Harris County Latino voters rank the economy, education, and safety among their top priorities – Houston Public Media

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Fernando Diaz (right), 66, is a plumbing installer from Baytown. He made education and public safety his top priorities for the 2022 election.

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Nearly one-third of Texans can claim Hispanic ancestry, and while not all vote, those who vote can influence the election. As part of a statewide project for the Texas newsroom, Houston Public Media spoke with Latino voters in Harris County about their concerns as the midterm elections approach.

Hispanic residents make up about a quarter of Harris County’s registered voters. The percentages are roughly the same across Texas, meaning it pays for candidates to listen to Latino voters in the Houston area and statewide. Common ground emerged in conversations with 15 Hispanic residents from far-flung communities such as Katy and Baytown. Carmelo Salgado speaks on his way to a baseball game at Minute Maid Park as the Astros wrap up their winning season.

“My priority in these next elections is the economy, their proposals to improve the economy, and most importantly, safety. We have a very difficult life in terms of safety, especially in schools, so those are my priorities. ,” Salgado said.

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The economy, especially the rising cost of living, was the top concern for most residents surveyed, followed by education and school safety. This closely ties into the findings of a recent Univision poll as well as those of political scientists studying Hispanic voting patterns.

Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston, said that most Latino voters are most concerned about “the normal issues you expect among voters, which are related to inflation, high prices, especially It’s when you go to the supermarket (and) gas prices.”

This is definitely the case with Luz Canchanya. Canchanya is from Peru and accepts food donations at Ripley House, a community center on Houston’s Eastside.

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“This kind of food delivery helps us a lot because everything is very expensive because everything goes up. Eggs, meat, vegetables,” Canchanya said.

Juan Antonio Soto of East Houston just received his Ph.D. PhD in Urban Planning and Environmental Policy from Texas Southern University. His mother fled El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s. For Soto, the first in his family to go to college, economics and education go hand in hand. He is saddled with $200,000 in student debt.

“So now I’m going to tell my sister, I’m going to tell my future kids, do you want a house, or do you want a college education?” Soto said. “Which one do you want? Because you won’t have both now.”

Andrew Schneider/Houston Public Media

The economy and education are the main concerns for Juan Antonio Soto, 37, of East Houston.

For many, it’s no surprise that education issues are related to school safety and gun control. It’s only been five months since the mass school shooting at Uvald Robe Elementary School, where nearly all of those murdered were Hispanic.

“Security issues” are important to Edgar Castro, a Venezuelan who now lives in Katie. “They’re trying to be stricter and more powerful in having weapons. (The guns) are taking the lives of children in schools and across the country.”

So did Patricia Mares in the spring, who played in the Astros with her 15-year-old son. “I think we need to talk about the safety of our children in schools. I think that’s important,” Mares said.

Immigration, which ranks only third among respondents, is closely linked to concerns about crime and public safety, as well as the quality of infrastructure such as transportation and drainage.

Robert Ramos of East Houston argues that immigration and public safety issues are intertwined. “Focus on crime,” Ramos said. “We cannot open our borders. We must protect American citizens first.” There is no direct evidence linking undocumented immigrants to crime.

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In Texas in particular, Latinos have as diverse a perspective on immigration as the Latino community itself. Rice University political science professor Mark Jones conducted research on Hispanic voters’ priorities for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation.

“Hispanics in Texas are directly impacted by what’s happening at the border and by immigration, whether it’s when they’re at the border, or in areas like Harris County and Houston, the communities where the most recent immigrants go are Hispanic communities. So, de Texas Hispanics are more directly affected by immigration and border security than Hispanics elsewhere in the U.S. or Anglo Democrats in places like San Francisco and New York,” Jones said.

It’s also worth remembering that many Latino Texans are not new immigrants per se, but come from families who have lived in the state for generations.

“The longer your family has been in the U.S.,” Jones said, “second, third, fourth, fifth or later, the more likely you are to align with Governor Abbott’s policies. But if you are Recently immigrating to yourself or the first generation, you are more likely to support Joe Biden’s policies.”

Katy’s Stephani Vélez, for example, wants to sympathize with those who come to the country wanting to work but lack all the necessary documents.

“They have contributed to the continued prosperity of the country,” Vélez said. “It’s not like most people think that one immigrant comes here and one person’s opportunity is taken away. Because most people come here to do jobs that the people from here don’t want.”

Henrietta Castillo of South Houston, speaking at refreshments in Pasadena, was disappointed with the way Republican and Democratic leaders have handled immigration.

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“I was in the Free Riders in 2000, and when (George W.) Bush was there, they didn’t do anything. They just delayed,” Castillo said. “(Barack) Obama, the same thing. Now, Joe Biden is progressing a little bit, but it’s always been a debate between Republicans and Democrats. It’s always been an argument.”

Daisy Espinosa/Houston Public Media

Henrietta Castillo, 64, of South Houston, lists immigration as her top concern.

Another issue on the minds of Hispanic voters is reproductive rights, especially after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision. That sparked a Texas law that effectively banned abortion in the state.

Lidiane Zamarripa, a social work student at the University of Houston, said, “I think the upcoming abortion law in Texas really gives me an idea of ​​how women’s reproductive rights will evolve over the next few decades.”

This brings up a major factor dividing the Hispanic Texan population on political issues: religion.

“The most divisive opinions related to immigration and abortion are among Texas Hispanic Evangelical Protestants and those who do not have a religious identity or are (are) Catholic – Texas Hispanic Evangelical Protestants are more likely to support the governor (Greg ) Abbott’s abortion policy and Governor Abbott’s immigration and border security policy,” said Rice University’s Mark Jones.

Evangelical Protestants make up one-fifth to one-quarter of all Hispanic voters in Texas, with the remainder mostly Catholic or not identifying with a particular religion. That’s an important distinction because Democrats are banking on Texas’ Latino population to help them return to office statewide.

“The Hispanic community, if it continues to vote with roughly 40 percent Republicans, 60 percent Democrats, will ensure that Republicans retain majority control in Texas,” Jones said. “Texas Democrats really gain majority control. The only way to get power is to go from 60/40 to something closer to 70/30. Republicans know that.”

Daisy Espinosa provided coverage for this story.

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