Bill Sarno CTLatinoNews.com
When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders takes to the Internet on July 29 to beam himself into living rooms, bars and coffee shops across the nation, among those watching and listening intently will be a group of Latinos in Connecticut.
Connecticut Latinos for Bernie Sanders will be less than a month old when these life-streaming house parties take place, and they will be an important milestone in the grass-roots group’s efforts to build recognition and support for the Vermont senator among the state’s large Latino population.
In the next couple of weeks, the organization’s founders, which include Jose Emmanuel Alfaro, his partner Frances Ayala and Carlos Alberto Camacho, hope to have ratcheted up momentum for the Sanders campaign through appearances at Hispanic gatherings in Connecticut and social media.
Alfaro has been running the recently launched CT Latinos for Bernie Sanders Facebook page and Camacho has been overseeing the wider focused www.berniesanderct.com website.
The website, while not officially connected to the Sanders campaign, includes a map that shows the location of more than two dozen Connecticut “Bernie events” set for July 29 and contact information. Alfaro said the Latino gathering will be in New Haven or Hartford.
The three organizers of CT Latinos for Bernie Sanders organizers come from diverse backgrounds. Alfaro lives in Manchester and was born in the United States after his parents had immigrated from El Salvador. He grew up in the Queens section of New York City, holds dual citizenship between the U.S. and El Salvador and can speak Spanish and Portugese. Ayala was born in Puerto Rico and was raised in Connecticut where her parents, now retired, were educators in Hartford for over 30 years. Camacho was born in Sao Paolo Brazil and lives in Windsor.
The new group is concentrating on Connecticut’s Latino population and there are similar efforts under way in other states, Alfaro said.
One of the realities of American politics is that gaining support among the nation’s growing Latino electorate is crucial for success in the 2016 Democratic primaries and general election. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the front runner for the nomination, is well known in the Hispanic community, but awareness of Sanders was described recently by a California pollster who focuses on Latino issues as somewhere “in between zero and extremely low.”
Sanders, who has been called “el candido ‘socialista’ on Spanish-language Univision and labels himself as a democratic socialist, has been making appearances in heavily Hispanic areas such as Texas and Nevada, emphasizing his aggressive stance on immigration reform, economic equality, a higher minimum wage and free college tuitions at public colleges, which is seen as attractive to Hispanics because of their concern about the education of their children.
Sanders also spoke at the convention of the National Council of La Raza in Kansas City along with Clinton and the third announced Democratic candidate, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
Among those who heard the 72-year-old Sanders deliver his message in person is Yanil Teron, executive director of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford, who also has representated the national Hispanic advocacy group in Connecticut and the Northeast. Teron said a lot of people were receptive to the Vermonter’s message which focused on immigration reform, “the stain of racism” and economic inequality.
Teron, who was born in Puerto Rico, said she was also impressed by O’Malley, who addressed issues such Puerto Rico’s economic instability and the Haitian immigration crisis in the Dominican Republican.
The Connecticut Hispanic activist said NCLR is “looking at all candidates to see what messages resonate” and at what the party platforms contain. She noted that all the Republican candidates, except for Donald Trump, were invited to speak in Kansas City but they declined.
Teron observed that Sanders is drawing the close interest among so-called millennials, the 20-somethings, who she said are looking at a way to manage their lives with more social consciousness.
For the 29-year-old Alfaro, an awareness of the 73-year-old Sanders started when he was getting a degree in social justice and conflict resolution from the School of International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. He found that his politics aligned with the Brooklyn-born son of Polish immigrants who, since 1991, has represented the Green Mountain State in Congress as an independent, first in the House of Representatives and then as a senator the last eight years.
Alfaro said he likes Sanders’ position on immigration reform, better job opportunities for the working class, removing the undue influence of money from politics and increasing the minimum wage.
What Sanders proposes, Alfaro said, will benefit everyone, particularly undocumented immigrants.