A CUNY study predicts about 330,000 Latinos will vote in November representing 3.9% of votes cast in Georgia
The same study notes that only 49 percent of adult Latinos in Georgia and North and South Carolina are U.S. citizens
The smell of freshly baked goods fills the air of Panaderia La Esperanza, a bakery offering Mexican pastries and Hispanic foods here.
“I come here a lot to buy groceries or breads,” said Rob Bradham, the president and CEO of the Dalton Chamber of Commerce. He says he is treated there the same way they treat their Latino clients.
“We really work well together here, two cultures integrated into one city,” Bradham said.
For Bradham, La Esperanza is an example of the influence Latinos have in a city where they are the majority. A recent study by the City University of New York commissioned by CNN en Español revealed that the Latino population in Georgia grew from just over 100,000 in 1990 to around 1 million in 2014. Most of them live in the Atlanta metropolitan area or in north Georgia around Dalton.
The CUNY study predicts that about 330,000 Latinos will vote in the presidential election, representing 3.9% of votes cast in November in Georgia – a number unlikely to make a difference in a state that has been a Republican stronghold for decades.
“We could be a community that decides elections but we don’t go out and vote in numbers,” said Jaime Rangel, an activist who was brought into the U.S. illegally as a child and now enjoys the benefits of the deferred action against deportations implemented by the Obama administration in 2012.
He says he works with elected officials to improve relations between Latinos and politicians who are yet to match their growth in numbers with an increase in political participation.
But the reality is that not all Latinos in the state can vote. The CUNY study notes that only 49% of adult Latinos in Georgia and North and South Carolina are U.S. citizens.
In 2011, Georgia was one of five states that approved tough, new legislation aimed at combating illegal immigration, but an appeals court struck down some parts of the law while others are now rarely enforced.
That legislation created some tension in Latino communities in the state but not in Georgia, according to Rangel, who points to the local high school as a catalyst for integration of the next generation of citizens.
Frida Alvarado, a junior in high school and a U.S. citizen, said teachers and faculty helped her get over the fear she felt about school ever since third grade, when she failed to stop and pledge allegiance to the flag.
“A lady came yelling at me. She thought I was being disrespectful,” said Alvarado, who at the time had only been in the U.S. for a few months.
That support comes from teachers such as Jesus Jacobo, a technology teacher at Dalton where he also graduated.
He says young Latinos like Frida are forced to become civically engaged because their parents can’t.
“Their parents don’t speak English so they have to help them translate documents and go to meetings representing their parents,” Jacobo said.
The language barrier was the cause of Velazquez anxiety when he started high school a few years after emigrating from Guatemala.
“Nobody understood me and I could not understand anyone,” said Velazquez, who at age 18 graduates this year as one of the top students of his class and is looking forward to new challenges in college.
He is now a legal resident but feels his younger brothers will have an easier time in high school than he did and will be more active in the community because they were born in the U.S.
“They represent the new culture,” Velazquez said.