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Latino voter turnout lagging, despite growing population
03:06 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

CNN en Español study shows 900,000 Latinos in Pennsylvania in 2014, up from 225,000 in 1990

The study was from City University of New York, commissioned by CNN en Español

Philadelphia CNN  — 

Juniata, a bodega in Philadelphia’s north side, is the kind of place where bananas are called rulo, beans are habichuelas and pumpkins are cabucha.

Owner Jose Gomez prides himself on offering the products dear to his growing clientele.

“We specialize in tropical foods,” said Gomez, a Dominican who migrated to the United States 30 years ago.

His first home was New York City, but he left for Philadelphia 13 years ago.

“In New York, there were too many Hispanic businesses. We decided to come here because the competition was almost nonexistent,” he said.

He settled near Huntington Park, a neighborhood in decline at the time because its residents – blue-collar workers mostly of Italian or Irish descent – were leaving as factories around it were closing,

With growth comes influence

The growth has fueled an increase of bodegas such as Juniata in previously depressed areas of the city.

The prosperity of these small business is the force behind the growing political influence Latinos have in the state.

“They are donating money to candidates and forming political coalitions,” said Civil Service Commissioner Pedro Rodriguez, who explains Latino businesses were part of the coalition who helped get Mayor Jim Kenney elected last year.

But Rodriguez said Latinos in Pennsylvania are missing out on a real opportunity to become a political force in the state.

“They don’t vote as often as they should,” he said.

The CUNY/CNNE study shows that as of 2012, 45% of Latinos eligible to vote did so, a percentage lower than the national average for this group. The study projects that the percentage of the Latino electorate who will vote this year will decline to 42%.

The reason for the decline in participation can be explained in part by the increased diversity of the Latino population in Pennsylvania. Historically, Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens, have made up the majority of that community, but migration from Latin American nations is changing that.

“We are seeing more people from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Mexico arrive to the state,” said Edgardo Gonzalez, board chair of “The Puerto Rican Workshop,” a nonprofit civic and cultural organization.

He says the new Latinos will help the community increase their political influence.

“In politics, the strength is in the numbers, and we have the numbers. But we have to make sure those who can become citizens of this country and those citizens have to register to vote and go out and vote.”

Politics has become a topic of conversation in his bodega, Gomez said.

Without naming any candidate, he explains the comments made about immigrants during the current election cycle have drawn criticism from Latinos, and he hopes that inspires them to become involved in the process.