LOS ANGELES —
After 25 years of marriage and five children, Maria Elena and Rene Burgos of Los Angeles have become a unified force on many things, including decisions on Election Day.
“Mostly we discuss and we agree and then we usually mark our ballots together, and we start marking together, and we decide together. We try to support each other,” said Maria Elena Burgos.
“We discuss it with the family, too, now that we have the grownup kids,” Rene Burgos said.
All born in the United States, four of the Burgoses' children are old enough to vote in the 2016 presidential election. It will be 18-year-old Monica Burgos’ first presidential election. She said it’s the issues, including immigration, that will help her pick the best candidate.
“Immigration is serious because people are always crossing the border. They’re always trying to come to America for a better life, and that’s what my parents did,” she said.
Maria Elena Burgos’ mother was American, which allowed her to get U.S. citizenship. Rene Burgos escaped the civil war in El Salvador and arrived in the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant. Under the Regan administration, he received amnesty and ultimately citizenship.
“So after I became a citizen and I was able to exercise [my right to vote], I said I have the duty to do it and I was really happy to be able to participate," he said. "I think coming from another country to the United States and seeing that you can participate, it is a great opportunity.”
For Herminio Mendoza, a self-identified Latino Republican and small-business owner in New Jersey, the 2016 election is all about jobs.
“When you come from a country where sometimes you do not have the rights or the voice, having that opportunity here makes a difference,” said Maria Elena Burgos.
That commitment was passed down to their children, including Stephen, 22.
“Our parents always encourage us to vote, to be able to be the voice for change,” he said.
The belief that a vote still matters is what motivates many naturalized immigrants and their children to try and be the most engaged Latinos in American politics. They don’t take the vote for granted, said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials' Educational Fund.
“The immigrant voter, the naturalized citizen and his or her children, the children of immigrants are the most engaged in American politics," Vargas said. "They are following politics very, very closely. Those that we need to bring into the process are those that have been here for four, five, six generations: Mexican-Americans that speak English only because that’s the only language they know. [It’s] the same thing with Puerto Ricans and Latinos of other national origin groups who, unfortunately, many of them have lost faith in the American political system.”
For many Latinos, the issue of immigration has become a litmus test for a candidate.
“How a candidate talks about immigrants is symbolic of how that candidate then appears towards Latinos," Vargas said. "So if a candidate is bashing immigrants, Latinos hear that as bashing Latinos. So how a candidate talks about immigration is even more important than what the candidate has to say about immigration policy.”
While a large number of Latinos identify themselves as Democrats, Vargas said the fastest-growing party affiliation of Latinos is either “declined to state” or “independent.”
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Choosing a candidate
Members of the Burgos family have not decided which presidential candidate they will vote for, but that person needs to share their values, said Martin Burgos, 20.
“Since we’re practicing Roman Catholics, we’ll talk about abortion especially. That’s one of the major topics,” he said.
Maria Elena Burgos said she knows there is no perfect candidate.
“We have to just balance and see which one is the least evil and which is the one that we would be more happy with, even though it’s not perfect. No person, no party, no decision will be 100 percent perfect,” she said.
While they’ll take a close look at the two Latino candidates, sharing the same ethnicity is not enough, said Rene Burgos.
“It would be nice to have a Latino president, but we mostly like to see the values,” he said.
Rene and Maria Elena Burgos say they’ll look at the entire package in a candidate before making a final decision.