Politicians seek Hispanic votes, but our lives vote for us

When I asked my dad 15 years ago to cite the saddest day of his life, I didn't know how he'd answer. But I had an idea.

Maybe the day he held his stillborn daughter in his hands. Perhaps the day he had to drop out of the eighth grade to help support his family. Or quite possibly that day in the '50s when he carried his dead infant brother from graveyard to Southern Utah graveyard, hoping to persuade a Mormon cemetery to bury a Catholic baby.

My adversity-versed father answered with none of the above. To my utter shock, he replied, "The day Bobby Kennedy was killed."

That's when I realized: Politics have had a profound impact on Latinos in America. But in 2012, Latinos have a profound impact on politics.

If you read today's cover story, and if you've had working ears and eyes these past several months, then you already know: Both presidential candidates are wining and dining the Latino vote. We make up 17 percent of this country and 15 percent of Nevada's electorate. Privy to the fact Nevada has chosen 25 of the past 26 presidents, the gentleman callers are even serenading us locally with Latino bands and sending their bilingual family members to sway us in Spanish. They want our vote. And they want it bad.

All the romance is nice, but probably unnecessary.

Most of us will have made up our minds long before we visit the polls. Most of our votes won't be decided in these crucial campaigning weeks. Most of us knew whose name we'd be darkening a bubble next to long before the stumping in Mexican restaurants started. And not because of a nasty campaign commercial, an endorsement from a darling past president or a crushing debate performance, either.

Our lives vote for us. We either pick the man who will change it, or the one who will help us keep it. And we know that man when we see him. Just like my dad knew in 1968.

For many years, he worked in the fields, as did my mom, with a bent back and a sweaty brow for next-to-nothing pay. By the time Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez rose to lead a national boycott of grapes after growers slashed farmworkers' wages, my dad had already straightened his posture. He held an office job in social services. He still worked up a sweat, traveling, pumping his fist at rallies and shaking hands with promising politicians. The most unforgettable of them all, a senator named Robert F. Kennedy.

See, Huerta and Chavez were brown people with a lot to gain from establishing what would eventually become the United Farm Workers union. But, RFK was a white man seeking a nomination for president. In the '60s. Supporting the efforts of farmworkers over farm owners meant he had a lot to lose.

Still, he saw the struggle, the conditions and the injustice this group of mostly Mexican-Americans endured. He reached out to La Causa, and the Latinos that comprised it, to service the people.

Now, politicians are reaching out to Latinos to service themselves. That's the trouble with all this recognition. It makes it harder to distinguish sincerity from selfishness, compassion from calculation.

One thing all politicians could stand to learn: Just like we don't all look the same, we don't all vote the same, either.

The DREAM Act, endorsed by President Barack Obama, will have influence on Latino voters, but not all of them. If Papi didn't immigrate and Papi's papi didn't, either, will a Latino voter care that Obama announced he'd halt the deportation of a young person who did?

I have a tia in Idaho who thinks the world of Sarah Palin. This aunt doesn't have a penchant for hockey or hunting, but she's small-town and so is the famous Alaskan. She probably saw a little of herself in 2008's vice presidential hopeful.

The same way a black Latino probably looks at Obama or a devout Mormon Latino might look at Mitt Romney. There are plenty of both, you know.

The saddest day of my dad's life was June 6, 1968, when RFK was assassinated. The same day the big dream of a president who cared for little Latinos died.

The saddest day for one of this year's candidates will likely be Nov. 6, 2012. But it will mark the happiest day for his opponent.

Can the Latino vote decide both? Can we count this election as a win simply for the weight we carried during it? Can we do the same four years from now?

In the good words of Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez: Si se puede. Yes we can.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.