Editor’s note: The author of this editorial is the executive director of CAUSA Inc., the Connecticut Association for United Spanish Action, the largest coalition of Latino organizations in the state

As Election day draws nearer, I am reminded of an uninformed conversation about Latinos I heard recently. Two business professionals debating the health care reform issue blamed the “problem” on Latinos.  “They take advantage of the health care system,” one said, “they make believe they don’t speak English so they don’t have to pay for the service.” With my head spinning from the lack of logic of that argument, it occurred to me these misguided views about Latinos are but a symptom of a larger problem – the misconceptions and lack of understanding of this ever-present and rapidly growing segment of our country and our state.

It would be prudent for politicians and elected officials to become correctly informed about who we are and our role in this country. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are 40 million Hispanics living in the United States today, and that by 2050, one in every four Americans will be Hispanic—and like all Americans, Latinos in Connecticut will be increasingly voting or not voting for you.

There is no mystique to the Connecticut Latino voter.  They are my relatives, neighbors, and friends.  Our children attend public, Catholic, and even a few private schools.  We worry about our jobs, and making sure our old cars last as we try to ride out this recession.  In short, in many aspects, we are similar to all your other voters.  But unlike other voters, we’ve been viewed too often by office seekers and politicians as one monolithic group. 

I remember an incident years ago during a race in the state, when the Democratic candidate allegedly told his campaign Latino staffer, “we aren’t spending money on advertising, just sign them up they will vote the Democratic ticket.”  The offended staffer resigned and went public with his story.  The Republican candidate in the race, trying to woo the Latino vote in four urban areas in the district, hired a Latino political media consultant, identified which Latino groups in the district would be potential supporters, developed clear messages for this target group, knew which ethnic media to use, and went onto victory. One candidate took the Latino vote for granted, the other understood this was a complex market.

As a few Latino political pundits have said, gone are the days when a candidate can just appear at a festival and say a few words in Spanish to win over the voters. 

Nationally, 2008 U.S. Census figures tell us Latinos are no longer concentrated in the traditional urban areas or even in the traditional states; there is growth in suburban and rural areas. These figures indicate Latinos now have a place in the political geography of those communities.

Keep in mind, with the increase in population, Latinos have encountered various social obstacles, such as anti-immigrant sentiment, and the threat of English-only legislation. The right messages on these issues will resonate.  Correct information about Latinos is key in marketing and politics; misperceptions will derail an officer seeker.

A Brown University report last year, Myths vs. Reality, presents 10 common myths about the Latino community, then debunks them using New England survey data.  Some of those myths include “Latinos do not want to become Americans”  and “Latinos are not politically active.”  Researchers found the majority of Rhode Island Latinos plan to stay in the United States for the rest of their lives, seek to blend fully into U.S. society; and participated in the last election.  While their findings were focused on Rhode Island, much can be learned about Connecticut Latinos from this research. 

Connecticut Latino are here to stay. We are a growing and complex voter bloc. We are soccer moms and baby boomers. We are liberals and conservatives. My advice to those who aspire to elected office? Don’t rely on old myths. Don’t take our votes for granted. You will make policy decisions that affect our lives. You have a responsibility to find out who we are.

Founded in 1975, CAUSA, Inc. is the state’s largest coalition of Latinos community-based organizations. CAUSA is dedicated to enhancing the general well being of the Hispanic/Latino population in Connecticut with special emphasis on Advocacy, Research and Technical Assistance through and with its member agencies