Latino-Vote Party looks to rally voices of Mass. Latino communities

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PITTSFIELD — Joaquin Bernal believes too few ethnic minorities hold elected office.

And he hopes the Latino-Vote Party — the state's newest political designation — will help change that.

"Systematically the Latino community in the United States is treated as a problem of immigration, relegating its members to be third-class citizens," reads a statement from the designation provided to the state elections commission. "Thus, it becomes necessary to open a space for the Latino community, a political party that represents, defends and fights for the interests, culture and traditions of the largest minority of the United States of America."

With the presidential election fresh on his mind, Bernal said he found the lack of Latinos on either major-party ticket troubling and out of touch with the electorate. According to the Pew Research Center, more than 800,000 young U.S.-citizen Hispanics become eligible to vote annually and a record 27.3 million Latinos were eligible to vote this year. In Pittsfield, the Latino population is rapidly growing.

Just over 5 percent of Pittsfield residents are Latino — 2,250 people. And from 2000 to 2010 the Latino population surged 138.2 percent while the city's majority white population fell by 8.4 percent over the same period, a 2014 report from Gaston Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston found.

The city's most significant elected body — the City Council — is composed entirely of whites.

Looking statewide, there are seven Latinos serving in the Massachusetts Legislature, according to the Massachusetts Black and Latino Legislative Caucus.

While not ruling out a run for office in the future, Bernal, a native of Colombia who has a degree in political science and public policy and a graduate certificate in immigration law, said for now he is concentrating on building a solid foundation for the designation.

"The [designation] cannot be a person. It has to be a community," he said. "So I am thinking of the community not myself," adding that the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections will be spent identifying candidates for state and local offices.

He believes targeting millennials will be key to the designations' success and he plans to meet with college students at his alma mater the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, as well as students in communities with significant Latino populations such as Springfield, Holyoke, Worcester and Boston.

Bernal said some of the key issues the designation intends to address are immigration reform and affirmative action. He said it will also champion "the recognition and exaltation of the Latin race as the fundamental axis of the economy and the culture of this country."

Still, he said the Latino-Vote Party is not meant to be exclusionary.

"It is open to anyone but it is targeting the Latino community," said Bernal. "It is an all-inclusive platform" that can be a way to call attention to and show support for the needs of Latinos.

Alternative political parties have not traditionally emerged victors in U.S. political contests, however Samantha Pettey, assistant professor of history, political science and public policy at MCLA, pointed out that doesn't mean they are unsuccessful.

"It is interesting when these new designations pop-up to see if they can be effective or not," Pettey said. "They probably won't win office but sometimes major parties will adopt some of their ideas."

An alliance with a major party, or third party, is something Bernal said he is open to.

"We can't close the door because we are beginners," he said. "So we may have to make alliances to parties to guarantee a good start, to have a chance to participate in the community and the government too."

The new designation, now one of 25, was certified by the Massachusetts secretary of the state in September. Voters may enroll in the designation as a write-in on their voter registration application. Opting in to a party designation precludes a voter from casting a ballot in primary elections.

Thus far, Pittsfield has one person enrolled in the Latino-Vote Party.

Other Western Massachusetts cities that have voters registered under the designation include Springfield — eight voters — and Holyoke, which has three.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.


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