Hispanics in NJ. Why we should care. Part 1: Their political strength

Latin America is much in the news these days – this weekend Cuba, last week Puerto Rico, and for many months Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America. Many New Jerseyans are unaware of how many Hispanics are in our state, their contribution to our economy and culture, their growing political influence, their fear of deportation, and the difficulties in their countries of origin.

Hispanics are here, and in spite of President Trump and his Attorney General, they are not going to disappear. The Pew Research Center indicates that in the USA in 2015 “Whites” represent 200 million people and Hispanics are the second largest group with 57 million. They are also the group which will most “drive population growth and change through 2065.”

Latinos/latinas make up the fastest-growing segment of New Jersey’s population. In New Jersey there are over 1.7 million Hispanics, 19% of our population. 42% are not born here and face the potential of being deported back – in many cases to high poverty, gang ridden, oligarchic countries with few freedoms. We have the largest population of Peruvian Americans in the United States, the largest population of Cubans outside of Florida, and a high number of Puerto Ricans, Mexicans and Central Americans.

Hispanics are politically active and a large voting block in New Jersey. Their influence is particularly pronounced via their concentration in certain counties and cities. The six counties with the largest population of Hispanics in descending order are Hudson (288,684), Passaic, Essex, Bergen, Middlesex, and Union (165,951). There are six cities where the Hispanic population exceeds 50%, in descending order: Union City (75.3%) , West New York, Perth Amboy, Passaic, North Bergen, and Paterson (50.1%).

They voted in droves for Phil Murphy who spent considerable time and effort courting them. He began focusing on their needs over a year ago at a Hispanic gathering where he announced “There are steps we can take today in New Jersey that will improve the lives of our Latino brothers and sisters,” He plastered ads in the Spanish media, included a Spanish language section in his website, gave speeches, met with groups, and his most energized 20 minutes of campaigning on election day was in the largely Hispanic Union city.

Their growing political influence is seen in the increasing number of Hispanic-elected municipal and county officials, as well as in federal and state offices and unelected positions. 

  • Selected Hispanic Municipal Leaders: – Camden: 4 of 7 council members. Jersey City: 2 of 9 council members. Newark: 4 of 9 council members. North Bergen: 3 of 4 commissioners. Passaic: Mayor and 3 of 7 council members. Paterson: Mayor and 3 of 9 council members. Perth Amboy: Mayor and four of the five council members. Union City: All four commissioners. West New York: Mayor and all commissioners.
  • Selected County Leaders: The following counties have two or more Hispanic freeholders: Camden, Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, and Union.
  • State Legislators: 11 are Hispanic (9% of the total) including Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz,  Assembly Deputy Majority Leaders Angelica Jimenez and Annette Quijano, and a lone Republican Deputy Conference Leader Nancy Muñoz.
  • Christie’s Cabinet Members: Joseph Fuentes (NJ State Police), Raymond Martinez (Motor Vehicle Commission), and Christopher Rodriguez (Homeland Security.) (3 of 24)
  • U. S. Senators: Robert Menendez (1 of 2)
  • House of Representatives: Albio Sires (1 of 12)
  • See also: The 51 Most Influential Latinos in N.J. Politics,Elected and Non-elected which adds such people as Supreme Court Justice Faustino Fernandez-Viña, Analilia Mejia, Executive Director of the New Jersey Working Families Alliance, Martin Perez, former President of the Latino Leadership Alliance and a member of the Rutgers Board of Governors, Milly Silva, executive vice president of SEIU 1199 who was Barbara Buono’s running mate, Giancarlo Tellos who helped in the passage of the law that allows undocumented New Jerseyans to pay in-state tuition at state universities, and Carlos Medina, Chairman of NJ Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
  •  And some are extremely wealthy: including Robert and Peter Unanue ($1.1 billion) from their family- owned food manufacturing company Goya.

Two key organizations representing the interests of Hispanics are: 

  •  Latino Leadership Alliance of NJ, “Advocating for the socio-economic and political development of Latino diverse communities.” – Dr. Maria Teresa Montilla, President. In the past two gubernatorial General Elections it supported Chris Christie.
  • Latino Action Network, “A grassroots organization committed to engaging in collective action at the local, state and national levels in order to advance the equitable inclusion of the diverse Latino communities in all aspects of United States society.” – Christian Estevez, President. In the past two gubernatorial General Elections it supported Democratic candidates.

See also: Part II: Why they are fleeing their countries of origin, including a swing through the diverse countries they left. and Part III: They come willing to work but end up fearful.  Part IV:  Their wondrous, diverse culture enriching ours

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