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THE FILM

Latinos '08 - a new documentary from Phillip Rodriguez.

Latinos are less cohesive than other voting blocs, and they do not fit the black/white racial binary that has long shaped American politics. This documentary examines how today’s candidates and advocacy groups are trying to mobilize and attract this unpredictable group of voters. Will McCain manage to win back Latino defectors, in light of his party’s harsh rhetoric on immigration? Will Obama succeed in securing the votes of the many Latinos who supported Hillary Clinton during the primaries? Another subject of inquiry will be the effectiveness — or lack thereof — of Latino politicians in advancing Latino interests and promoting Latino unity. As these politicians enter the upper echelons of American politics, they face inevitable pressure to abandon their ethnic identity and constituencies. Will the Latino electorate coalesce nonetheless, united around the immigration issue and hemispheric foreign policy considerations? Or will ethnic considerations be trumped by class, education and other factors? In investigating such questions, Latinos '08 sheds light on an important part of America’s future.

Latinos are the most recent wave of new participants in the U.S. electoral process. Two previous waves – Irish Americans and African Americans – have much to teach us about the various ways new voters behave. Irish Americans, incorporated by Democratic political machines like Tammany Hall, forged a strong alliance that endured through the 1960s; African American voters remain united around a civil rights and social/economic welfare agenda.

Latinos '08 will investigate whether Latinos, like Irish and African Americans, will coalesce as a bloc. With low rates of naturalization and low turnout among those who are naturalized, Latino voters have yet to achieve the level of political participation of other groups. Those who do vote constitute a volatile and increasingly divided electorate. In 2004, for example, the Latino vote was roughly split between the two parties.

How are today’s candidates and advocacy groups trying to mobilize and attract this unpredictable group of voters? This documentary considers current strategies, from get-out-the-vote campaigns to bilingual blogs to mariachi theme songs. Which of these strategies are perceived to be effective? What more substantive policy initiatives might engender Latino loyalty?

Another question is the effectiveness – or lack thereof – of Latino politicians in advancing Latino interests. Although the Congressional Hispanic Caucus now has a record 21 members, Latino elects do not enjoy the same influence on their ethnic constituents as the Irish of Tammany Hall. Further complicating matters are the scandals in which prominent Latino politicians have recently been mired. Roberto Suro, former head of the PEW Hispanic Research Center, speaks of “missed opportunities” and complains that Latino elected officials lack strong Latino-centered agendas.

The 2008 election will serve as an important prognostic for the direction of Latino politics. The possibilities are manifold. Will anti-immigrant rhetoric forge a cultural and political bond among Latinos, as the privations of the Depression united an earlier generation of ethnic voters? Or will ethnic considerations be defeated by other factors? Will Latinos, who are twice as likely to describe themselves as Independents, contribute to the development of a third political party? In exploring these questions, Latinos '08 sheds light on an important part of our American future. Latinos '08 features interviews with a wide range of prominent Latinos, each of whom shares his or her perspective on the upcoming presidential election and beyond. Interviewees include former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for the Clinton Administration Henry Cisneros, Political/Marketing Consultant Lionel Sosa, Columnist Ruben Navarrette Jr., Political Commentator Leslie Sanchez, Reverend Luis Cortés, and Columbia Professor Rodolfo de la Garza, among others.