This year, Latino voters have the numbers and the leverage. Now it remains to be seen if we actually have the political will to decide who will be the next president of the United States. I revived this column I originally wrote in 2004. Some of the numbers have changed, but the essence remains the same. Of the 23 million Latinos who are eligible to vote, 15 million have registered and 12.2 million are expected to go to the polls. But if, by chance, any of them cannot find a good reason to get off their couch, out of the house and into the polls on Election Day, here are the top 10 reasons why they should:
1. We can help bring about necessary changes to our communities. Let's face it -- when it comes to distributing funds, governments look to the communities that voted. If they ignore the needs of the people, politicians know that they could suffer the consequences in the polls next time around. So, in order to secure funding for better schools, health clinics, parks, trains, buses and safer streets, we need to vote.
2. It will make more politicians pay attention to us. We hear them uttering phrases in Spanish every once in a while. They come to our barrios and eat tacos, pupusas or empanadas, and sip a little Cafecito Cubano. They promise to bring down Fidel Castro or support immigration reform. But until they realize that we are a real political force to be reckoned with, they will not address the broader, more important issues that affect our communities.
3. It will help solve some of the ills that our community faces. The poverty rate among Latinos stands at 25 percent, compared with 15 percent for all Americans. Thirty-two percent of Hispanics are uninsured, the highest level in the country. The latest unemployment report shows that 9.7 percent of Latinos are out of work. And about a third of Hispanic high-school students do not graduate. We can't make this better alone, but we can come together, vote, and get the right kind of help.
4. It will dispel the myth that Latinos are not assimilating. One of the biggest criticisms of Latinos in the United States is that we don't assimilate, that we don't learn the language or adopt "American" traditions. In order for immigrants to become citizens, they must pass a basic civics test in English, unless they are elderly or have some kind of disability that prevents them from learning the language. If we have the right to vote, that means we have passed the test and taken the oath.
5.We should vote because we are Americans, too. Having a Latino surname, having darker skin, being bilingual or maybe even having an accent does not make Hispanic Americans less American. Whether we were born in this country or became citizens through the naturalization process, we are still Americans, and voting is a right reserved exclusively for American citizens.
6. It can lead to more Latinos being named to higher positions within our government. Latinos have come a long way when it comes to political representation. According to National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials there are 5, 928 Latino elected officials in the country at the local, state and federal levels. However, we have only two senators and two governors of Hispanic descent. This year several Latinos are running for office, the Latino vote will make a difference for them.
7. If we don't vote, someone else will decide for us. Voting is a right, a privilege and a civic duty. Yet millions of people forgo this right come election time, allowing others to decide for them who should govern our cities, our states and our country.
8. If we don't vote, we will not have the moral authority to complain about things we don't like. Whether your issue is the turmoil in the Middle East, terrorism, education, the economy, a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, the deterioration of our environment, the lack of affordable health care or immigration reform and the DREAM Act, if you do not vote, you are not participating in the process of electing those whom you believe can make a difference.
9. It is a privilege to vote in a democratic society. Many naturalized citizens come from countries where there is either no democracy or no respect for democratic elections. If it's not a dictatorship of an authoritarian government, it's accusations of fraud or voter intimidation. We are lucky to live in democracy, take advantage of it.
10. We must live up to the challenge. Latinos are in a unique position to be the deciding factor in this election. We are already the largest minority in the country, but now we must let our tremendous cultural influence and economic buying power give way to an unstoppable political force. Our presence has increased in the past four years in many of the key battleground states. The challenge for Latino voters now is to show up at the polls.