Hispanic voters in Columbia, across U.S. supported Obama

Sunday, November 9, 2008 | 7:20 p.m. CST; updated 10:07 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 9, 2008

This article has been updated to correctly reflect that Barack Obama won a majority of the Hispanic vote in Florida, the first time a Democratic candidate has done so since 1988.

COLUMBIA — Guadalupe Martinez of Marshall has lived as a legal resident in the U.S. for the past 18 years, but this year she decided to become a citizen in order to vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

While living in Mexicali, Mexico, her birthplace, Martinez always wanted to move to the U.S., where she thought there would be better education and employment opportunities for herself and her family. Currently, she and her husband don’t make much money, but it’s enough, she said.

Obama's victory shows how important the Hispanic vote is in presidential elections. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Obama received 67 percent of the Hispanic vote in the election. Sen. John McCain received 31 percent of the vote. Florida's large Hispanic population helped the state's 25 electoral votes go to Obama. It is the first time a Democratic candidate has won the majority of the state's Hispanic vote since 1988, according to a New York Times article.

According to the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, a nonpartisan organization, the 2008 election saw Hispanics vote in higher numbers than ever before. The organization estimated that out of the 126 million Americans that voted Tuesday, between 9.6 million and 11 million were Hispanics; in 2004, 7.6 million Hispanics voted.

Martinez said she voted for Obama because he understands the life she and other Hispanics experience in America.

"Obama lived in Chicago; he was a state representative," Martinez said. "In Chicago, there are a lot of Hispanic people. I think he interacted with them, and he knows they came to work hard."

Other Hispanics in Columbia said they voted for Obama because they liked his stance on the economy, health care, the war in Iraq and immigration.

Eighteen-year-old Adrian Murguia voted for the first time on Tuesday. Murguia, an MU student, said he voted for Obama because he thought Obama could improve the economy, such as by helping get better pay for Hispanics in the U.S.

Before turning 16 and until the time he left for college, Murguia held a part-time job to supplement his parents' paychecks. He used some of that money to pay for two of his brothers' cell phone bills and to top off the family vehicles' gas tanks. Murguia's family had just moved to a white suburban neighborhood from an "inner-city ghetto" in Kansas City, and he knew that by helping to pay for his brothers' bills, he was helping the family remain in the neighborhood, Murguia said.

Murguia also said Obama could help Hispanics receive better health benefits. Some Hispanics don’t have sufficient medical insurance because their jobs don't come with health benefits, he said, whereas others don’t receive benefits because they are illegal immigrants.

Martinez said she thinks Obama has "a good heart" and could help low-income workers pay for medical insurance. She said it will be a good thing for Obama to tax high-wage workers to help pay for the medical needs of low-income families.

Eileen Disla, a 25-year-old from the Dominican Republic, was born in New Jersey and recently moved to Columbia to work for a nonprofit organization. She said she voted for Obama partly because she thought the United States should not have gone to war in Iraq.

"He wants to resolve issues diplomatically when it’s in the best interest of America," Disla said.

Martinez said she thinks Obama will help Hispanic families stay together. Immigration greatly affects Hispanic families, Martinez said, especially when parents are deported back to their country of origin. Without a mother and father, she said, "who is going to take care of the children?"

Obama has said he would like to improve security along America's borders and thinks there needs to be a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers in the U.S.

At a Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute gathering in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10, Obama spoke about his immigration policy proposals to stop "hateful rhetoric filling our airwaves, and rise above the fear, and rise above the demagoguery, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform.”

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