in 2 Worlds‘ Jocelyn Gonzales:
As voters, Asian Americans don’t get paid the same attention as other ethnic groups. This is partly because they are underrepresented on the voter rolls. But they could be more important than ever this election year for one key reason: they tend to be an independent-minded voting population, without a clear, long-standing affiliation to either of the parties. Asian American voters could have a potentially pivotal role in states like Virginia and Nevada.
A “groundbreaking” national survey of Asian American voters released last week showed that a majority of them intend to vote for Barack Obama, but that also there are still very significant numbers of undecided among them. The figures were: 41% for Obama, 24% for John McCain, and 34% undecided. This contrasts with the eight percent considered undecided among the general population. [To get the National Asian American Survey, visit this site.]
Patrick Ng’s heightened interest in the presidential campaign is not unusual for first-generation Asian Americans this year. It was young activists who created “Asian Americans for” websites in support of both Obama and McCain. And, across the country, young Asian American organizations are trying to build political muscle and get others involved.
Still, some wonder if Asian American young people will turn out in large enough numbers to make a difference. “Who is the Asian American vote? ” asks Glenn Magpantay, a staff attorney at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York. “I’m actually not sure that it’s young people,” he observes.
Speaking at a recent Feet in Two Worlds forum, Magpantay said, “Young people, especially on four-year college campuses have played a tremendous role in these elections. But for Asian Americans we actually find that 18 to 29 year olds have the lowest voter participation rates. It tends to be those over 50, it’s our parents. And so the family lacks a history of voting. The parents don’t vote because they are not citizens, the kids don’t vote either because no one has approached them about what to do. And for some political parties Asian Americans are not a reliable voting bloc.”
There are at least 3.5 million Americans of Arab descent. Those who are following the presidential race cannot be happy with the latest news from the McCain campaign.
In a scene that will be replayed on YouTube and cable news through the weekend, Gayle Quinnell, an elderly female Republican supporter at a rally in Lakeville, Minnesota, tells John McCain that Barack Obama is “an Arab” when questioning the Democrat’s fitness to lead the country.
McCain, as you can see in the video, snatches the microphone from her hand and counters: “No ma’am, no ma’am, he’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about. He’s not. Thank you.”
The video also includes a post-rally interview with Quinnell. According to The Uptake.org, the reporters present were Noah Kunin, The UpTake’s senior political correspondent, Adam Aigner of NBC News and Dana Bash of CNN. [The interview was taped with a cellphone camera in a noisy place, but a full transcript is available at The Uptake link above.]
Quinnell, who’s 75 years old, said she obtained information on Obama from the Shakopee, Minn., local library and from another Republican volunteer at a McCain campaign office. She added she’s sent out 400 copies of a letter containing that information to local people so they can decide “if they would want Obama.”
When asked why she thinks Obama is Arab, Quinnell answers “because his dad is.” When CNN’s Dana Bash interjects that Barack Obama’s father was in fact a Muslim, Quinnell seems a bit confused about the terms. She finally says, “Yeah, but he’s still got Muslim in him. So that’s still part of him. I got all the stuff from the library and I could send you all kinds of stuff on him.”
If the presidential primaries are any indication, voter turnout on November 4 will be very heavy. Some electoral analysts believe this will be especially true in key ethnic communities, including among Latinos, who appear set to turn out in record numbers.At a recent Feet in Two Worlds town hall forum on “Deconstructing the Immigrant Vote,” political organizers and ethnic media journalists agreed that anger is among the most important factors motivating immigrant voters this year.
Journalist Pilar Marrero speaks at the forum on Deconstructing the Immigrant Vote at the New School. Josh Hoyt, Executive Director, Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rightsandjournalist Aswini Anburajan were also on the panel.
“When an electorate gets angry they go out and vote,” said Feet in Two Worlds journalist Aswini Anburajan. “And it’s starting to mobilize people.”
According to Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), anti-immigrant laws and rhetoric have been “the driving force” pushing a growing number of Latino immigrants to become naturalized citizens. “It’s out of anger, it’s out of fear, and it’s out of the sense that if they become a citizen and vote it’s an act of self defense,” he said.
Arturo Vargas, Executive Director of NALEO responds to a story by Pilar Marrero on Latino ‘s who are becoming citizens so they can vote in this year’s election.
Speaking to an audience at The New School, where the forum was held, Vargas said Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform is also motivating Latino voters. “We saw it in 2006 when millions of people took to the streets of America demanding … immigration reform.” Vargas noted that many of the protesters in ’06 were teenagers who have since reached voting age. “We have now a new generation of Latino youth who have reached the age of 18 in a very politicized environment where their consciousness has been raised,” Vargas said.“They told us two years ago, ‘Today we march, tomorrow we vote.’Well, tomorrow has arrived.”
It’s not just Hispanics who may vote out of anger. Asian American outrage over a racially charged remark by U.S. Senator George Allen of Virginia played a key role in his razor-thin loss to Democrat Jim Webb in 2006. Webb’s victory gave the Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 1994. (more…)
Just after the Republican National Convention ended, the party’s nominee Sen. John McCain sat down for an interview with a major American network. It wasn’t ABC, NBC or CBS: he was interviewed by Jorge Ramos, Univision‘s lead anchor and the host of the show Al Punto which focuses on politics. The network’s web site summed up the interview saying McCain, “skirted questions about his vote in favor of the border wall.”
In fact, McCain seemed to tell Ramos he did not vote for construction of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico. (He did not finish the sentence twice, however.) [This video has been removed from YouTube.]
Here’s a transcript of the original exchange in English, as published by Univision:
Ramos: You voted for the construction of the wall between Mexico and the United States. However, the Mexican Government has just confirmed that every year, at least half a million Mexicans come to the United States. How exactly are you planning to secure that border? Every single minute there is an immigrant coming into the United States illegally.
McCain: I didn’t vote for, I am not sure what you are talking about, but we can secure…
Ramos: …about 700 miles.
McCain: I say we can secure our borders with walls and/or fences in urban areas, and then virtual fences, vehicle barriers
Ramos: But, you did vote for the wall.
McCain: I didn’t vote for an…, I don’t know what you are exactly, what you are referring to. What my plan was, and what our proposal was, that we secure our borders, and we can secure it, not necessarily with walls and fences. Although that is important in populated areas, in the deserts of Arizona vehicle barriers, cameras, and sensors, all of those things, can be used.
Did McCain vote for the wall or not?
On Sept. 28, 2006, when the Secure Fence Act was passed that approved the construction of the border barrier, McCain voted “Yea,” Senate records show.
After that, there were several votes related to appropriations for the project, but it appears that McCain did not vote again on the matter. (Here’s Project Vote Smart’s compilation of recent McCain votes on immigration-related bills.)
Once he began campaigning for the presidency, McCain’s stance on immigration shifted away from his co-sponsorship of comprehensive immigration reform with Sen. Ted Kennedy. Early this year, in a Meet The Press interview with the late Tim Russert he practically gave up on that effort. When Russert asked him whether he would sign such a bill into law as President, McCain said, “it isn’t gonna come, it isn’t gonna come. The lesson is, they want the border secured first.”
NPR’s Jennifer Ludden mapped McCain’s trajectory on the issue in this story last June: his position now is that, as President, he would have governors certify that the border is secure before taking other immigration-related measures.
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By the way, how’s that fence doing?
Not so well, The Washington Post reported this week: it’s unlikely that it will be completed on schedule, and construction costs are surging.
Barring action by Congress, “we’re out of money and operations will stop,” border protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Diego Graglia is documenting the lives of Latinos during this presidential election year as he travels from New York City to Mexico City. For more on La Ruta del Voto Latino-The Road to the Latino Vote visit www.newyorktomexico.com.
On our first day on the road we arrived in Manassas, Virginia, not far from Washington D.C. Our goal was to revisit the intense and controversial debate on immigration that has been taking place there.
A year ago the Prince William County supervisors launched a crackdown on undocumented immigrants. They passed a resolution whose outstanding feature allows local law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of people they suspect of committing a crime or misdemeanor (even jaywalking.) Officers can also report undocumented immigrants to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for deportation processing.
As soon as we arrived, I met Teresita Jacinto, a spokeswoman for Mexicanos Sin Fronteras/Mexicans Without Borders. Listen here to a Podcast of my interview with Jacinto.
Teresita Jacinto at 9500 Liberty St., “El Muro de la Calle Libertad.” (More photos here)
I interviewed her in front of what people in Manassas call The Wall — and those supporting immigrants regardless of their status call El Muro de la Calle Libertad (Liberty Street wall). It’s painted on the side of a burnt-down house by Mexican-born owner Gaudencio Fernández. In the wall’s strong message, he calls Prince William County, “the national capital of intolerance.” [Read the full text in this photo.] Unfortunately when we arrived Fernández was on vacation in Mexico.
The wall has been the subject of controversy and the target of attacks. As you’ll read in this story, Fernández has to go to court after his vacation. But I was more concerned with understanding its message.
Today Feet in Two Worlds introduces a new feature, La Ruta del Voto Latino – Road to the Latino Vote, which will tell the story of Latinos in the 2008 election. Independent journalist Diego Graglia is taking a two-week road trip from New York City to Mexico City, stopping in urban, suburban and rural communities along the way for an in-depth and intimate look at Hispanic voters in an election year when the Latino vote is expected to be crucial in many states and many regions of the country. You can follow Diego here on the Feet in Two Worlds blog and on his bilingual blog www.newyorktomexico.com. In addition to regular blog posts, Diego will be producing audio and video podcasts and radio stories about his trip. I invite you to check back frequently to see what Diego discovers during his travels. You can leave comments for him here or contact him directly at email@example.com. As Diego and his girlfriend Amy leave New York we wish them buen viaje.
John Rudolph – Executive Producer, Feet in Two Worlds
Monday morning, as you wake up and make coffee, I’ll probably be driving under the Hudson River, having my morning mate and exiting New York once more. After five and a half years there, I moved to Mexico City, el D.F., at the beginning of this year. Now, I’m uniting the two cities in a roadtrip that will take me through the nation’s capital and the Mid-Atlantic region, the Deep South, Texas and the desert of northern Mexico.
While this trip was born as a private adventure, my journalistic genes could not let such a big opportunity to tell good stories pass without doing something about it. Of course, the biggest story in the land right now is the presidential election, with two candidates whose life stories could not be more compelling, and several issues –the war, the economy, immigration, the environment- triggering the most passionate opinions.
The Latino population in the U.S. has been growing for decades, and Latinos recently became the biggest minority in the country. Of course, this categorization is a little weird, since Latinos can be black, white, Native American, and a lot of other things – sometimes belonging to more than one minority at a time. (I, for one, am quite Caucasian, bear an Italian last name and speak English with a pree-ttee strong Latino accent.) Nevertheless, the existence of Latinos as a group does count, big-time, in terms of the ballots that will be added up on November 4.
By now, American politicians know that badmouthing Fidel Castro –who’s pretty much retired, anyway– is not going to cut it in terms of winning over Latinos. A visit to the Basílica of Guadalupe in Mexico City may help (right, Senator McCain?), since Mexicans are a majority of the people of Latin American descent in this country. But it has become quite clear that the Latino electorate is too diverse to be put into one big grab bag, una bolsa de gatos. (Yep, that is “a bag of cats.”)
As soon as our gallant 1992 Subaru Legacy station wagon, El Rayo Blanco (uh-huh, that’s The White Lightning) exits the Jersey City side of the Holland Tunnel, I will start bringing you the faces, voices, ideas and feelings of that diverse Latino population. The Dominicans who live in the neighborhoods above 137th Street in Manhattan, the Mexicans who work in poultry factories in rural North Carolina, the few Hispanics that remained in a Florida Panhandle town after an immigration raid, the Texan families who’ve been Americans for several generations, Hispanic last names and all.
I will visit Prince William County in Virginia, where the debate over undocumented immigrants has been intense, and where local authorities are enforcing federal immigration law. I will talk to a Mexican activist in Greenville, N.C., who’s been advocating for the rights of rural workers in the area for 20-plus years. I will watch party activists working hard everywhere at registering Latino voters, trying to woo them to one side or the other.
El Rayo Blanco and its crew: Amy -driver- and Diego -reporter-.
The site where all this will go up, www.newyorktomexico.com, has many interactive features, so I hope to hear from readers from all over the country – and from abroad, too. We want to know what people – Latino and non-Latino – think about the election, what issues they care about, and their opinions of the two candidates. By the time we finish the American leg of this trip, entering Mexico from Laredo, Texas, we should have some clearer – and distinctly grass-roots answers to those questions.
Oh… if you’re along our route, please don’t forget to recommend the best Latin American eatery in your town – this is going to be hard work and we will need to replenish our energy often.
* Diego Graglia is an Argentinean journalist with a strong interest in the relationship between the U.S. and Latin America, and Latino culture and society in the United States. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at @nydf, and through Live Chat and comments on www.newyorktomexico.com.