John D. Smart, Political Science
My research project was to survey the political participation of Latinos in Utah. In order to conduct my research, I concentrated mainly on conducting surveys and interviews with Latino leaders and ordinary Latino citizens; I also did a great deal of library research. I participated in the Washington Seminar during Winter Semester 1994, and I was able to interview staffers for Senator Hatch, Rep. Orton, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC). I was also able to speak with community and state leaders in Provo and Salt Lake City. My project has great application because Utah has more Latinos than all other minority groups combined (U.S. Census, 1990).
As I interviewed people, the three greatest barriers to Latino political participation were: (1) Many Latinos are not U.S. citizens and; therefore, they cannot vote, (2) many Latinos do not speak English and are therefore not able to fully participate in the political process, (3) and many Latinos have backgrounds and lifestyles which make it difficult for them to be active politically.
Many good suggestions were offered as solutions to these problems. According to Tony Ypias, a Latino community leader in Provo, in order to gain citizenship, immigrants must be permanent residents of the U.S. for five years. The average Utah Latino waits until she/he has been a permanent resident for ten years before applying for citizenship. During the permanent residency time period, the resident pays taxes but cannot vote. Mr. Ypias believes that all permanent residents should be made citizens with full rights including voting rights. Mr. Ypias also supports the “Motor Voter” bill which would automatically register people to vote once they apply for a driver’s license.
The second greatest barrier to Latino political participation is the inability of many Latinos to speak, read, and write English. According to Esther Aguilera, Legislative Assistant to the CHC, 12.5 percent of Latinos cannot speak English at all. Another 15 percent speak only a little English.
Because Latinos do not speak or read English, it is difficult for them to follow the issues. They cannot read English language newspapers or magazines. They also cannot read a ballot or fill out a voter registration form. In order to remedy this problem, the Utah state government should provide funds for migrant schools. The state should also oppose an English only policy and should print ballots and other government forms in Spanish.
The third barrier to Latino political participation is that many Latinos have a lifestyle and background that is not conducive to political participation. Because many Latinos are migrant workers who frequently relocate, it makes it difficult for them to become knowledgeable about state and local politics. Many Latinos come from countries that were/are ruled by authoritarian regimes; therefore, the concept of democracy is foreign to them. There have not been voter registration drives or outreach programs for Latinos like there have been for African-Americans. Latinos need caucuses in the political parties in Utah. The state needs to sponsor a voter registration drive so that Latinos can exercise their right to vote.
In conclusion, the results of my study support the notion that the current Utah political system should more actively reach out to Latinos through voter registration, education, and party caucuses, so that Latinos can get their share of “the pie.”