Original Op-Ed published in El Tiempo Latino (a Washington Post publication) on September 23, 2016
Por Felipe Benítez*
El próximo sábado 24 de septiembre celebraremos el Día Nacional de las Tierras Públicas (DNTP). El DNTP es celebración que nos invita a disfrutar, proteger y ser voluntario en nuestros en bosques, praderas, parques, reservas silvestres y humedales que en conjunto representan uno de los más importantes tesoros que tenemos como país: nuestras riquezas naturales. Nuestros bosques, por ejemplo, son los pulmones que nos brindan aire para respirar, la fuente del agua que necesitamos para sobrevivir, son hogar de flora y fauna que ayudan a mantener el equilibrio ambiental de nuestro país. Pero también nos brindan espacios de esparcimiento y diversión que nos hacen crecer como seres humanos.
Como nación todos somos dueños de las tierras públicas, todos tenemos derecho de formar parte de la toma de decisiones de cómo se administrarán y manejarán, pero también tenemos la obligación cuidarlas, conservarlas y protegerlas Piénselo, ¡somos dueños de cerca de 270 millones de hectáreas de riquezas naturales! Pero también pregúntese: ¿Qué puedo hacer para que nuestros hijos y futuras generaciones las continúen disfrutando?
Como primer paso, quiero invitarles a participar en el DNTP, que organizan varias agencias del gobierno federal y que coordina la Fundación Para la Educación Ambiental (NEEF, por sus siglas en inglés), durante este día habrá eventos desde Alaska hasta Puerto Rico en los que más de 100,000 voluntarios pueden ayudar en la conservación, limpieza y protección de nuestras tierras pública. Entre las actividades a realizar están la recolección de basura, eliminar plantas invasoras y el mantenimiento de veredas. Además, si participa, usted y su familia podrán disfrutar de actividades como caminatas, pesca, campamentos o simplemente disfrutar de la naturaleza que nos rodea. Durante el DNTP, la entrada a bosques, parques y espacios verdes federales será completamente gratuita para todos. En esta fecha, por ejemplo, el Servicio Forestal de los Estados Unidos está planeando más de 174 en todo el país. En el área de metropolitana Washington, D.C. habrá un evento de monitoreo de las aguas en el Río Anacostia, entre otras actividades. Busque eventos cerca de usted en https://www.neefusa.org/find-an-event
Del mismo modo, los invito a que estén atentos en sus comunidades cuando agencias como el Servicio Forestal de los Estados Unidos, el Buró de Manejo de Tierras o el Servicio Nacional de Parques llevan a cabo consultas públicas para la toma de decisiones relacionadas con el manejo de tierras como pueden ser en permisos de extracción, uso de tierras y conservación. Debemos asegurarnos que la voz de nuestra comunidad sea escuchada en estos foros.
También, para los padres de estudiantes escolares de cuarto grado, les sugiero aprovechen el programa “Every Kid in A Park” (Todos los Niños en un Parque), una iniciativa que nació desde la Casa Blanca hace dos años y que distribuye pases que tienen un valor de $80 y que dan acceso gratuito a los pequeños de ese grado y a sus familias a bosques, parques y otras tierras públicas nacionales. Este pase, por ejemplo, podría ser utilizado para visitar el Bosque Nacional George Washington y Jefferson o el Parque Nacional de Shenandoah, ambos ubicados a unas cuantas horas de Washington, DC en el estado de Virginia. Para obtener más información visite www.everykidinapark.org.
Finalmente, mientras celebramos y honramos a nuestras tierras públicas nacionales recordemos la letra de una bella canción de Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land:
Esta tierra es tu tierra
Esta tierra es mi tierra
Hasta la isla de Nueva York
Desde el Bosque de Redwood
Hasta las aguas de la Corriente del Golfo
Esta tierra fue hecha para ti y para mí.
¡Feliz Día de las Tierras Públicas Nacionales!
*Felipe es un consultor de comunicación estratégica, entusiasta de la naturaleza y forma parte de Americas for Conservation + Arts, la coalición GreenLatinos y de la red de líderes latinos Voces Verdes.
Original story published in The Guardian on September 30, 2015
By Rory Carroll
If God works in mysterious ways, then what of Pope Francis and his effect on the US’s anguished debate over immigration?
The pontiff attempted to hush an at-times ugly and xenophobic clamour with passionate appeals for compassion and recognition that immigrants built the United States, a message deftly dressed up in the symbols and pageantry of the founding fathers.
He told Congress: “In recent centuries, millions of people came to this land to pursue their dream of building a future in freedom. We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners. I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants.”
And he issued this challenge to those who oppose further immigration, particularly from Latin America: “Thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation.”
But now Francis is back in Rome, the crowds that cheered him last week in Washington, New York and Philadelphia have dispersed and his exhortation hangs in the air – a question mark over the presidential primary campaign.
Republican and Democratic leaders treated the visitor with reverence last week, but that does not mean they will heed a 78-year-old Argentinian with no caucus, no Super Pac, not even a vote.
Interviews with activists and analysts from both sides of the aisle supply three interlinked prophecies about the “Francis effect”: Donald Trump will continue bashing immigrants anyway, but the pope will embolden other candidates to confront the Republican frontrunner, and the pontiff’s visit and his words will galvanise Latinos to mobilise, especially in swing states.
Temporarily eclipsed by an even bigger media star, Trump rolled with the Francis-mania last week. He refrained from fresh outbursts calling Mexican immigrants “criminals” and “rapists”, and instead hailed the pope’s words on immigration as “beautiful”.
No one expects a Damascene conversion from the tycoon-turned-insurgent candidate. His lead in the polls is based on being an outsider who feeds alienated conservative voters “applause lines” and “hysterics”, said Leslie Sanchez, a consultant affiliated with the Republican party.
A Pew Research Center report published this week to coincide with the 50th anniversary of a landmark immigration act noted some demographic forces that fuel that support. In 1965, 84% of the population was white. After decades of further immigration white people now comprise 62%, a proportion set to shrink further to 48% by 2055 and 46% by 2065, when a quarter of the US population will be Latino.
Some 53% of adults who identified as Republican said immigrants made the country worse, versus 31% who said they made it better. Those who back Trump’s call for mass deportations and a 2,000-mile border wall with Mexico seem unimpressed or unaware, however, that the number of border crossers peaked a decade ago and that Mexico’s fertility rates have plunged.
A candidate who scorns a pope’s heartfelt appeal could in theory alienate Catholic voters. Catholics comprise about one in four of US voters, and in 2012 they broke almost evenly for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
But only about one-fifth of Catholics say they are guided by their religion when casting ballots, said Luis Fraga, a specialist in Latino politics and ethnicity at the University of Notre Dame, and that usually relates to issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
Robert Royal, a Catholic author and director of the Faith and Reason Institute, agreed immigration was unlikely to lose Trump Catholic supporters. “I have serious doubts that those who regrettably are supporting Trump on this issue will change their minds because of the holy father’s words. He may be charismatic and had an emotional effect but on a lot of these [political] issues people have already made up their minds and they don’t connect them to their religious beliefs.”
Joshua Bowman, a conservative Catholic blogger, said Catholics were not obliged to embrace the papal exhortation about immigration. “It’s not a question of dogmatic truth. If people are generally opposed to immigration they’ll just scratch their heads and move on.” Those who crossed the border illegally had broken the law, said Bowman, and scripture frowned on law-breakers.
Daniel Garza, executive director of the Libre Initiative, a libertarian-leaning Hispanic thinktank, said some hardline immigration foes had entrenched their positions despite the pope’s appeal. “I’m not sure he’s moved the dial. What the pope did was advance sentiment, not policy. A large majority of Americans agree with that sentiment but how do you translate that into policy? That’s where the rubber hits the road.”
There lies opportunity for the Francis effect. Two-thirds of Americans want immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people as long as they meet certain requirements.
In that sense the pope was preaching to the converted when, speaking in Philadelphia from the walnut lectern Abraham Lincoln used for the Gettysburg address, he hailed immigrants for bringing “many gifts” to their adopted home.
It was an appeal to America’s vision of itself as the land of opportunity, an optimistic message Ronald Reagan embraced when he granted amnesty to millions of undocumented immigrants in 1986.
Mitt Romney’s rhetoric about “self-deportation” alienated Latinos and contributed to his defeat in 2012, prompting a GOP inquest which concluded the party urgently needed to adapt for 2016.
Marco Rubio’s push for immigration reform in Congress, and Jeb Bush calling immigration an “act of love” signalled ambitions to run for the White House as kinder, more inclusive Republicans.
But the sour, anxious mood of the party base had turned toxic and gave Trump his opening. Even if he loses the primary the risk is he will compel the nominee into focusing on border security and crackdowns, positions which sabotaged Romney, and a prospect party leaders dread.
Sanchez, the Republican consultant, said Francis’s message came amid a search for an escape hatch for the party. “There is mounting pressure on Republican candidates to come up with a more mainstream, immigrant-friendly reform solution. And now we have the pope. I think it’ll have an impact.” She predicted a return to a more conciliatory tone, especially from Bush. “The best time to see it will be the next presidential debate.” That is on 28 October in Boulder, Colorado.
Enrique Pumar, a sociology professor and race relations expert at the Catholic University of America, said a moderating effect was already visible – Trump focusing on tax rather than immigration, Rubio rising in the polls. “He’s less slanderous and a bit more sensible,” he said of Trump.
Fraga agreed that the pope had “opened space” for mainstream candidates but predicted they would tread warily and slowly. “It’s a question of: will they take advantage of the space? If they do it will only be after they get nominated because the risks are too great to do it before.”
Some Latino immigration activists doubt there will be any Republican change of heart and conclude that they themselves must create the Francis effect. “What we hope is that individual voters will take his teachings close to heart,” said George Escobar, director of services at Casa, a Maryland-based immigrant rights group. “It’s incumbent on individuals to make those corrections. Ultimately we are the ones who control the polls.”
Latino activists have been on a rollercoaster: they helped re-elect Obama in 2012 and reaped the reward in an executive action in 2014 which shielded about 4 million people from deportation, but that victory was stymied when Republicans blocked the executive action through the courts. Trump’s call for mass deportations and a giant wall followed.
That set off alarms. Since Trump’s announcement in June, Mi Familia Vota has recorded a 66% hike in average monthly voter registration – a surge likely to grow in the wake of the pope’s visit.
Latinos, after all, have just seen the first Latin American pope address a joint session of Congress, and heard him tell huge crowds in Spanish to take pride in their heritage, to never forget where they came from. “He’s united us. We’ll start to see the results in the next couple of months,” said Benítez.
The activist is bracing for a long fight. “The pope’s words will make people think about what they’re saying but the damage has already been done. Trump has moved the other candidates to the far right and it’ll be tough getting them out of there.”
Original article posted in The Huffington Post on May 15, 2015
By Sara Bondioli
Sharing your message in Spanish might help build Latino support for your presidential bid -- but it's no guarantee.
As the number of eligible Latino voters grows, candidates are paying more attention to the group, and many 2016 contenders have been promoting themselves in Spanish on the campaign trail. Those communications are important for the Spanish-dominant segment of voters, but, overall, candidates' positions on the issues are what Latinos will care about most on Election Day.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been exercising his Spanish since entering the 2016 race in April. Rubio, who is bilingual, appeared on Spanish-language televisionmultiple times just after declaring his run.
The son of Cuban immigrants even threw in a splash of Spanish during his campaign announcement speech.
And those moves can help spread his message. For Spanish-dominant voters, who tend to be first-generation immigrants, and for the Spanish media that caters to them, it's useful for candidates to make their views available in the language.
Reaching people in their native language is a lesson candidates can learn from businesses, said Jack Welde, CEO of Smartling, which helps companies manage translation for digital platforms.
"They want to reach customers, they want to reach voters, they want to reach people," he said, noting the similarities between businesses and candidates. He cited a 2006 survey by Common Sense Advisory that found 72 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product from a website in their own language.
Rubio's 2016 website includes a link to a Spanish bio of him and his wife, though the portions detailing his stances on issues are available only in English.
Rubio's campaign communications director, Alex Conant, said in an email that "key parts" of the Rubio site are available in Spanish and noted, "We'll be doing more of that."
Of the declared 2016 candidates thus far, only Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Ben Carson have extensive Spanish-language versions of their websites.
But even President Barack Obama's re-election campaign -- which Fernand Amandi, principal at the polling and strategy firm Bendixen & Amandi International, recognized as having some of the best overall Latino outreach in the past -- didn't launch a Spanish-language website until late February 2012. Amandi noted that the Obama campaign spent the year leading up to that doing research on how to approach Latinos, but didn't really launch efforts aimed at those voters until the year of the election. Yet, Obama won with 71 percent of the Latino vote, according to exit polls.
"That almost created a new normal when it comes to targeting the Latino vote," Amandi said.
And for most voters, no matter their primary language, a candidate's position on the issues is the most important factor in whom they support.
"Hispanic voters aren't going to be voting for who speaks the best Spanish, they're going to be voting for ... the candidate who offers the best platform," Amandi said.
Immigration, health care, jobs and climate change are among the top concerns for most Latinos, noted Felipe Benitez of voter education group Mi Familia Vota.
Clinton's campaign launch video included a Latino speaking Spanish and talking about jobs, which Benitez said was "quite a nice surprise" because it addressed a topic beyond immigration.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is expected to enter the GOP 2016 race but hasn't officially declared yet, appears to be trying to court various segments of that audience. Bush is fluent in Spanish and his wife was born in Mexico. He has used Spanish in speeches and campaign ads, and he tweets in Spanish occasionally.
When he launched his Right to Rise PAC earlier this year (which has an accompanying Spanish version of its website), Bush announced it in both English and Spanish. At the end of April, he made a swing through Puerto Rico, where he often threw some Spanish into his speeches.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), on the other hand, has generally shied away from speaking Spanish in public appearances. The Hispanic senator and 2016 candidate has been described by an aide as being "conversational, though not fluent in Spanish." During his 2012 Senate run, Cruz argued against debating in Spanish, noting that "most Texans speak English."
His 2016 website doesn't include Spanish-language sections, but he did release a Spanish-language ad when he launched his campaign.
"We will have an aggressive Hispanic outreach effort and have staff that are spearheading it," Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told McClatchy last month.
"I think the most important thing is to be authentic," Benitez said, noting that candidates' attempts to throw in a few lines of Spanish in debates can be counterproductive if they misspeak. "I'd rather have them talk with us even through a translator or do it in English than trying to dust off their Spanish and use it."
Benitez pointed to Clinton's recent town hall with young undocumented immigrants in Las Vegas as one of the types of interactions candidates should be having with the community.
"She set a very high bar for other candidates to follow," he said. "She not only met with the members of the community that are directly affected, but she obviously made this a priority in her campaign and hopefully in her presidency if she gets elected."
However, Sylvia Manzano, principal at the consulting firm Latino Decisions, isn't surprised by the meager outreach efforts she's seeing thus far, especially given the limited resources campaigns are dealing with when they first launch.
"There aren't that many Latino voters in the Republican primary, so if their focus is the primary, it makes sense for them to put that aside for now," Manzano said.
Original article posted in Al Jazeera America on June 2, 2015
By Haya El Nasser
LOS ANGELES — As the protracted race for the White House and Congress unfolds 18 months before the 2016 elections, candidates intent on garnering the all-important Latino vote may want to keep this in mind: Speaking and advertising in Spanish may fall on deaf ears.
A record 33.2 million Hispanics in the U.S. — more than two-thirds of Latinos age 5 or older — speak English proficiently, according to new research by the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C.
And the share who speak Spanish at home has dropped from 78 percent to 73 percent since 2000. In 1980, 28 percent of U.S.-born Latinos spoke Spanish at home and said they did not speak English proficiently. By 2013, only 11 percent did.
Among those born in the U.S., 40 percent don’t speak Spanish at home.
“One of the biggest findings is that there’s a growing share and growing number of Hispanics who are U.S.-born and growing up in households where only English is spoken,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, the director of Hispanic research at Pew. “Immigration has slowed down for about 10 years, and we’re coming to see U.S.-born Latinos playing a bigger and bigger role in shaping public opinion.”
In 2013, Latinos born in the U.S. made up 65 percent of Hispanic Americans. They are much younger, with a median age of 19, compared with 40 for Hispanic immigrants.
As a result, Hispanic population growth since 2000 has been driven primarily by births in the U.S. rather than immigration.
It is a changing landscape for politicians who have traditionally reached out to Latino voters by speaking Spanish, advertising on Spanish-language media and highlighting their Latino connections, however tenuous.
“They need to understand that there isn’t a single Latino profile,” said Arturo Vargas, the executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials in Los Angeles. “Any candidate needs to understand that when you’re talking to Latino voters, there’s diversity in terms of immigration, generation and language.”
A larger share of U.S.-born Hispanics live in homes where only English is spoken: 40 percent, or 12 million in 2013, up from 32 percent in 1980. About a quarter of Hispanic adults are English-dominant, a third are Spanish-dominant, and the rest are bilingual, Lopez said.
“With 66,000 turning 18 every month, Latino millennials can be an incredibly influential voting bloc next year if they simply register to vote and turn out in November,” said Ashley Spillane, the president of Rock the Vote, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is targeting young Americans to register to vote. “In many ways, Latino millennials are like their peers. They want to make a difference in their communities, are more engaged on digital platforms.”
Two-thirds of young Latinos are active online.
“The outreach is not about language,” said Felipe Benitez, the communications and development director for Mi Familia Vota, another voter advocacy group. “It’s not about Spanish or English. It’s about addressing the issues that really matter to our community and listening to our community.”
Marvin Centeno Recinos was not old enough to vote in the last presidential election. He is 20 now and is politically active as the head of La Unión Salvadoreña de Estudiantes Universitarios (Salvadorean Student Union) at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he is majoring in Latin American and Latino studies.
He was born in the U.S., lived in El Salvador as a child, returned to the U.S. at 15 and said he speaks English at home.
He called candidates’ appeals to Latino voters “manipulative.” He said, “They promise people one thing, but being in college, you’re able to deconstruct ideas behind their advertisements.”
The issues matter more than the language they’re communicated in, he said.
“It’s not enough to speak Spanish,” said Maria Teresa Kumar, the president and chief executive of Voto Latino. “The issues drive them more than the candidates — education, jobs. And for women, it includes reproductive choice.”
The average Latino voter is 27 years old, she said, and women that age are more educated and aspire to more than having children.
Social media are filled with comments from young Latinos who make it clear that language is less important than actions.
“I don’t care if you’re married to a Latina” — like Republican presidential candidate and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — Benitez said, summing up postings on social media. “I don’t care if this guy speaks Spanish or has a Latino last name” — such as Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Marco Rubio of Florida. “I care about our community. Are you going to deport my parents, yes or no?”
There are 600,000 sons and daughters of potential beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The executive action by President Barack Obama has been blocked by the courts and is likely to end up before the Supreme Court.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Benitez said. “You have candidates who are Latinos in heritage who are not addressing the issues. Immigration is important. Jobs, education and even climate change.”
All the changes in the Latino electorate complicate political outreach efforts because candidates have to appeal to non-English speakers as well as the swelling ranks of young Latinos who may not speak Spanish.
There’s another challenge: About 75 percent of the Latino electorate was born in the U.S., but it’s the 25 percent who are older, naturalized citizens who are more likely to vote. So candidates can’t ignore the smaller segment even though the other is growing at a faster rate, Vargas said.
“Those Latino voters getting information from Spanish media are only going away when they pass away,” he said. “The Spanish-language strategy versus the English-language strategy is something we’re struggling with ourselves. We do not have English-media companies that specialize in talking with Latinos.”
The share of Latinos who get their news in English is rising, Lopez said.
“The way I would use Spanish-language media is as an avenue to leverage voters, to have conversations about voting with the younger set who are English-dominant,” Kumar said. “Most watching Spanish-language media are not voters, but their children and grandchildren are.”
It’s not clear if the candidates’ media strategies will change in 2016 as evidence mounts that the Latino vote is becoming increasingly diverse. So far, the focus has been on the early caucus and primary states Iowa and New Hampshire, which have small Latino populations compared with more populous states such as New York, Texas, Florida and California — big players in national election outcomes.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a big step toward appealing to Latino voters by recently naming Amanda Renteria as her national political director. Renteria was the first Latina chief of staff for a congressional lawmaker — Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
But Clinton’s stop at a Chipotle restaurant for a burrito bowl on the way to Iowa to kick off her presidential run has garnered some derision, not only for the amount of coverage it received but also for what some said was an attempt to reach to Latinos and liberal foodies who favor the chain’s more sustainably sourced offerings.
Bush told ABC that he goes to Chipotle too but that "we normally cook our own food, my own Mexican food, at home. It’s pretty good."
Will any of this galvanize Latino voters?
“Anybody who understands a national presidential campaign understands that the Latino vote is up for grabs,” Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., told The Wall Street Journal. “And so if you’re going to disrespect us by thinking you can come in in the last two weeks and throw us a guacamole and tortilla chip party and say, ‘Hola, amigo,’ and somehow we’re going to vote for you, it doesn’t happen that way these days.”
No, it doesn’t, especially since more Hispanics are becoming more assimilated into American culture and may not even speak Spanish.
“It may be becoming harder to have a single effort to reach Hispanic voters,” Lopez said. “Yes, Spanish is important, but many may not be eligible to vote. The growing part of the community is the U.S.-born, English-speaking. They’re more dispersed around the country but also more dispersed in where they get their information. They get it from the Internet. They get it from radio. It may be harder for candidates to reach them.”