Hispanic Clevelanders' Effort to Boost Latino Vote

Yolanda Perdomo- Two men, three women, all Hispanic, are having a lively discussion at Esperanza, a Latino social services agency on Cleveland's west side. Their goal (is) to register 1,000 Latinos to vote and to get out the Hispanic vote in November. According to voter watchdog groups, less than half the Latinos eligible to vote in the U.S. actually do so.

Lou Reyes- For the first time, what you're seeing is a group getting together, coming together, concerned Latinos, all professionals, everyone a business owner or corporate person saying, "we've had enough."

YP- Lou Reyes is the president of the Hispanic Political Action Committee, or H-PAC. He's also the owner of Cleveland Life magazine. Reyes says as long as Latinos continue to be politically apathetic, politicians will continue to ignore them. He helped form H-PAC a year ago to educate Latinos about the voting process and to encourage their participation in the system.

LR- We don't vote - and one thing I've always said, we kind of get what we deserve. We haven't been organized. We've allowed other people to tell us what to do.

You've got Lincoln West High School that's 70% Latino students. But yet there's no advanced placement program. Nothing. How can you ignore that? How can you do that? So this is something that frustrates our community. We have a lack of jobs in major corporations. Certainly a lack of jobs in the public sector. And once again we're ignored.

YP- H-PAC hopes to change that by reaching out to Hispanics through family and community events, such as a pancake breakfast at a church on the west side, and by going door-to-door in different Latino neighborhoods. Vivian Riccio is the executive director of Esperanza.

Vivian Riccio- We want them to contact their councilman. We want them to contact their congress person who has bilingual individuals working in their office, and express their opinion. We want them to talk to their children about the importance of voting. And that it is a responsibility that we all have to carry. And most of all we want them to get up on election day, go to the ballot box and cast their vote.

YP- The goal, says H-PAC member Maritza Perez, is to make Latinos understand that they are part of the political process. Perez, who works for the office of minority affairs at Cleveland State University, says she joined the group to help Hispanics realize that they can make a difference in their community.

Maritza Perez- I think if they register, they vote, they feel empowerment, I think then is when individuals are ready to start making that step to better the world they live in.

YP- An estimated 50,000 - 70,000 Latinos live in Cuyahoga county, yet only one Hispanic has ever been elected to Cleveland City Council. H-PAC president Lou Reyes notes that the lack of Latinos in positions of power has a direct impact on whether Latinos turn out on election day. He says one thing that may encourage Hispanics to get politcally involved is reminding them to think about their children.

LR- They have to look at their little boy or little girl and say what do I want for my child? What do I want them to have? Do I want them to go to a good school? Do I want them to have the same rights as other people have? So when you decide that you want to be involved politically, look at your children. And if you want more than what you have, if you want more for your children, then get involved politically. But if you continue to do nothing, you will continue to get nothing. We have to work now and we have to strive now and we have to work together.

YP- This election year, Republicans and Democrats alike are heavily courting Latino voters. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund projects that close to six million Hispanics will vote in November - that's a little more than half the number of Latinos in this country. Yolanda Perdomo, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.

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