WALLA WALLA -- Much has been made of the influence of Latino voters in the upcoming election. With Latinos making up about 20 percent of Walla Walla's population, issues such as immigration policy will be on the minds of voters in the Valley, as well as across the nation.
On Tuesday, PBS correspondent Ray Suarez visited Whitman College to address how the Latino vote might influence national elections. Suarez addressed students, faculty and community members about the election as a whole, but also met separately with students from Whitman's Club Latino and other interested groups to talk about what the next four years will mean for Latinos in the U.S.
Regardless of which party wins the presidency, Suarez said changes for Latinos may not be significant.
"It's hard to know what one person getting one job will mean. Absent really strong economic growth over the next four years, it won't matter who's president," he said.
Suarez explained that Latinos generally lag behind the general population in demographic trends. Latinos are very concentrated in agriculture, which traditionally pays low wages. Many also work in construction and other semiskilled jobs that were hit hardest by the recession.
"We fell further, faster and harder than other Americans, and it wasn't like we were doing so well to begin with," he said.
Despite these challenges, Suarez said Latino voters could play an important role in the upcoming election if they turn out in large numbers. High Latino turnout would likely benefit Democrats, because the Republican Party's traditionally tough stance on immigration has pushed many Latinos to identify more with Democrats.
Social services also play an important role in party identification.
"This is still a community that relies on effective government services," said Suarez. Pointing out that many Latinos depend on public schools, libraries and mass transit, he said that the Republican Party's rhetoric is unlikely to resonate with this group as a whole.
Suarez projected a cautious sense of hope about the future of Latinos in the U.S.
"While there continues to be reason for optimism, overall, it's been tough," he said.