EL PASO, Texas -- Latinos are the fastest growing voter group in America, prompting campaign strategists on both sides to try to find out what they want and how to reach them. Latinos may be key in actually choosing the next president, especially in southwestern swing states.
All this talk got Fronteras reporter Mónica Ortiz Uribe thinking about who exactly is this Latino voter. To find out, she decided to turn to her own family.
Here's a personal account of what she discovered:
My family's vote is up for grabs. But first you have to engage them. Take my mom. I pulled a microphone on her one evening while she washed dishes and asked, "Mom, do you pay attention to politics?"
“No, I don't," she said. "I don't have time. I’m too busy working.”
My mom is Teresa Ortiz Uribe. She's a wife, a homemaker and a very busy business owner.
My mom provides entertainment at kid's parties. On a typical weekend she can do up to eight events. During the week she's planning and preparing, taking deposits and designing costumes.
The last time she was excited about voting was in the year 2000, soon after my great-grandmother became a U.S. citizen.
“I remember as a little girl in the summer going with my grandmother to vote. And it was very important for her and my grandfather,” she said.
That was back in a small town in northern Mexico. I asked why my great-grandmother's civic engagement didn't follow my mom to the United States.
Check out the Fronteras Vote 2012 Election Special & other stories about the fall campaign.
“Where my grandmother used to live … you would go outside at night sit down with all your neighbors, all the block and talk about politics," she said. "And it was a lot of fun going to the campaigns and the parties they had. And here we're always so busy working, we don't even talk to our neighbors. So we really don't know what's going on ... ”
Deep down my mom feels like U.S. politicians don’t listen to people like her -- they only listen to college-educated people or rich businessmen. She suggests candidates throw neighborhood block parties so people like her can get to know them.
I follow up by asking,“So let's say if one of these candidates came up and knocked on your door and said what are your concerns? What would you say?”
“Well first of all my concern is, health insurance," my mom said. "We don't have health insurance. I would like somebody, a candidate, to really have health insurance for everybody or something that we can all afford to buy.”
Health insurance is one the top three concerns among Latinos nationally. The other two are jobs and education.
Another day, I call my cousin Valerie Uribe.
Valerie lives in San Francisco and is in her late twenties. She just got her first big job out of law school. She gets her dose of politics via Facebook and news alerts from the Wall Street Journal. This is how she describes herself as voter.
“Well, I'm independent right now," she said. "It just depends on the issue. Sometimes I'm more conservative in my voting, sometimes I'm more liberal.”
Last presidential election, Valerie supported Republican John McCain. So did my grandparents. When I ask Valerie what issues are most important to her she says education and gay rights.
“My best friend in the whole wide world is gay," she said. "And I think that civilly they should be given the same rights as we are.”
A recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center says Latinos are like my family -- divided between liberal, conservative and moderate. On gay rights Latinos are more liberal. But on abortion, 51 percent think it should be illegal. Younger Latinos, like my cousin, tend to believe in a woman’s right to choose.
Next meet my uncle, Cesar Uribe. He's a middle school principal in El Paso in one of the poorest zip codes in the country, right up against the border with Mexico. On a sunny Thursday morning he steps onto the football field and high fives a line of kids filing out to their next class.
My uncle Cesar didn't vote until he was 26 years old, in college. His parents -- my grandparents -- didn't become U.S. citizens until much later in life, so he didn't grow up in a family of voters. His education, he says, has made all the difference.
"I was educated and came to school and I became successful," he said. "And I think people should be given that opportunity."
My uncle is a supporter of the DREAM act, which would give undocumented students a chance to become legal U.S. residents. His vote will go to whichever candidate is a stronger advocate for education. Ultimately, he believes, it’ll be educated and empowered Latinos who will awaken the sleeping giant to the ballot box.