FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Twenty-four states have presidential political contests today. Many of them, including California and New York, are states where blacks and Latinos share neighborhoods, cities and congressional districts.

Today, we're going to focus on those localized issues of how black and Latino voters do and don't collaborate.

For more, we've got Roberto Lovato, a contributing associate editor with New America Media. He's also a frequent contributor to the Nation magazine. And political analyst Earl Ofari Hutchinson. His new book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House." Welcome.

Mr. ROBERTO LOVATO (Contributing Associate Editor, New America Media; Contributor, Nation Magazine): Hello.

Mr. EARL OFARI HUTCHINSON (Author, "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House"): And thank you.

CHIDEYA: So let me start with you, Roberto. So, there's been a lot of attention given at this election year to the ways that African-Americans and Latinos are voting. In general, what do you think, on the local and congressional level, are African-Americans and Latinos more likely to vote for who best represents their interest or who looks like them? And is that even in conflict?

Mr. LOVATO: Well, I think it's a mixed bag, but largely people vote their interests. If you look, for example, at the Congressional Black Caucus in the case of Latinos, many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, be they Sheila Jackson, Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters to name just a few, have depended on Latino votes to get elected as have countless black state legislators, black local legislators and black mayors.

And so, you know, the idea that Latinos are not willing to vote for black candidates is a unicorn that has some legs because of people like Lou Dobbs in CNN and other people.

CHIDEYA: Well, you know, you mentioned Maxine Waters. She actually has the largest, you know, population district in the state with African-Americans, but it's actually quite more Latinos in her district. And so, we spoke to her and asked her if, in her experience, blacks and Latinos go head to head politically. Here's what she had to say.

Representative MAXINE WATERS (Democrat, California): Somebody said that Latinos wouldn't vote for a black. They vote for me all the time. There are any number of instances where our district, the majority are Latino. And they vote over and over. I just don't see that.

CHIDEYA: People have a lot of different opinions on this one, so what do you think, Earl? Are there really as many tensions as people perceive between African-American voting interests and Latino voting interests?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: I think there has been some exaggeration of the tensions and the conflicts. Certainly, I've addressed it in certain areas - education, health care, neighborhood resources, issues involving gang violence, and also prison violence.

Now, there have been the conflicts and there have been some divisions and there have been a bit of suspicion and weariness on the part of some African-Americans and Latinos. It did come out last year, and it certainly continue to have some reverb over the issue of illegal immigration and jobs, whether that in fact impacts adversely on the African-American community.

So I think undeniably, in some instances - and we have to be very careful about this - there have been some problems. On the other hand, politically, the big question: Will Latinos vote for an African-American candidate - as Congresswoman Maxine Waters correctly said and as Roberto said, if the feeling is that the elected official or the wannabe elected official is in fact really protecting the interest, championing the interest, speaking out on the interest or for the interest of Latino voters, yes. There's not a problem in terms of voting for that particular candidate.

The only thing about Barack Obama that I've ever said - one possible problem that he could have, at least in California and particularly Southern California, is the lack of familiarity with him.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me just jump in and ask Roberto about an article that you wrote. It's a column that appeared on the Huffington Post. It says everyone knows about the Latino vote except Latinos. So, you know, there's this assumption, certainly, that the black community is monolithic, politically and ethnically. We talk about that a lot on News & Notes, how there's a melange of cultures, including immigrants.

What about this umbrella term of Latinos? What does that mean?

Mr. LOVATO: Well, I would be a Nobel Prize laureate in physics if I could answer the question, what Latino is so. Let me just say that it's a complex - being Latino is a complex a question, contemporarily, historically, as the question what does it mean to be black in the United States.

And so Latinos come in all shapes and all sizes. We come from all different geographies across the country now and do share, you know, some history and language in terms of things like Spanish colonialism, the Spanish language. The United States stealing, you know, big chunks of Mexico in the southwest, and other very important formative policies in the life of this country that affect people that are designated by the state in statistics as Latino.

So these are constructs that help identify people in prisons, people in schools, people that vote a certain way. And people adopt them, and they also sell goods. There's a big industry in, like, Hispanic advertising. You want to create this monolithic idea of, you're Hispano, you will buy this car, you will buy this shoe, you will buy this candidate.

So, you know, they're very, you know, profoundly unexplored terms.

CHIDEYA: What about - And Roberto, I'm going to go to you first. There are, again, so many regional differences between people, not just racial, of course. But in - when we speak about race and ethnicity, the issues that you have in South Central, you may have a lot of people of Mexican descent and people who are of African-American descent inter-generationally.

You go to New York, you have Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans now, plus Caribbean and African immigrants, plus people of African-American descent. How does that mix things up, Roberto? And then, I'm going to ask you the same thing, Earl, that when you have a very different type of ethnicity within this whole construct of black and Latino relations.

Mr. LOVATO: Oh, it's - it makes things really difficult. I'll give you the - I used to work - live and work in south L.A. with the Central American Resource, and we used to legal outreach to immigrant communities, including in south L.A.

And we didn't just have to have people that spoke Spanish in our outreach. We had to hire people that spoke Maya Q'anjoba'l. Because if you were dealing with people that fled the U.S.-sponsored wars in Central America and who were here trying to get refugee status because their towns got bombed out. So to reach out to these people, you don't just have to speak Spanish, you got to speak Maya Q'anjoba'l in some cases.

And so that illustrates the kind of complexity and the spectrum of, you know, consciousness and race and ethnicity that is the Latino experience in the United States because you can't really go and look at the Maya Q'anjoba'l experience in south L.A. and then say that that's exactly the same as the more anti-Castro, mostly white Cubans in - some Cubans, because many are leaning Democrat now - in South Florida and other parts of Florida.

CHIDEYA: Actually, let me steer you in a slightly different direction, Earl. There has been such a groundswell of African-American political power in office over the decade since the civil rights movement. Is there, in your opinion, going to be a similar intergenerational groundswell of Latino-elected officials that may not have, you know, by any means reached its peak may just be building? And how will that affect America's landscape?

Mr. HUTCHINSON: Well, it already is. I think when you really look at the political demographics over the last 10 years, we've seen an acceleration in the number of Latino of all different subgroups within the Latino generic terminology. We've seen them take office. We've seen Puerto Rican office holders. We've seen Nicaraguan office holders. We've seen El Salvadorian office holders. Certainly, we've seen Mexican American office holders, Cuban American office holders.

So we're seeing that already in every area, every region, and the numbers are certainly tracking up. Big population shifts also are changing things in many of the states, in many of the region. So, areas where you didn't see significant Latino representation in the past, particularly in the West and the Midwest, you're going to see it in the future.

Will it change the dynamic vis-a-vis African-American elected officials? I think there's a certain, certainly, a great, great ground for coalitions, for alliances, for building the bridges on significant political issues, all the way from health care to education to the Iraq war. And I think you'll see that more and more within state legislatures and certainly among local officials, and even at the national level.

But yes, the political tapestry is definitely going to change over the next 10 years even more.

CHIDEYA: Well, gentlemen, thanks so much.

Mr. HUTCHINSON: And thank you.

Mr. LOVATO: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Earl Ofari Hutchinson is a political analyst and columnist. His new book is "The Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House." And he joined us from Los Angeles.

Also spoke with Roberto Lovato, a contributing associate editor with New America Media. He's a frequent contributor to the Nation magazine. And he joined me from NPR's New York bureau.

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