Hispanics in Elizabeth apathetic about elections

By Kleibeel Marcano | Reporte Hispano

With the New Jersey gubernatorial election less than two weeks away, the Hispanic community in Elizabeth seems less than enthusiastic about the political campaign.

At a dinner organized by Reporte Hispano with the support of the Voting Block project, six Hispanic immigrants living in Elizabeth stated that the community residing in this Union County city is showing little enthusiasm.

“There is much apathy among the Hispanic community regarding this election. People do not believe in politicians,” said Olga Piedrahita, born in Colombia.

“This is due to a lack of political culture among many Latinos, a distrust we bring over from our own countries, where politics is seen as something negative and led by corrupt people,” said Mexican-born Rossana Madeira.

The two activists, who work with organization Make the Road New Jersey, said that, in the last few weeks, they have been visiting residents of Elizabeth to talk to them about the election, and that few people have expressed interest regarding the ballot vote.

“There is no awareness of the importance of voting,” said Cecilia Flores, who comes from Peru.

Still, the group who gathered at the dinner recognized the importance of the election, even though some of them are not citizens and cannot vote.

“I already voted. I sent it by mail,” said a smiling Piedrahita.

The group of immigrants, who met at the Peniel Shalom Restaurant, on Cross Avenue, agreed that the result of the 2016 presidential election is an example of the importance of exercising the right to vote. “Trump’s victory opened up the door for racism and discrimination, which have always existed, but now they feel entitled to attack immigrants,” said Silva Cruz, born in México, who believes that Trump won the presidency because many people did not go out to vote.

“Trump’s policies regarding immigrants make me think that we are no longer in a free country. There is much injustice and discrimination against Latinos,” said Honduras native María Canales, who stressed that she will vote on Nov. 7.

This group of immigrants hopes that the new governor will put more emphasis on education and health, and that she or he will approve driver’s licenses for undocumented people.

All the participants concurred in pointing out that the new governor must implement a statewide health program that allows people to buy low-cost insurance.

Even though they admitted that the issue of health insurance is a federal matter, they believe that the state government is able to create its own insurance plans.

“It would be ideal to have universal coverage. It is more expensive for the government to pay for an emergency room visit for an uninsured person than to provide that person with health insurance that allows them to go to a normal doctor’s office,” said Madeira.

Education is another one of the topics brought up during the informal conversation. The participants pointed out the importance of giving all children the same opportunities at school regardless of their neighborhood’s economic level.

“As immigrants, one of our goals in coming to this country is to give children a good education so they can access better opportunities. It is important for schools to operate well,” said Silvia Cruz, who attended the meeting with her two small children.

For her part, Madeira said that the new governor must offer financial aid to all youths who wish to go to college, regardless of their immigration status.

One of the main themes for the Hispanic community that surfaced among the group was the issue of driver’s licenses for undocumented people.

Paulo Moreira, from Brazil, said that being able to obtain a license is crucial in New Jersey, citing that it is not only necessary to take children to school and to go to the supermarket, but also to be able to work.

“If people do not have a driver’s license, they are unable to look for better jobs to improve their financial situation; they are limited,” he said in a mix of Portuguese and Spanish.

Moreira pointed out that Hispanics are “the heavy labor workforce,” the people who perform the jobs that people from the U.S. do not want to do, which is why they should be supported by granting them driver’s licenses, as other states in the nation currently do.

Similarly, the dinner guests aspire to see the new governor supporting Dreamers and sanctuary cities, and advocating for immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to legalize their status.

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This story is part of the Voting Block series and was produced in collaboration with The Record, NJ Spotlight, WHYY, WNYC, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, the Center for Cooperative Media and New America Media. To read all the stories in this series, visit VotingBlockNJ.com.