Group: Music Is Key to Luring Young Latino Voters

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The Latino vote could have a major impact in the presidential general election in November. In an attempt to appeal to younger Latino voters, Voto Latino, a voter registration group, is using popular music as part of its outreach. Rapper Armando Perez, a.k.a. "Pitbull," explains his role in the project.


(inaudible) general election. Most observers agree that the Latino vote could prove decisive. Voto Latino, a non-partisan get-out-the-vote group founded in 2004 is once again working to try to get young Latino-Americans registered to vote and to participate in the November elections.

The goal is the seven million Latino-Americans aged 18 to 29, and to that end the organization partnered with iTunes to release a compilation of songs that speak to issues those voters care about. Cuban-American Rapper Pitbull contributed "Across the Waters" to the CD.

(Soundbite of song "Across the Waters")

RAPPER PITBULL: (Singing) Across the waters, From place to place, I see, Across the waters, And live an American dream, Across the waters, Escape the captivity Cuba equals Castro, Castro equals communist...

MARTIN: Armando Perez, better known as "Pitbull," joins us now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ARMANDO PEREZ (Rapper Pitbull): No, thank you for having me. How you doing?

MARTIN: I'm good now that I'm talking to you.

Mr. PEREZ: (Spanish spoken)

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So how did you get involved in Voto Latino? You've been in involved from the beginning, right?

Mr. PEREZ: I got involved because at a certain point in my life I was running around the streets doing things I shouldn't be doing and I caught a felony charge. So therefore, I couldn't vote even though I had registered a vote in high school.

So then what happened was we had a chance to get the felony charge expunged. I got a second chance in order to vote, and with all that time in between I seen how powerful it is and how important it is to vote. So I got involved with Voto Latino in order to go out here and speak to those I feel can relate to me and where I'm from. And how I've actually made a negative and positive and come from nothing to something.

MARTIN: Do you think the fact that you had your vote taken away and you had to fight for it made it more important to you?

Mr. PEREZ: Definitely. Definitely made it a whole lot more important to me and made me realize - you know, for one, how I wasn't taking advantage of the one right given me being a United States citizen. So definitely.

MARTIN: That speaks to the point that I'm thinking about here, which is that you were born here. You were born in the U.S.

Mr. PEREZ: Yes, I'm first generation Cuban-American.

MARTIN: Right. So this isn't something you had to - you know, as the song says, cross the water to achieve? Where did that come from? Did it come from family stories, from friends?

Mr. PEREZ: Yes, definitely. I mean, living in Miami and being a Cuban-American. My family - my grandmother was involved in (unintelligible), which was the quote unquote revolutionary war between Castro and Batista. My mother came over in operation Peter Pan. For those who don't know what that is it's when the families in Cuba actually figured out that Castro wasn't what he was about, or what he was talking about or preaching or selling, whatever dream he was selling. They put their kids on a plane to live with American families and you know, for years they wouldn't see their family.

My father, he went and picked up family and friends in the Mariel boatlift which was in 1980. So it just goes to show you that people for freedom they do a whole lot. And I feel that sometimes we take advantage of the freedom and the rights that we have in the United States of America, and that's why I feel "Across the Waters" was so important.

(Soundbite of song "Across the Waters")

RAPPER PITBULL: (Singing) Across the waters, escaping the captivity, Cuba equals Castro. Castro equals communist. Communist are equals that question freedom, which equals a distance of 90 miles. Across the water that's where freedom's found. As if the Atlantic don't beat them down....

MARTIN: Cuban Americans - and I should mention that you had Rapper Kurse teamed up for this.

Mr. PEREZ: Yes, he's Haitian so they have like, you know, we have the same struggles.

MARTIN: But I think the Cuban-American story is very well known and Cuban-Americans, of course, have been a crucial voting block in Florida, which is, of course, a swing state. But people tend to associate the community with pretty much one issue, with its relations with Cuba and you know, getting ride of Castro. I'm wondering, for people for whom that isn't their priority, do you still feel that the song your message resonates?

Mr. PEREZ: I think the song crosses a lot of borders, and I think it still touches people whether they feel that way or they don't. You know, I think it's just a way of me painting a vivid picture of what it is to struggle and dream and want and achieve freedom.

MARTIN: Do you think that people want to hear it? Like, it's not like people go to the club and they're not really thinking about politics, but your work has always had a political component. Do you feel that people want to hear what you have to say?

Mr. PEREZ: Oh, most definitely. And you know, in this society that we're living in right now I feel like everybody, one way or another, suffers from ADD with everything that gets thrown at us. So it's hard for us to obtain, observe, you know, and really break down any type of information thrown our way. So what it is I feel like, you know, I make all types of music across the board. And when I make a record like this, I feel like I have to cater to the public in order for me to be able to give them what I want. Meaning, it's almost like spoon-feeding a kid, you know, sometimes you have to like do the airplane for them and voom, voom until he finally eats it.

That's like the public, you know, you have to kind of give them what they want at first in order for you to give them what you want to give them. And I want to be able to give them records like "Across the Water" even though I'm known for records in the clubs and known for street records or whatever, but this is something that's very - means a lot to me, I feel very deeply about.

And at the end of the day it's my life and I really want to put it out there so they can understand what it is to be somebody. Everybody on that island to me - Cuba's the world's biggest prison. You know, people that can't say what they want to say, can't think what they want to think. They can work their whole life and never achieve nothing. So that song to me is my way of trying to help them.

MARTIN: Yeah. And speaking of the right to say want you want, you know, rap, as you know, rap-hip-hop has always been controversial as a genre. On the one hand, I think rappers have always been interested in politics. I mean, your 2006 album "El Mariel," of course, dealt with a lot of real issues. On the other hand, some people see like "Go-Girl."

(Soundbite of song "Go-Girl")

RAPPER PITBULL: (singing) I party like a rock star. I look like a movie star. I play like an all-star. Like a porn star.

MARTIN: And they say, OK, why is it that the man's in a suit, the women are always half-naked? You know, it's going to be eight women to every man, you know what I'm saying. There are a lot of people that think that the genre - you know what I'm saying, that the genre is a little bit, you know, demeaning to women. And I just wonder if you ever feel like the politics fights itself. On the one hand, you're telling people, get involved, take your rights seriously, get political. On the other hand, the women got to be half-naked and - do you know what I'm saying?

Mr. PEREZ: No, I get what you are saying 150 percent. And what that says is me, born Cuban-American, I was already born politically incorrect, so I'm just one big contradiction.

(Soundbite of laughter)

When it comes to that and that being said, as far as hip-hop and it being what it is, I come from Miami, and anybody that's been to Miami knows that you know you go to the clubs and it's not just the video, you're going to see half-naked women.

You know, it's hot, it's sweaty, it's sexy and that's basically where I'm from. So all I'm doing is just portraying an image of all I know at the end of the day. Now this is why I come on shows such as this one and I speak about other things also. So they say or they see and they sit back and go, wow, you know, he may make those type of records but at the same time he can make these type of records.

Now in terms of personally, now you're talking about a different person. You're talking about "Pitbull" professionally and when you meet me personally, you're talking to Armando Perez. That's a whole different person.

MARTIN: So are you planning to participate in the campaign in any other ways? Are you endorsing a candidate? Is there any candidate you particularly like?

Mr. PEREZ: No, I particularly like Obama. He's been very motivational and inspirational. I think he is - him and Hillary, to be honest with you. And I think that it's time for something different. It's time for a change, like he says, and as long as it's not McCain, I'm all right, to be honest with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: A lot of people like McCain. What's wrong with McCain? A lot of young people like McCain.

Mr. PEREZ: Yeah, well, anything that has to do with Republicans, keep them out of office for me. I'm straight.

MARTIN: That's interesting because - well, I mean, not to put people in a box, but among Latino voters, Cuban-Americans tend to have trended Republican.

Mr. PEREZ: Cuban-Americans put Bush in office, that's the way I look at it when it comes to - in the 2000 election. And the reason for that is real simple. Yes, they voted Republican a majority of the time but a lot of them have flipped over to Democrats. And what happened with the Clinton administration as far as when they came and they grabbed up Alberto Gonzales, that was a problem, so it didn't matter who was running on the other side - Al Gore, Jesus Christ, God himself. They weren't going to vote for him because of what happened with Alberto Gonzales.

And that's exactly what happened in 2000. Now a lot of them are not voting Republican. I know a lot of older Cubans that are like, wow, this is incredible what's happened to this country. I'll tell you one thing, though. They'll vote more for Hillary than they would Obama. That I'll tell you.

MARTIN: Why is that?

Mr. PEREZ: I don't know, to be honest with you. I don't know if it's old-school racism maybe, but on my end, I'm straight. I don't need no more Republicans. Hillary or Obama, I'm cool. I'm happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You ever think about running for anything yourself?

Mr. PEREZ: No, I stay away from politics. My grandmother always told me that, noablo politica(ph). You know, don't talk about politics. It's always a problem.

MARTIN: Well, you didn't listen.

Mr. PEREZ: I know I didn't, man. I should have just said, I'm plead the fifth, I'm out of here.

MARTIN: Armando Perez, better know as "Pitbull," joined us from WLRN in Miami. We're going to play a little bit more of "Across the Water" as we say goodbye. Thank you so much for speaking with us today.

Mr. PEREZ: No, thank you. I appreciate it and you guys have a lovely day.

(Soundbite of song "Across the Waters")

RAPPER PITBULL: (singing) Across the waters, fight with me. Yeah, across the waters. All we want is to be free, across the waters. We want a place to raise our seeds, across the waters, and let American dream across the waters, escaping into captivity. This here is for all the childrens that died searching for freedom.

MARTIN: Coming up, if you can't remember what you did before email, BlackBerries and Google, how can anybody explain it to the online generation?

Mr. CLAY SHIRKY (Author, "Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing without Organization"): The hardest thing to explain to my students about life prior to the Internet was that back, really, as recently ago as the nineties, for the average citizen, if you had something to say in public, you couldn't. Period. Media was what we didn't have access to.

MARTIN: We'll talk to Clay Shirky about his new book "Here Comes Everybody." It's the next big thing. I'm Michael Martin, and you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News.

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