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Bus tour kicks Bush to the curb

‘Si se puede’: Demócratas tell kids ‘it can be done’

By Leigh E. Rich

“Turn it around,” New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid told ninth-graders at Escuela Tlatelolco, Denver’s all-Hispanic private school that welcomed Madrid and other Democratic leaders Monday.

Noting that children who grow up to become voters are often those whose parents discussed politics at the dinner table, Madrid encouraged students in the “Casa Inca” classroom to be the ones who broach the subject.

Of course, all of the Democrats traveling on the three-state, 11-city Una Nueva Esperanza bus tour urged the students to stump for presidential candidate John Kerry and Senate hopeful Ken Salazar at suppertime.

The message delivered to the ninth-grade classroom and during a school assembly afterward was clear: “There are some politicians who say things and then they don’t do them. We have a president like that,” Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante of California said to the student body gathered in the cafeteria.

He then asked, “Who are (your parents) going to vote for?”

When many responded with a cheer of “Kerry,” Bustamante concluded, “See, already you know.”

Even Dolores Huerta, cofounder of what has become the United Farm Workers of America with the now-deceased Cesar Chavez, got the students to join her in saying “Democrats” and giving “vivas” to Escuela Tlatelolco’s founder Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, labor activist Chavez and Sen. Kerry—as the rest of the Democratic lineup stood before a Democratic National Committee-sponsored banner that repeatedly proclaimed “Vote Demócrata.”

Concluding a tour that also took Huerta, Bustamante, Madrid, former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of Texas, former Clinton advisor Mickey Ibarra, and actress Eva Longoria through Arizona and New Mexico, the group attended a rally and met with individuals from the Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta Preparatory High School in Pueblo in the morning before heading to Denver.

As the red, white and blue passenger bus—promising “un futuro mejor”—turned south on Federal Boulevard from Speer, about 25 students stood in the Escuela Tlatelolco parking lot waving Kerry-Edwards signs. Cars and even a fire truck honked their horns in support of the students.

Disembarking the bus one-by-one, the Democratic Hispanic leaders were met by Rudy Gonzales, Tlatelolco’s director of learning for grades six through 12, who explained that the school was “born out of the Crusade for Justice” movement his father Corky Gonzales began in 1966.

Seniors Blanca Marquez and Vanessa Pasillas, while waiting to greet the visitors, added that the appellation Tlatelolco comes from the name of the sister-city of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán as well as the plaza in Mexico City in which demonstrators were massacred in 1968.

“We run our school like a familia,” Gonzales said of the dual-language, closed-campus program presided over by his sister, Nita, while telling the politicians the school is in need of more space and that “fund-raising is always important.”

“We’re trying to get a casino up on top,” he joked.

During a tour of the school, a question-and-answer session with the ninth-graders, and the cafeteria assembly, the Democrats pushed hard for Kerry and spoke out against Bush.

“This administration has been cutting back,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve gone after … school programs. … They’ve gone against bilingual education.”

Promising the Kerry team plans to “add additional monies,” he maintained that the Bush administration is “$27 billion behind” in funding the No Child Left Behind Act. “And that’s only the beginning. … This administration has done a beautiful job of talking about (education).”

On the other hand, according to Ibarra, Clinton was “an education president every day. Not just election day.”

“They’re going to decide how much money they’re going to give for you to go to school,” Huerta added, encouraging the students—who asked the Democratic lineup why they, as minors, aren’t allowed to vote—to volunteer their efforts to register Hispanic voters and to knock on doors for the Kerry and Salazar campaigns.

“This election is about you guys. It’s about your future,” she said, noting that if Bush is reelected he could institute the draft. “Nov. 2 … is going to be about your world.”

“You have a bigger influence than you know as young adults,” added Longoria, who was the “first contracted Latina on The Young and the Restless” and is now starring in ABC’s Desperate Housewives.

“Our influence as Latinos has been challenged by Bush. He thinks we’re going to sleep through this election.”

The Colorado Republican Party, however, disagrees.

“What Colorado Latinos won’t hear from Sen. John Kerry, California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante and Dolores Huerta is that Sen. Kerry stands on the wrong side of issues important to Latinos,” said Bob Martinez, an RNC committeeman from Castle Rock, in a press release Monday. “President Bush has lowered taxes, brought accountability and greater funding to education, delivered a prescription-drug benefit and is working to make health care more affordable for Latinos in this country.”

Since the national conventions and George P. Bush’s visit to the Centennial state in August, both parties have been courting Colorado’s Hispanic vote. Latinos currently account for more than 17 percent of Colorado’s population.

There are “350,000 Latinos who can vote” in Colorado, Peña told the students, “and only 45 percent are registered to vote. … No wonder we don’t win elections,” he lamented.

“Those 18 to 24 are the least likely of our people to vote,” Ibarra added, saying that the goal of the Esperanza bus tour was, in part, “to encourage our young people.”

Tlatelolco’s students did get involved Monday, asking the Democrats questions about government corruption, health care and undocumented immigrants.

“Under the Bush administration, we’ve had a lot of corporate corruption,” Madrid said, among companies such as Enron and those in the pharmaceutical industry that “have uniformly given millions of dollars to Bush. So he is protecting them.”

Conversely, she maintained, “Kerry (and) Edwards understand where their bread is buttered” and said that the Democratic ticket is “for the people.”

When she rhetorically asked the students “why Ken Lay is not in jail today,” she first elucidated Lay’s connections to Enron and answered, “He’s one of Bush’s best friends.”

Making a subtle reference to Sen. Edward Kennedy’s ongoing proposals for universal health coverage, Rodriguez addressed the question on health care. “We’ve been struggling for some time now” to resolve the crisis, he admitted, though alleging that “each effort in health care has been (made by the) Democrats.”

Undocumented immigrants also “have a stake in this election,” Huerta said when asked whether they are allowed to vote.

“Let’s talk about irony,” Peña added. “Even though you’re not a legal citizen, you can go to war.”

According to Rodriguez, there are “37,000 in the military right now” who are not U.S. citizens.

Without completely setting partisan arguments aside, the Democrats also spoke to the students about their own futures.

“Work hard and good things will come,” Bustamante said he was told when he was growing up. “I wasn’t the smartest kid in class, but I found that out. I wasn’t the ‘A’ student.”

Poking fun at himself, he also told the Tlatelolco students that some day they would “remember that guy who came and talked to us … (who was) kind of short and losing his hair.”

“If he can do it,” Bustamante said, “so can you.”

Rodriguez advised the young crowd to focus on “three little Ws. … A wish, a dream, un esperanza. … Want—because you’ve got to really want it. … And work. We’ve got to work. It’s not going to happen unless we work.”

“All of this … is because we’re trying to do something for your future,” Bustamante said, arguing that the Democrats will create safer neighborhoods, educational opportunities and “good jobs, so (your parents) can take care of you.”

For their part, the students affixed Kerry-Edwards stickers to their shirts, their jeans, even their arms.

Playing on the slogans of “a new hope” and “a better future” decorating the Democrats’ bus, Martinez touted in the Republicans’ press release that “Sen. Kerry’s agenda is rooted in the past, not a hopeful future. Sen. Kerry’s plan to create a $1.5 trillion government-run health-care bureaucracy will do nothing to lower the cost of health care, and his plans to raise taxes will do nothing to create jobs.”

Whether Colorado is “Bush country,” particularly among Hispanic voters, will likely remain unclear through Election Day, though Ibarra reminded the students that, “in Colorado, (early) voting starts on Oct. 18.”

Because Escuela Tlatelolco is a private institution, both parties do not have to be represented. According to Gonzales, the Democrats arranged for the school to be a stop on the bus tour.

As for whether a similar event for the Bush-Cheney team will be presented to the students, Gonzales said in an interview, “No one’s approached us and I doubt that we’d do it.”

During Monday’s tour, however, Gonzales told his Democratic visitors about Tlatelolco’s culturally and ethnically diverse staff and the “applied learning” students engage in through travel and community service projects.

“We don’t just talk about diversity,” he said. “We walk our talk.”

Gonzales also said yesterday that he has heard from the parents of several students following Monday’s program, who expressed a wish that they could have attended the Democratic event. He did not say whether any were in favor of or upset about the partisan aspect.

Regardless, all would likely agree with Ibarra’s summation of the three-state tour: “The West Wing is for Latinos also.”

Rich, L. E. (2004, September 24). ‘Si se puede’: Demócratas tells kids ‘it can be done.’ Democrats’ Una Nueva Esperanza bus tour kicks Bush to the curb. The Colorado Statesman, pp. 1, 11.

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