Sí Se Puede

Lisa Rab
Artist Edwin Gil's portrait of Obama.

"Buenos días, mucho gusto," Olma Echeverri greets a man and woman walking into artist Edwin Gil's South End gallery Saturday morning. Echeverri's tone is warm but business-like, matching her formal gray suit. "Can you sign?" she asks the guests in Spanish, pointing to a table full of papers labeled "Latinos for Obama."

The man and woman dutifully scribble their signatures, then wander into the gallery. Portraits made of recycled glass— bright blue and cheery yellow— line the sunlit walls. In the back, guests mill around a table of food—arepas, deviled eggs, Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Lucina Ortega stands quietly in a corner. Originally from Mexico, she's lived in Concord for twenty-five years years. She spends her days working for a plastics company, molding parts for commerical vehicles and trailers. She voted for Obama four years ago, and plans to do so again. "I like his ideas about immigration," Ortega says in Spanish. "He wants equality between men and women, to earn the same pay in their work." Today Ortega brought her nineteen-year-old daughter, who will be able to vote for the first in November.

Ortega and her family are part of a coveted group of voters whose numbers have exploded in the last four years. According to the Washington Post, the number of registered Latino voters in North Carolina has doubled since 2008, to about 100,000. The Obama campaign is hoping these new voters will help swing the state in the president's favor. Echeverri, chair of the Hispanic American Democrats of North Carolina, and other Obama organizers put on this event. And they invited Latino celebrities to help rally the troops.

First Raúl De Molina, Emmy award-winning co-host of the popular Univision show, "El Godo y La Flaca," takes the stage. Then he introduces Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers of America with César Chávez. Now eighty-two, Huerta is tiny and endearing in a turquoise blue jacket and matching earrings. The crowd goes wild when she speaks.

"Isn't it great that we're so important?" Huerta asks, referring to Latino voters. "Election Day is the most important day of your life."

But not everyone here is ready to jump on the Obama bandwagon. There have been disappointments in the last four years, including stepped-up deportations of illegal immigrants and persistent unemployment. One woman in the crowd admits that she's here to support the host, Edwin Gil, but not the politics.

"I'm a Republican," says Teresa Vasquez, shielding her mouth with one hand as if confiding a secret. "This year I am not voting…because I don't like either of them [Romney or Obama]. That's my way of complaining."

Her friend Maritza Ortiz takes a different view. Ortiz was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York, and has lived in Charlotte twenty-three years. The high school Spanish teacher says she's voted in every presidential election since she was eighteen, and she's now almost fifty. 'I feel it's a privilege and an honor to vote," she says. "If we want change to happen, we have to vote."

When Huerta spoke, Ortiz cheered, despite her reservations about the candidate being touted. "I'm not really happy with Obama," she admits. "But I'm still gonna vote for him, because Romney — no way."

Categories: The DNC In The CLT