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Voices of Voters: People Of Color In The 2016 Presidential Race

Andy Chow
Political activist Puja Datta has been working with people of color in this election.

One in three eligible American voters are people of color. Not only does this presidential election have the most ethnically and racially diverse voter base in American history, but the campaigns have been using strong, racially charged language. In the latest installment in the Statehouse News Bureau’s series featuring voices of voters, some share their perspectives on how the rhetoric has impacted them as people of color. 

“Racism has taken a huge uptick in this country," said Puja Datta, a 29-year-old political activist from the Columbus area. “I personally have had several people attack me on my race.” Datta is also a first generation Indian American whose parents were immigrants to the U.S. from Calcutta. “I had somebody walk past me and say ‘you know my people need jobs in this country too’ because I think I looked like I was going to a job interview like ‘your people don’t need jobs, your people get out of this country, my people need jobs.’”

Datta, who created the progressive group Ohio Revolution, says this is why it’s important for people of color to play a role in the political world and voice their opinions. The Southern Poverty Law Center did a survey that found an increase in bullying and harassment in schools and labeled it “the Trump effect” – linking it to the anti-immigration sentiment that Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump has used since the beginning of his campaign.

Support for Trump among minority voters is low. The latest Quinnipiac numbers show that, in a two-way race, Democrat Hillary Clinton is polling with 73% of support from people of color, while Trump is getting 21% of that vote.  Jose Mas, a criminal defense attorney in Columbus who counsels the Ohio Hispanic Coalition, says Trump disqualified himself on Day 1 of his campaign when he referenced Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers. “It’s not an issue of, ‘Oh I am going to build a wall’. That’s not the problem," Mas said. "The problem is that he identifies individuals personally sometimes or broad groups as representing a threat to the nation.” Mas, who himself is an immigrant from Cuba, would rather hear about the issues that he believes will move the country forward in unity. For him, this includes creating a single-payer healthcare program, more protections for workers, and immigration reform.

In stark contrast to Mas is Gary Deleon, of Columbus, who has been a Trump fan for decades. Deleon, who’s Mexican and Spanish American, is irritated by the notion that he should vote for someone other than Trump because of his descent. “I find that a wall is necessary. I believe they’ve allowed too many people in America that are stealing the American jobs from the American people so if Mr. Trump can build a wall more power to him,” said Deleon.

The Pew Research Center shows that Hispanic Americans make up 12% of the electorate, African Americans make up another 12% and Asian Americans bring in another 4%. Latoya Peterson works to engage minorities and encourage them to participate and vote through the Columbus Urban League Young Professionals.  Peterson, who’s African American, says the issues that speak to people of color are the same that would connect with any middle class American. However, she says neither Trump nor Clinton have done a good job speaking to those issues. “I don’t think they’ve appealed to minorities. I don’t think they’ve had real policy issues and plans to correct women not being paid equally, women not having a seat at the board table. So I think when they start getting really specific and they start looking at local politics and local neighborhoods they’ll start going in the right direction.”

Plus, according to Peterson, it’s one thing to pander to minorities during election season it’s another to get to work on those issues after the votes are counted.

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