Roberto Vargas

Harnessing the Latino Vote

I am a successful Latino small businessman who is patriotic, pro-family and pro-community. My vision is for quality and meaningful lives for my children and all U.S. Americans. So, for whom should I vote – Bush, Kerry? Because I know that every vote counts, I decided to use my precious vacation time to prepare.

I asked myself, "What are the most important issues to me?" My top seven included taxes, health care, social security, employment, education, environment, and of course, security and the war in Iraq. In researching these subjects, I made a number of discoveries and realized it was my responsibility to share my findings with other Latinos.

My Concerns

1. Responsible Spending/Use of Tax Dollars

My wife and I contribute over $30,000 per year in income taxes, so we want a president who is responsible with our hard-earned dollars. Minimally, I expect the president to understand that one can't spend without raising funds, and then those funds should be spent responsibly. Bush inherited a $236 billion dollar surplus in 2000. He has replaced this with a deficit of $422 billion in 2004! As I see it, he squandered billions of dollars of our money on tax breaks for the big businesses and the super wealthy, and is now using the presidential credit card to soak us and our children for billions more. We, the middle and working-class, work too hard to be exploited like this.

The Bush plan is to provide us more of the same. More tax breaks for companies and for families making over $200,000, continued military spending, and decreased funding for education and health care. Kerry's plan is to cut corporate welfare and restore tax levels for the rich to their 2000 level to reduce the deficit, move America to less dependence on oil (that's why we started the Iraq war), and invest more in education, job creation, and health care.

2. Affordable Health Care

I have worked in several other countries where all citizens are assured medical care. Our citizens deserve at least the same. Instead, I pay nearly $600 per month for medical insurance and that doesn't cover dental and optometry, nor does it cover health care for my two adult and under-employed daughters who are among the 45 million without medical insurance. I want to see guaranteed medical care for all.

To maintain the tax cuts for the wealthy, the Bush plan is to invest only $90 billion in health care over the next 10 years. The Kerry plans will invest over $650 billion during this same period to ensure affordable health and accessible health care for all Americans, using his rollback on tax cuts for the wealthy. Under Kerry's plan there is a greater possibility our children will be able to secure health care insurance.

3. Social Security

As a small business owner, I must provide for my own retirement. Over the past few years, I have paid over $150,000 for my children's college education, leaving me with little money to invest into retirement. Consequently, I don't want to lose my social security or see it additionally taxed. I see how my mother and other older family members struggle on their fixed incomes. I want an administration that will ensure that social security will continue, and that supports policies and services for the aged.

While Bush states his commitment to Social Security, his party's record speaks volumes to the contrary. The Republican Party took Social Security from an independent fund and put it in the general fund so that Congress could spend it, which it has been doing. It has raised taxes on social security, and now, Bush is advocating placing greater responsibility on the individual to establish his own retirement/savings plan. Given the current record of corporate crime (e.g., Enron, Arthur Andersen, savings and loan industry, etc.) can big business be trusted to take care our best interests, especially given that Bush has been removing policies and programs that protect the consumer? I have more trust in the Democratic Party that has historically fought to institute and protect social security.

4. Employment and a Living Wage for Workers

Be honest: who can afford a decent life for themselves and their families working for less than $7.00 per hour? I know too many people working two and three jobs merely to survive. Given the wealth in this nation, I want to see everyone working for a decent wage, not more homeless and hungry people on our streets.

Under Bush, the U.S.A. has lost 1.6 million private sector jobs, the typical family has seen its income fall by more than $1,500, and there are 4.3 million more people in poverty. The Kerry plan is to tax the corporations that are using various loopholes to avoid their tax responsibilities, generate 10 million new jobs, and institute a minimum wage of $7.00 per hour, which would represent a raise for over 15 million workers, assisting many families to better care for their own members.

5. Quality Schools

I understand 43% of Latinos do not have a high school education. This is criminal in a nation where education is essential for successful and responsible citizens. I believe we must invest the money required to ensure quality schools, committed teachers and meaningful curriculum for all public school districts, not just those in wealthy communities.

As a nation we have over one million students dropping out from our schools each year. While the Bush administration pushed the No Child Left Behind program the White House failed to provide the funding required to ensure that students are provided qualified teachers and support. In addition, Bush has established policies making the active presence of army recruiters the norm at our low-income schools. Kerry's plan is to invest in education – ensure quality teachers, bring school buildings up to necessary standards, develop after-school programs, and support students' pursuit of college education.

6. Healthy Environment

In the Central Valley of California, Latino families experience twice the infant mortality rate of those in other parts of the state, and this is also occurring in other parts of the country. The reason is polluted air. My daughter suffers from chronic health problems because of air and pesticide contamination, and we all see increased rates of asthma and cancer among family and friends. While many diseases are due to the poisoning of our environment, the Bush administration continues to deny the relationship between pollution and health. Instead, Bush has radically acted to remove many of the safeguards protecting our air, soil and water, and simply refuses to sign numerous international treaties to protect our oceans and air.

Kerry has been recognized as the Senate's most outspoken supporter of the environment. He is committed to clean up contaminated sites, get toxins out of our community, and enforce the laws intended to protect the quality of our air and water.

7. World Peace & Security

The U.S. must never become a place where we live in fear of terrorist attacks. However, when the US initiates unjustified wars against the people of other countries, it only increases anti-U.S. feeling and provides people of those nations with reason to attack our citizens. Almost all the al Qaeda terrorists responsible for the devastating 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia where the majority of the people resented the U.S. military presence. However, because of the long-standing business relationships between the rulers of Saudi Arabia and the Bush family, this was ignored, and instead Bush initiated the war against the Iraqi people. Remember that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 nor possessed weapons of mass destruction. We are engaged in a war that has already cost over 1000 U.S. lives and is not making the U.S. safer. Meanwhile our government squanders billions of U.S. dollars that could be better used for homeland security, education and health care.

Bush made it apparent in his first televised debate that he has a limited ability to learn from experience and is determined to continue war despite the human and financial costs. Kerry plans to evaluate the larger picture and determine the best policy that will make for a safer U.S.A. while enlisting our larger international community in a collaborative plan to fight terrorism. Presently, few nations of the world have reason to join our efforts as they see U.S. foreign policy more directed to benefit US big business rather than the international community as a whole.

Let's Do Our Part

Over three decades ago, members of the Republican Party began organizing a powerful partnership between think tanks, advocacy organizations, and the media industry. Their bold plan was to find ways to convince the American middle and working class that the Republican Party works for them, while in fact the party's true commitment is taking care of its super wealthy. Using hundreds of millions of dollars, supporters of the Republican Party succeeded in buying the current administration, and plans to do it again. The strategy continues: find out how to distract men, women, blacks, Latinos and others from the truly important issues by putting the right "spin" to the news. Repeat to the people that the Iraq war is about "fighting terrorism" so we don't see that it's about creating major profit for a few companies, or that it is misdirecting our homeland security dollars and bankrupting our quality of life.

Too much is at stake. I take pride in our culture for its value of familia and community responsibility. Now it's time to act on these values and make a difference. Throughout the United States there are over a dozen states where the election will be tremendously close. Our Latino vote can make a positive difference.

I have heard many Latinos say that Kerry belongs to the same wealthy class as Bush and whoever is elected always supports big business. I agree on both accounts; however, on examining Kerry's record, there is no question that he is committed to the well being of our full society and to the principle that big businesses must do their part. Also, remember that when we elect a president, we also elect an entire administration made up of thousands of people who the president appoints to head the nation's courts and direct our many government agencies. A Kerry administration would bring back into government people who are committed to a government that serves all people, and not just the agenda of big business.

I pray that fellow Latinos see the differences as clearly as I do.

Reclaiming America

Since the Vietnam War, I have not claimed "American" as my identity. Although I am a psychologist, meeting facilitator, and Chicano ceremony leader who has provided assistance on community problem-solving and strategic planning throughout North America and abroad, I have not felt the United States was my community, and I never fully offered my services, wisdom, and energy to "America."

In late 2001, shortly after the 9-11 terrorist attacks, I began serving as facilitator for the Positive Futures Network's retreats, the State of the Possible. The experience has been transformative.

As a youngster growing up in California, I felt tremendous pride in being American. I looked forward to facing the flag each morning at school and saying the pledge of allegiance. I felt a deep connection to "the land of the free and home of the brave." And I was proud of belonging to a country that stood for courage, freedom, and goodness.

So the damage to my spirit ran deep when teachers, fellow students, and even the school curriculum said I wasn't American. I was "Indian" or "Mexican-American." To me the underlying message was, "If you're not white, you're not American."

Despite the hurt of these racist messages, I wanted to live what I saw as the core American values -- to be responsible, to be my best, and to give back to the community. I actively participated in school, church, family, and Boy Scouts. Later, I worked several jobs to support myself through college. As is the case for many others, my university experience expanded my awareness of our nation's history -- including the slaughter of native people, the institution of slavery, and the campaigns to undermine other governments to ensure cheap labor, natural resources, and markets for U.S. corporations. Then, in the mid-1960s, my generation was called to kill and die in Vietnam.

While some might be able to separate U.S. government policy from the American people, for me, "American" came to mean people who support waging war or, at best, people who choose to live conveniently ignorant of the terrible effects that some of our country's policies have on others. At age 19, I traveled to Chile to join the revolution and returned home with a guiding question: How do you create change within the belly of the monster?

My response was to claim my Chicano identity with deeper passion and focus my work to advance justice, love, and respect within my community -- not for the nation as a whole. During the 1970s, I co-founded several mental health centers committed to Latino family empowerment. Later, I organized various councils of Latino community healers and activists committed to leadership development and community healing.

I was often approached to run for political office. Repeatedly, I chose not to serve. I now realize that among the reasons were the scars of racism, my distrust of the political system, and an insufficient vision of our nation's potential. Unconsciously, I felt that to be involved in the political process would mean selling out my commitment to justice and respect for all.

This was where I stood when I agreed to help facilitate the State of the Possible retreats. These are sponsored by the Positive Futures Network (publisher of YES!) and supported by the Fetzer Institute. Since 1999, they have been held twice each year to bring leading citizens together in diverse groups to consider how we might advance justice, sustainability, and compassion in our nation and the world.

In each of the retreats that I facilitated, I sat amidst a group of people more diverse than any I had experienced. The gatherings included indigenous people, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and European Americans; artists, corporate consultants, community activists, entertainers, ministers, political representatives, and labor organizers; Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, pagans, and persons who are simply spiritual; youth and elders, gays and straights. The only characteristic these people shared was a history of extraordinary dedication to the common good.

At these retreats, we talked about what the U.S. of America is and what it can be. We spoke openly about the country's history, its racism, and the suffering it has inflicted on others. We talked about its ideals -- about the metaphor of America that has inspired the world -- about the beauty of the land, and about the generosity of the people. We talked about the noble and compelling call of Jefferson's declaration that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights, and about the bitter irony of those words being enunciated by someone who held people in slavery.

At my first State of the Possible retreat, Grace Boggs, an elder with more than 60 years as a civil rights activist, articulated a challenge -- America, love it enough to change it! Her words sank in. I could feel something in me begin to shift.

Over the months, I began to ask myself new questions. Why had I developed such a disdain for this country? How many more people felt similarly disconnected? If I had not become so alienated and had instead chosen to be politically involved, how much more could I have contributed to advancing justice, respect, and wellness for my own community and the larger U.S. community? If millions like me had not surrendered their connection to national identity, could we have evolved a more caring, just, and respectful nation?

I saw that the wounds of racism, exclusion, and dishonesty had resulted in alienating me and others like me from an identification with this country. We could battle for the environment, for civil rights, for women, or against corporate globalization, but not for the larger vision of a better U.S.A.

It became clearer that the U.S. of America is both a metaphor and a government, a history and a people, and that I have choices regarding my relationship to each. I will not ignore the policies and practices of exploitation -- past and present. But I am consciously choosing to forgive the injustices to make room for a truer U.S. of America -- one fundamentally committed to respect, justice, and wellness for all.

My vision now is to live in a world in which we honor each other and Mother Earth. I need to do my part as a spirit being, a human being, a family and community member, and a national and world citizen. And I need to hold each of these memberships as equally precious. While my purpose has been to advance justice for my own community, I now see that it is time to also claim my stake in our nation's evolution. It's time for me to reclaim America.

Roberto Vargas is principal consultant for New World Associates and founder of the Porvida Council, which works to integrate the practice of spirit connection and cultural activism. He lives in California and can be reached at porvida5@aol.com.

Reclaiming America

Since the Vietnam War, I have not claimed "American" as my identity. Although I am a psychologist, meeting facilitator, and Chicano ceremony leader who has provided assistance on community problem-solving and strategic planning throughout North America and abroad, I have not felt the United States was my community, and I never fully offered my services, wisdom, and energy to "America."

In late 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I began serving as facilitator for the Positive Futures Network's retreats, the State of the Possible. The experience has been transformative.

As a youngster growing up in California, I felt tremendous pride in being American. I looked forward to facing the flag each morning at school and saying the pledge of allegiance. I felt a deep connection to "the land of the free and home of the brave." And I was proud of belonging to a country that stood for courage, freedom, and goodness.

So the damage to my spirit ran deep when teachers, fellow students, and even the school curriculum said I wasn't American. I was "Indian" or "Mexican-American." To me the underlying message was, "If you're not white, you're not American."

Despite the hurt of these racist messages, I wanted to live what I saw as the core American values -- to be responsible, to be my best, and to give back to the community. I actively participated in school, church, family and Boy Scouts. Later, I worked several jobs to support myself through college. As is the case for many others, my university experience expanded my awareness of our nation's history -- including the slaughter of native people, the institution of slavery, and the campaigns to undermine other governments to ensure cheap labor, natural resources, and markets for U.S. corporations. Then, in the mid-1960s, my generation was called to kill and die in Vietnam.

While some might be able to separate U.S. government policy from the American people, for me, "American" came to mean people who support waging war or, at best, people who choose to live conveniently ignorant of the terrible effects that some of our country's policies have on others. At age 19, I traveled to Chile to join the revolution and returned home with a guiding question -- "How do you create change within the belly of the monster?"

My response was to claim my Chicano identity with deeper passion and focus my work to advance justice, love, and respect within my community -- not for the nation as a whole. During the 1970s, I co-founded several mental health centers committed to Latino family empowerment. Later, I organized various councils of Latino community healers and activists committed to leadership development and community healing.

I was often approached to run for political office. Repeatedly, I chose not to serve. I now realize that among the reasons were the scars of racism, my distrust of the political system, and an insufficient vision of our nation's potential. Unconsciously, I felt that to be involved in the political process would mean selling out my commitment to justice and respect for all.

This was where I stood when I agreed to help facilitate the State of the Possible retreats. These are sponsored by the Positive Futures Network (publisher of YES!) and supported by the Fetzer Institute. Since 1999, they have been held twice each year to bring leading citizens together in diverse groups to consider how we might advance justice, sustainability, and compassion in our nation and the world.

In each of the retreats that I facilitated, I sat amidst a group of people more diverse than any I had experienced. The gatherings included indigenous people, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and European Americans; artists, corporate consultants, community activists, entertainers, ministers, political representatives, and labor organizers; Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, pagans, and persons who are simply spiritual; youth and elders, gays and straights. The only characteristic these people shared was a history of extraordinary dedication to the common good.

At these retreats, we talked about what the U.S. of America is and what it can be. We spoke openly about the country's history, its racism, and the suffering it has inflicted on others. We talked about its ideals -- about the metaphor of America that has inspired the world -- about the beauty of the land, and about the generosity of the people. We talked about the noble and compelling call of Jefferson's declaration that all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights, and about the bitter irony of those words being enunciated by someone who held people in slavery.

At my first State of the Possible retreat, Grace Boggs, an elder with more than 60 years as a civil rights activist, articulated a challenge: America, love it enough to change it! Her words sank in. I could feel something in me begin to shift.

Over the months, I began to ask myself new questions. Why had I developed such a disdain for this country? How many more people felt similarly disconnected? If I had not become so alienated and had instead chosen to be politically involved, how much more could I have contributed to advancing justice, respect, and wellness for my own community and the larger U.S. community? If millions like me had not surrendered their connection to an American national identity, could we have evolved a more caring, just, and respectful nation?

I saw that the wounds of racism, exclusion, and dishonesty had resulted in alienating me and others like me from an identification with this country. We could battle for the environment, for civil rights, for women, or against corporate globalization, but not for the larger vision of a better U.S.A.

It became clearer that the U.S. of America is both a metaphor and a government, a history and a people, and that I have choices regarding my relationship to each. I will not ignore the policies and practices of exploitation -- past and present. But I am consciously choosing to forgive the injustices to make room for a truer U.S. of America -- one fundamentally committed to respect, justice, and wellness for all.

My vision now is to live in a world in which we honor each other and Mother Earth. I need to do my part as a spirit being, a human being, a family and community member, and a national and world citizen. And I need to hold each of these memberships as equally precious. While my purpose has been to advance justice for my own community, I now see that it is time to also claim my stake in our nation's evolution. It's time for me to reclaim America.

Roberto Vargas is principal consultant for New World Associates and founder of the Porvida Council, which works to integrate the practice of spirit connection and cultural activism. He lives in California.

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