The reel truth

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Ruben Alvarez congratulates Phillip Rodriguez during the screening of Latinos ‘08

Phillip Rodriguez’s documentary film Latinos ’08 challenges dearly held assumptions – some say myths – about Latino voters.

One, that the Latino vote is a monolithic bloc that acts and thinks alike, and can be wooed and delivered as one.

Two, that the Latino vote was crucial to the success of both presidential candidates in the 2008 campaign.

Rodriguez, who aired his film on PBS in November and then brought it to Phoenix, says he shows these premises fall apart when examined.

Diversity and disunity among Latinos is more the norm than not, he says. Democrats such as John F. Kennedy and Republicans such as Ronald Reagan and George Bush all appealed successfully to Latino voters.

And Barack Obama never did cement the support of Latino power brokers such as L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and others who had supported Hillary Clinton for president during the primaries.

“Obama did an end around the Latino leaders and appealed directly to the Latino grassroots,” Rodriguez said during a question-and-answer after the viewing. “I think that that Latinos may end up as the biggest losers in this presidential campaign. Obama doesn’t have to placate Latinos.”

Latinos ’08 also thumps conventional thinking that Latinos now exert a powerful influence on American politics.

“There is an industry promoting how important the Latino vote is,” says Rodolfo de la Garza, a Columbia University professor, in the film. “It is one of the most overstated, self-congratulatory exercises in American politics today.”

The brighter side is that the film shows that Latinos did change the context of the presidential election, while not necessarily influencing the outcome.

In addition, the immigrant-bashing by hate groups and even the Republican Party does unite Latinos, who see attacks on immigrants as directed at all Latinos.

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