Obama Strikes a Chord of Shared Identity With Latinos

Martin Wisckol, Orange County Register, July 13, 2008

For many Latinos on hand for Barack Obama on Sunday, attraction to the Democratic presidential candidate went beyond policy issues to the matter of identity.

“He’s closer to our community,” said immigrant Pietro Ferrari after hearing Obama address the National Council of La Raza at its conference in San Diego.

“He gives me the sense of somebody who has emerged without privilege,” said Ferrari. “He understands immigration first hand. And he understands the promise of being American.”

Obama was the first in the candidate line-up at the conference for La Raza—the country’s largest advocacy group for Latino Americans—with John McCain scheduled to address the group Monday.

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The candidate—who has a 2-1 advantage over McCain among Latinos according to an AP-Yahoo poll—noted the similarities in the work of La Raza and his own early adult years as an organizer in Chicago.

“I reached out to community leaders—black, brown, and white—and formed coalitions on issues ranging from failing schools to illegal dumping to unimmunized children,” Obama said. “That work taught me a fundamental truth that has guided me ever since: that in this country, change doesn’t come from the top down.”

Obama went on the say that Latinos were particularly vulnerable to the crises in housing, health care, education and the economy, and discussed the need for change. And he reiterated earlier attacks on John McCain for abandoning immediate immigration reform that would provide a path for citizenship to the 12 million immigrants in the country illegally.

Obama supports such a plan, provided illegal immigrants pay a fine, learn English, and don’t get priority over those in the country legally.

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