Last week, a Latino restaurant owner told Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer that he didn’t want Emmer’s business. Oscar Reyes, owner of Las Mojarras restaurant on Lake Street, received a call scheduling an event for Saturday October 23 at his restaurant. Reyes was unaware that this event was a campaign rally for Emmer until he began receiving angry phone calls from Latino community members. They asked why he was hosting an event for Emmer, and cited Emmer’s previous anti-immigration stances. After learning what the event was, Reyes cancelled it.
Alberto Monserrate of the Latino Communications Network (LCN) interviewed Reyes about the incident on his radio show Cara a Cara. Monserrate said Reyes was angry and frustrated: “He (Reyes) felt that he should have been told what the event was about. From what I personally know about scheduling political events, first you want to make sure the owner is comfortable.” Monserrate said a lot of people found the whole incident strange, especially since Emmer had no presence in the Latino community except for Cinco de Mayo last May.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center’s Mapping the Latino Electorate report, Minnesota is home to 218,000 Hispanics, who make up four percent of the state’s population. Some 73,000 Hispanics are eligible to vote in Minnesota.
On October 24, La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles held a Spanish-language gubernatorial candidates forum at the Centro Latino Auditorium in San Miguel Middle School in Minneapolis. Pablo Tapia, co-founder of La Asamblea, said that while they had contacted every gubernatorial candidate two months ago, they received responses only one week ago. The auditorium was packed with Latino community members coming from churches across the Twin Cities.
The only gubernatorial candidates present were Independence Party candidate Tom Horner and Ecology Democracy Party candidate Ken Pentel. Republican candidate Tom Emmer was absent and Democratic candidate Mark Dayton was represented by DFL state Senator Patricia Torres Ray. Tapia expressed his disappointment at Dayton’s absence, saying, “We regret that Mark Dayton couldn’t make it. The community is smart. They know if someone says they care for you they will show it by showing up.”
The first question was whether or not the candidates supported and would sign the DREAM Act. While Pentel and Torres Ray both answered yes, Horner sidestepped the question and never gave a concrete answer.
Candidates were also asked if they would support a law similar to Arizona’s SB1070 Immigration law. While vague in their responses, all candidates said no and agreed that laws like Arizona’s were wrong.
Following the forum, Hannah Garcia, a board member of La Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, said that it was “a good start to building relationships with the candidates for the Latino community.”
While it may be a good start, Garcia, Tapia, and a community member who requested to remain anonymous, expressed frustration in some of the candidates’ vague answers, specifically Horner’s response to the question about the DREAM Act. Tipia said, “I wish the moderator had asked him to be more specific. He kind of missed the point there.”
The community member said Horner was “in the middle and is probably trying to stay there. If he commits he could be in big trouble. He is the type of person that could change his mind.” The community member also commented on the presence of Torres Ray saying, “She did a good job, but I hope Dayton does not just use her as an asset to approach us but then not actually support us.”
The much larger Latino community in Nevada also faced election controversy last week. Robert de Posada, a Republican activist and founder of Latinos for Reform, tried to run an advertisement urging Latinos not to vote at all. Univision refused to run the ad. In an interview with Talking Points Memo (TPM), Posada said the goal of the ad was to punish Democrats for failing to deliver “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Tapia and Garcia said they are expecting a high Latino voter turnout rate in Minnesota. Tapia said that Latinos in Minnesota are politically active:
“Many have been here for generations, many have become citizens. … We get involved because we always think that that is the only way. I think there is more awareness and this has been a long process about taking the fear away. When you participate [politically] in other countries, there are fatal consequences … One of the advantages that we have in front of our church is we can stand up in front of a crowd every Sunday and tell them what is going on. Telling people not to be afraid. Organizing in the churches. Those are our bases.”