“A lot of Hispanics, even those who are born here in the United States and are of age to vote, don’t vote, because they think it doesn’t really matter,” said Lilliana Ascencio of Erwin, who turns 18 this summer.
Ascencio, however, planned to make the most of her first opportunity to participate in the American political process.
“Not many young people want to vote,” she said. “But I have the chance to vote now, to actually say something, and I’m going to do it. Hopefully my opinion counts in some way.” And if she has her way, Ascensio will be able to persuade others to vote, too.
“I have several cousins that are of the right age to vote,” Ascensio said. “I’m going to encourage them to go vote, because it really does make a difference if you think about it. Right now, they don’t care, but I’m still going to try to get them out there [to the polls].”
Lack of voter response is not only limited to the young. Victor Terrazas, 39, acknowledged a lack of voter turnout in the area among older generations. Yet, they still want to complain about things that go on in politics, he said. Terrazas tells people, “If you don’t vote and then you say, ‘Why is this politician doing this or doing that?’ then I would say to you, ‘Where was your vote?’” he said.
A minister from Erwin, Terrazas admitted he didn’t vote in the 2004 presidential election, but said he definitely plans to this fall.
“If we are citizens of the U.S. and we don’t vote, what good is that?” said Terrazas. “I think that if we have the right to vote, then we should do it.”
Terrazas said he hasn’t decided on a candidate yet.
“I need to watch and see more of what they say, and then make my decision,” he said. “I don’t know them well enough yet. I hear of them, but I don’t know what they’re planning.”
One thing he knows from past elections:
“When there’s an election, they all try to get the Hispanic vote,” Terrazas said. “But, once they get it, then they forget about them [Hispanics] and just put them to the side.”
In interviews conducted before the spring primary elections, others shared Terrazas’ doubts.
“Everybody says things to get elected,” said Maria Cigarroa of Johnson City, a 1988 graduate of Unicoi County High School. “But, there’s not a 100 percent chance they’re going to do what they said they would do once they get elected, and that’s a problem. [President George W.] Bush is a great example of that. He promised reform, and he never did it.
“So, a lot of people are really skeptical as to why they should vote in the first place, if it really doesn’t change anything.”
Some interested in voting were beginning to form their decisions last fall.
"Barack [Obama], I just really like the way he speaks," Cigarroa said. "He doesn’t speak down [to people]. He speaks to you.”
Obama appealed to Michelle Mora, too, but for a different reason.
“I’m planning on voting for Obama,” said Mora, who moved to Unicoi County from Houston with her family in 1986. “He’s African-American, and these people have gone through some of the same things that we’ve gone through. Of course I don’t agree with everything he says, but he’s got some ideas that I support.”
Some will be voting for their first time, while for others, voting in November’s election will be nothing new.
“I’ve voted twice, once in the last presidential election, and once in a local election,” said Erwin resident Carmen Acevedo. She said she voted for John Kerry in 2004, but hasn’t decided yet who will get her vote this time.
The fact that she voted for a Democrat in the last presidential election will have no bearing on her decision this year, she said.
“I don’t see Democrat or Republican, I just see the person,” said Acevedo.
Acevedo, 24, who was born in Tallahassee and moved to Unicoi County six years ago, sees immigration reform and a widespread lack of health care as two of the main issues.
As far as forming any decision on particular candidates, she sees the media as having a major influence on the community.
“We have the Spanish channel, which is Univisión,” said Acevedo. “If we see that the Hispanics are leaning more toward one particular candidate, that’s all they’ll have on TV, so that’s usually where we’ll lean, too."
First published in El Nuevo Erwin Record