Jewish World Review August 26, 2003 / 28 Menachem-Av, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Latinos are
looking up | I bet you don't know who Thalia Sodi is.

That's all right. I didn't either until this week, when I saw her name on a list of celebrities most admired by Hispanic-Americans.

Thalia Sodi is a singer and actress. She got 2.2%, which was enough to put her in a virtual tie for first place with J.Lo, California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and actor Edward James Olmos.

Interestingly, two-thirds of all those polled failed to name anyone they admired - evidence, it seems to me, of a very healthy aversion to hero worship.

This matters. Latinos are America's largest minority group and growing fast. Everything about them matters. That's why this national poll, published on Wednesday by the Washington-based Latino Coalition, is so valuable. It provides us curious gringos with a look at Hispanic America. What emerges is a surprisingly familiar picture.

Latinos aren't wealthy - most families earn less than $40,000 a year - but they are staunchly optimistic. Sixty percent think the economy will be better in a year. Almost 75% believe their children's lives will be better than their own.

The majority put assimilation ahead of diversity - 51.2% hope for greater assimilation. Less than 40% support "keeping [their] own culture, even if it means staying somewhat separate from the rest of American society."

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Neither are Latinos inclined to see themselves as victims. Asked about the main barrier to success in the U.S., a large plurality listed language.

Almost 70% could think of no instance in the past year in which they suffered ethnic or racial discrimination. Just 3.7% regard bias as the most important problem they face.

Fully 85.5% say that affirmative action should be based more on need than on race. Among potential Democratic primary voters, the Rev. Al Sharpton got just 1.8%.

Politically, a majority of Latinos call themselves conservative or moderate, and this is evident in their social and economic views. Fifty-six percent favor government vouchers for private or church schools. A similar number support tax cuts for individuals and businesses. Less than 7% want to raise taxes to increase government spending. Although twice as many Latinos identify with the Democratic Party as with the GOP, these are unmistakably Republican positions.

The one issue on which Hispanics are notably liberal is, for obvious reasons, immigration.

In other words, the national Hispanic vote is up for grabs. Almost half of all Latinos hold a favorable opinion of President Bush and only 28% an unfavorable one.

In an election between the President and a generic Democrat, Bush would get 31.4% with another 18.3% undecided.

Seen through the prism of this poll, Hispanics appear to be less a group of disaffected minority voters than a fairly typical community of Catholic immigrants. A generation ago, the Republicans converted working-class Italian-, Polish- and Irish-Americans into Reagan Democrats. This year, they will be trying to repeat the act, in Spanish.

Can it be done? The key will be not national security, but job security. Roughly 30% of Latinos say their main concern is the economy; war gets just 3%. For them, the coming presidential election will be mostly about la economia, estúpido.

But the Latino Coalition's poll is about much more than voting trends. It shows us a picture of newcomers and their children in the transformative grip of the American Dream. The rest of us may not know who Thalia Sodi is or understand what she's singing about, but we recognize her audience. We have seen them before. In our own family albums.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

08/13/03: The cynical manipulation of Hitler's legacy for political purposes
07/23/03: Dems under the spell of midsummer's dream
07/21/03: Can't count on Arab polls for the truth
07/14/03: Dead spy walking
07/13/03: It's a mistake to battle insurgents
07/10/03: It's a mistake to send troops to Liberia
06/26/03: A Dem leaps in and lands on his face
06/20/03: Let Iraq build its own playgrounds
06/12/03: Raines and Clinton — boomers gone astray
06/09/03: Why Hillary did believe Bubba and what it says about her prospective presidency
06/04/03: Iran is next: Bush must tell Americans the Big Truth about ayatollahs
05/30/03: NYTimes has a bigger problem than Blair and Bragg — Dowd
05/27/03: Political — and literal — suicide
05/12/03: That noise is Europe rising
05/09/03: Dems overplay the economy card
05/05/03: Truth or Consequences: To win Arab liberals' trust, Bush needs to find Iraq's WMDs
05/01/03: U.S. security, not economy, is key for prez
04/28/03: Real artists, not airheads
04/22/03: Sealed With a Kiss
04/14/03: Don't believe the cheers
04/03/03: Iraq's only the start --- Syria & Iran are next
04/01/03: War's happy troubadours
03/27/03: What's not going on is the key in this war
03/20/03: The big question: Can Arabs handle liberty?
03/17/03: In war, like in baseball, the idea is to make the other guy cry --- now, let's go get 'em!
03/13/03: Jewish plot? This pol has gone punchy
03/11/03: Prez is ready to finish off the Security Council, too
03/04/03: Those human shields need some star power
02/28/03: How prez could further racial pluralism but end affirnative action
02/24/03: Prof's arrest will test Arab Americans' loyalty
02/11/03: Rhyme, but no reason
02/04/03: McGovern's children
01/23/03: A peace movement that's going nowhere
01/13/03: No time for experts
01/07/03: Senator from Mayberry shouldn't alarm prez
12/31/02: Dem Dummies
12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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