What Does An Obama Administration Mean for Latinos?

The dancing in the streets has subsided since November 4. Of course, I remain stunned that we had dancing in the streets at all. Seriously, does anyone remember this kind of orgiastic response over election results? Before this, the standard imagery was supporters in ballrooms laughing and waving signs, but now we see impromptu parades and ecstatic outbursts on street corners and strangers hugging each other in every city in the world. But maybe it just overwhelms in comparison with recent history, because the last two elections provoked either muffled wailing or smug insinuations that God had spoken.

Among the election-night celebrants were Hispanics. Anyone tuning in to more than twelve minutes of television coverage on that evening heard how the Latino vote was key to Obama's win. We even got more air time and credit than the fabled youth vote.

The facts are that Hispanics favored Obama by more than two to one over McCain (67 percent to 31 percent, according to MSNBC). Looking at it another way, Latino voters accounted for 11 percent of Obama's vote and 6 percent of McCain's total. The Hispanic vote was the difference in New Mexico and Indiana. Furthermore, Obama won a majority of Latinos in Florida, which is astonishing when one considers that the large Cuban American population there has been, in the past, so hardcore Republican that they make Rupert Murdoch look like a gay vegan folksinger in comparison.

In essence, turnout like this goes beyond the fact that Hispanic voters tend to lean toward the Democrats. This is not a leaning. It is a tsunami of support and enthusiasm.

So did this salsa-flavored version of Obama-mania develop because we Latinos believe that the President-elect will be good for Hispanic interests? Well, yes, of course we do. But those interests shockingly coincide, for the most part, with the goals of the majority culture. After all, Latinos are not any more or less obsessed with jobs, health care, and education than white people are -- it's just that Hispanics have grown weary of receiving the poorest quality in all of these areas. Any Obama policies that move Latinos closer to the standards enjoyed by the general population will receive a resounding "Si, se puede!"

Already, Obama's transition team has identified hundreds of executive orders that the new president will overturn, amend, or just bury in the White House backyard. In addition, Obama's ideas on taxation -- and his drive to reform the previously mentioned problem areas of education and health care -- may have a direct impact on the Latino standard of living. Much depends on whether the minority party (an ironic moniker under the circumstances) decides to pick a fight over what constitutes "socialism."

The most pressing topic that appeals specifically to Hispanics, of course, is immigration. This tends to be true regardless of whether one is illegal or a third-generation citizen. For Obama, this issue gets dicey, because Bush and McCain were actually at odds with their own party's hard-line stance, meaning that the President-elect would have to be even more open about immigration to differentiate himself from his opponents.

So one has to ponder if guest-worker programs will move forward. Also, will there be a nationwide American Dream Act, or is this piece of equitable legislation fated to be battled over in state after state? And what will happen to those so-called amnesty provisions?

In all likelihood, the answer is that not much will come of the new president's apparently sincere desire to make this country a better place for immigrants. There simply isn't the bandwidth. Obama will be so swamped trying to dig the economy out of the toilet and dealing with two floundering wars that I doubt any serious movement on immigration will happen before, say, 2012. As pessimistic as it sounds, perhaps immigrants will have to settle for the short-term progress of being humanized, which would still be an improvement over their current status as menacing specters conjured by the hard right wing.

One final bit of intriguing news comes courtesy of the Pew Hispanic Center. They found that 8 percent of this year's voters were of the brown-skinned variety. Truthfully, this could have been better, considering that we make up about 14 percent of the population. However, the long-term implications are that as the Latino population gets bigger and younger (a rarity among ethnic groups), there will come a tipping point in American politics where this group isn't just coveted; it will become essential to victory.

As such, the most significant aspect of Obama's election, at least in a historical sense, may be what it portends. Now that we have our first ethnic-minority president, isn't it just a matter of time before someone whose last name ends in Z takes the oath of office?

It may yet be years away, but it's coming.