Birding in the Unknown: Tips and Tales from Birds of Peru Author Tom Schulenberg

[Note: Those of you who regularly read Princeton University Press's blog will have noticed that we have only featured posts by our colleagues and/or authors, however, when someone has the opportunity to travel to Peru, to meet with Tom Schulenberg (the lead author of Birds of Peru), and to see and talk about the birds of Peru at great length--you take them up on the offer of a guest post. We are pleased to present this guest article from Hugh Powell, a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We welcome your feedback on this type of article -- should we do more of this?]


 

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Tom Schulenberg, center, and Dennis Osorio, left, search for an elusive subspecies of Rufous Antpitta in the Cajamarca highlands, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not often a bird watcher gets the chance to tour a new country accompanied not just by a good field guide but by the field guide’s author. That’s what happened to me in May 2014, when I joined Tom Schulenberg on the World Birding Rally in northern Peru. Schulenberg, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is the lead author of Birds of Peru.

Schulenberg_BirdsPeruSchulenberg describes his role in the book as almost accidental—he began visiting Peru in the late 1970s as a graduate student, and his original role with the book was just to help with maps. The true architects of the book, Schulenberg says, were John O’Neill (“the person who more than anyone else in the modern era put Peru on the ornithological map,” according to Schulenberg), and Ted Parker, the now-legendary field ornithologist whose career was cut tragically short in a plane crash in Ecuador in 1993. In the mid-1990s, Schulenberg took up the mantle of the book, recruiting ornithologists Doug Stotz (Field Museum of Natural History) and Dan Lane (Louisiana State University) as additional coauthors.

The field guide was a major undertaking—Peru is home to 1,800 species of birds, more than any country in the world except Colombia. The book was eventually published in 2007, nearly 35 years after O’Neill and Parker first envisioned it.

In late May, at the close of the 8-day rally (during which our group found nearly 800 bird species), I sat down with Schulenberg to learn more about the genesis of the book and the joys of birding in Peru—or, as he put it, “the fun of being completely overwhelmed by what you see.”

Why Peru? Was it just happenstance that you went there instead of somewhere else in the world?

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Tom Schulenberg plays the song of a unique subspecies of Rufous Antpitta using his phone. Photo by Flor Ruiz.

It wasn’t happenstance. I joined the AOU when I was in my early teens, and one of the first issues [of the Auk] I received was the issue in which John O’Neill and George Lowery described the Elusive Antpitta from this indigenous village called Balta near the Brazilian border. There was this color frontispiece of an antpitta, and the introduction of the paper talks about how even after years of work, within a few square miles you can still be encountering species you didn’t know were in the area, and sometimes they might even be new to science. I was just totally blown away. I had no idea that people were still discovering new species of birds, and I was completely entranced by this idea of an avifauna so complex that you could be there for years and still be learning new things about it.

So you went to graduate school at Louisiana State University with O’Neill as your mentor. And pretty soon his prediction about finding new birds actually came true for you?

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Cloud forest beneath a blanket of cloud at Alto Mayo, San Martin, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

It’s not like I went to Peru really expecting to find new species—I was just trying to work on my life list. But the possibility always was there. And on my [second] trip to Peru we found several species that were undescribed or recently described. We found Cinnamon Screech-Owl, Megascops petersoni [like many tropical ornithologists, Schulenberg reflexively refers to birds by their scientific names in conversation]; Hemitriccus cinnamomeipectus, the Cinnamon-breasted Tody-Tyrant; Johnson’s Tody-Flycatcher, Poecilotriccus luluae; which actually had been collected in the 1960s by Ned Johnson from Berkeley, but at that time Ned had not yet gotten around to describing it. Grallaricula ochraceifrons, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, we caught two in a single night in adjacent nets. [But all those were in the process of being described by other scientists, and] “all” we got out of it was the Pale-billed Antpitta. It was a fantastic trip though—I’m not complaining.

What field guide did you use before Birds of Peru?

Now remember that when some of the greats first started going down, people like John Terborgh and John O’Neill, there was literally nothing except the primary literature. But in 1970 an ornithologist [named] Meyer de Schauensee published a one-volume guide to the birds of South America, and it had some illustrations, but the illustrations were not great, and there was basically no attempt to illustrate every species. Instead what you had was about a paragraph on each species.

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Chestnut-eared Aracari at Lago Lindo, Peru. Photo by Niall Perrins.

It definitely was difficult to use, and we disparagingly and no doubt unfairly started referring to it as “Meyer de Schloppensee.” But you know, that was our bible from ‘77 until 1986 when Hilty and Brown published the really revolutionary Colombia field guide.

Why did you publish the book with Princeton?

In 1986 Princeton published the Colombia guide by Hilty and Brown, and it was just a total bombshell all across northern South America—it was very good. It was the size of a Manhattan telephone directory. Some birders would even buy copies and rip out the plates, which now that the book is out of print and copies sell for hundreds of dollars, you could cry over that. Anyway the Colombia book was one of the things that made us very comfortable with working with Princeton, because it was so good and set a very high bar.

The modern format of Birds of Peru—text facing illustrations on every page—left little room for text about each species. How did you handle that?

The shorter species accounts were a challenge in many ways. We had only 110 words per species, on average, so there’s no character development that’s for sure. We had to leave out a lot of words.

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Tom Schulenberg, right, and Thomas Valqui, are experts on Peruvian birds and served as judges during the 2014 World Birding Rally. Photo by Hugh Powell

Because the illustrations were opposite the text, we rarely describe what the bird looks like, and that saves a lot of space. Instead we focused on things like aspects of its behavior, or its habitat associations, its vocalizations. We tried to point out what you really need to focus on to ID the species. And we got that information from a lot of very knowledgeable people. If you look in the book, I think we have the longest acknowledgments section on record.

Where are the best places to go birding in Peru?

Well the nice thing about watching birds is you can never be bored, and that’s certainly true in Peru. Wherever you end up, you’ll be seeing interesting species about which not much is known. Certainly there are some places that get a lot of attention. The altiplano, though it might not have the most species, has very remarkable things like the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. And then down in the Amazonian lowlands, those are the most species-rich places, and it’s both challenging and very rewarding to bird there. There’s the dry deciduous forest in the northwest, where we were [during the World Birding Rally], it’s got lower diversity but incredibly high numbers of individuals. I’m always amazed to go into those forests and see the sheer number of birds that are in that habitat. And there are the foothills, the places where the Andean habitats mix with Amazonia, and there are lots of species occurring in these narrow elevational bands. Pretty much anywhere you are in Peru, there’s lots there.

What do you look forward to when you go birding in Peru?

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Rufous-crested Coquette near Moyobamba, Peru. Photo by Alfredo Fernandez.

Part of the fun of going down there is the experience of being overwhelmed by what you see. Especially in humid forest on the eastern slope, where you start to get the Amazonian influence. You’ll run into a tanager flock, and just the sight of all these birds running around in the treetops, it’s challenging and exciting at the same time.

But if you pay attention to that flock, and if you can get beyond the gaudiness of the Saffron-crowned Tanagers and the Golden Tanagers, there are all these other dull-colored birds. Don’t pass them over too quickly. There’s this whole other set of birds that, as you gain experience, you may find are more interesting. You know, What’s this foliage-gleaner? What’s this antwren? And you’ll start to get sucked into the whole depth of birds Peru has to offer.

People go gaga over Paradise Tanagers, but I’m more likely to get excited by something like a Gray-mantled Wren. That’s a bird that’s at relatively low density, it has a narrow elevational range, so you have to pay attention. But when you see it, it’s sort of a sign that I’m in a really nice spot here, and there are probably other things here that are worth looking for.

Do you have any practical tips for people traveling to Peru?

Well, first is, you should do it.

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Looking down the valley of the Utcubamba River near Chachapoyas, Peru. Photo by Hugh Powell.

Then, let’s see: Study your field guide. Look at the range maps. There’s information in those maps, so don’t ignore it. Use eBird—it has become a great supplement to anyone traveling in Peru to find out what’s been seen where. Keep your binoculars clean, and have a great time.

Is there a best season?

Peru is so large and so variable, you can’t go wrong. It’s a little more rainy during our northern winter, especially in the southeast of the country, in Amazonia. You can get into more trouble there with roads that time of year. But it doesn’t really matter what season you go.

And how long a trip should a bird watcher plan to take?

I think something like three years is a good time frame to shoot for.

For the record, he was laughing. But at the same time, he also seemed perfectly serious.


Hugh Powell is a science editor at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.


Read more about the World Birding Rally on the Cornell Lab blog, the ABA blog, Nature Travel Network, and 10,000 Birds.

Waiting for José wins the 2013 Southwest Book Award from the Border Regional Library Association

Shapira_Waiting for JoseHarel Shapira - Waiting for José: The Minutemen’s Pursuit of America

Winner of a 2013 Southwest Book Award, Border Regional Library Association

“Since 1971 the Southwest Book Awards have been presented in recognition of outstanding books about the Southwest published each year in any genre (e.g. fiction, nonfiction, reference) and directed toward any audience (scholarly, popular, children). Original video and audio materials are also considered.”  An awards banquet was held in El Paso on February 22, 2014.

Here is a complete list of the 2013 winners:  http://brla.info/swba13.shtml

About the book: Harel Shapira lived with the Minutemen and patrolled the border with them, seeking neither to condemn nor praise them, but to understand who they are and what they do. Challenging simplistic depictions of these men as right-wing fanatics quick on the trigger, Shapira discovers a group of men who long for community and embrace the principles of civic engagement. Yet these desires and convictions have led them to a troubling place.

Shapira takes you to that place–a stretch of desert in southern Arizona, where he reveals that what draws these men to the border is not simply racism or anti-immigrant sentiments, but a chance to relive a sense of meaning and purpose rooted in an older life of soldiering. They come to the border not only in search of illegal immigrants, but of lost identities and experiences.

Sample the introduction of Waiting for José here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9962.pdf

Peter Benson Wins 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize

Peter BensonTobacco Capitalism: Growers, Migrant Workers, and the Changing Face of a Global Industry
Winner of the 2013 Delmos Jones and Jagna Sharff Memorial Prize for the Critical Study of North America, Society for the Anthropology of North America / American Anthropological Association

The Jones and Sharff Memorial Prize is given for an outstanding single or multiple authored book (not edited collections) that deals with an important social issue within the discipline of anthropology; has broader implications for social change or justice; and is accessible beyond the discipline of anthropology.
For more information about the award, click here.

Tobacco CapitalismTobacco Capitalism tells the story of the people who live and work on U.S. tobacco farms at a time when the global tobacco industry is undergoing profound changes. Against the backdrop of the antitobacco movement, the globalization and industrialization of agriculture, and intense debates over immigration, Peter Benson draws on years of field research to examine the moral and financial struggles of growers, the difficult conditions that affect Mexican migrant workers, and the complex politics of citizenship and economic decline in communities dependent on this most harmful commodity.

Benson tracks the development of tobacco farming since the plantation slavery period and the formation of a powerful tobacco industry presence in North Carolina. In recent decades, tobacco companies that sent farms into crisis by aggressively switching to cheaper foreign leaf have coached growers to blame the state, public health, and aggrieved racial minorities for financial hardship and feelings of vilification. Economic globalization has exacerbated social and racial tensions in North Carolina, but the corporations that benefit have rarely been considered a key cause of harm and instability, and have now adopted social-responsibility platforms to elide liability for smoking disease. Parsing the nuances of history, power, and politics in rural America, Benson explores the cultural and ethical ambiguities of tobacco farming and offers concrete recommendations for the tobacco-control movement in the United States and worldwide.

Peter Benson is assistant professor of anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the coauthor of Broccoli and Desire: Global Connections and Maya Struggles in Postwar Guatemala.

Jeremy Adelman’s “Worldly Philosopher” One of Financial Times Econ Books of 2013

Jeremy Adelman – Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman
One of Financial Times (Alphachat)’s Econ Books of the Year for 2013

Diane Coyle and Tyler Cowen of Alphachat, a podcast of Financial Times Alphaville, listed their top picks for economic books published in 2013. They both placed Worldly Philosopher:The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman at the top of their lists of five books.

Worldly PhilosopherWorldly Philosopher chronicles the times and writings of Albert O. Hirschman, one of the twentieth century’s most original and provocative thinkers. In this gripping biography, Jeremy Adelman tells the story of a man shaped by modern horrors and hopes, a worldly intellectual who fought for and wrote in defense of the values of tolerance and change.

Born in Berlin in 1915, Hirschman grew up amid the promise and turmoil of the Weimar era, but fled Germany when the Nazis seized power in 1933. Amid hardship and personal tragedy, he volunteered to fight against the fascists in Spain and helped many of Europe’s leading artists and intellectuals escape to America after France fell to Hitler. His intellectual career led him to Paris, London, and Trieste, and to academic appointments at Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He was an influential adviser to governments in the United States, Latin America, and Europe, as well as major foundations and the World Bank. Along the way, he wrote some of the most innovative and important books in economics, the social sciences, and the history of ideas.

Throughout, he remained committed to his belief that reform is possible, even in the darkest of times.

This is the first major account of Hirschman’s remarkable life, and a tale of the twentieth century as seen through the story of an astute and passionate observer. Adelman’s riveting narrative traces how Hirschman’s personal experiences shaped his unique intellectual perspective, and how his enduring legacy is one of hope, open-mindedness, and practical idealism.

Jeremy Adelman is the Walter Samuel Carpenter III Professor of Spanish Civilization and Culture and director of the Council for International Teaching and Research at Princeton University. His books include Worlds Together, Worlds Apart: A History of the World and Sovereignty and Revolution in the Iberian Atlantic (Princeton)

Happy May!

May is finally here and with it comes some spring time weather here in Princeton and the end of the semester for me.  Around the world and throughout history, people have spent May 1st doing mainly one of two things: protesting or celebrating.

Today around the world laborers are spending the day protesting for labor rights. From France to Bangladesh, protestors celebrate international workers’ day by marching through the streets. In the United States there are also many protests and marches, but specifically there are many immigration labor rights rallies happening today.

In more recent years, May Day has been a day for immigration reform rallies. Today, immigrants and their allies protest throughout the country including in the San Jose, California area where in 2006 there were historic rallies that called for immigration reform. Read  up about labor and immigration in this country:

Labor Rights Are Civil Rights: Mexican American Workers in Twentieth-Century America by Zaragosa Vargas

In 1937, Mexican workers were among the strikers and supporters beaten, arrested, and murdered by Chicago policemen in the now infamous Republic Steel Mill Strike. Using this event as a springboard, Zaragosa Vargas embarks on the first full-scale history of the Mexican-American labor movement in twentieth-century America. Absorbing and meticulously researched, Labor Rights Are Civil Rightspaints a multifaceted portrait of the complexities and contours of the Mexican American struggle for equality from the 1930s to the postwar era.

Drawing on extensive archival research, Vargas focuses on the large Mexican American communities in Texas, Colorado, and California. As he explains, the Great Depression heightened the struggles of Spanish speaking blue-collar workers, and employers began to define citizenship to exclude Mexicans from political rights and erect barriers to resistance. Mexican Americans faced hostility and repatriation.

The mounting strife resulted in strikes by Mexican fruit and vegetable farmers. This collective action, combined with involvement in the Communist party, led Mexican workers to unionize. Vargas carefully illustrates how union mobilization in agriculture, tobacco, garment, and other industries became an important vehicle for achieving Mexican American labor and civil rights.

He details how interracial unionism proved successful in cross-border alliances, in fighting discriminatory hiring practices, in building local unions, in mobilizing against fascism and in fighting brutal racism. No longer willing to accept their inferior status, a rising Mexican American grassroots movement would utilize direct action to achieve equality.

Others celebrate the more medieval side of Mayday complete with dancing, music, and may poles. In many of Shakespeare’s works like A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Mayday is seen to be a guiding force for the play. C.L Barber discusses the importance of Mayday in all of Shakespeare’s comedies in this book of literary criticism:

Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom by C. L. Barber, with a new foreword by Stephen Greenblatt

In this classic work, acclaimed Shakespeare critic C. L. Barber argues that Elizabethan seasonal festivals such as May Day and Twelfth Night are the key to understanding Shakespeare’s comedies. Brilliantly interweaving anthropology, social history, and literary criticism, Barber traces the inward journey–psychological, bodily, spiritual–of the comedies: from confusion, raucous laughter, aching desire, and aggression, to harmony. Revealing the interplay between social custom and dramatic form, the book shows how the Elizabethan antithesis between everyday and holiday comes to life in the comedies’ combination of seriousness and levity.

So whether you are marching in a parade or dancing around a may pole, or even just spending the day outside in the sun, happy Mayday!

Book Fact Friday: The Latino Catholic Experience in America

InMatovina_LatinoCatholicism light of the recent election of Pope Francis, a native Spanish speaker and the first of his position to hail from the Americas, we thought an excerpt on Catholicism among those in the United States with origins in Latin America would pique your interest.

FACT: “Catholics comprise the largest religious group in the United States, encompassing nearly a fourth of all U.S. residents. Hispanics constitute more than a third of U.S. Catholics. They are the reason why Catholicism is holding its own relative to other religions in the United States. According to researchers of the American Religious Identification Survey, without the ever-growing number of Latinos in this country, the U.S. Catholic population would be declining at a rate similar to mainline Protestant groups. And given the relative youthfulness of the Latino community, Hispanic Catholics will continue to represent an increasing percentage of U.S. Catholics over time. They already comprise more than half of U.S. Catholics under the age of twenty-five and more than three-fourths of Catholics under eighteen in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Robert Putnam and David Campbell succinctly sum up these demographics in their much-discussed 2010 study about the state of American religion, avowing that the Catholic Church in the United States ‘is on its way to becoming a majority-Latino institution.’”
Timothy Matovina in Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church

Read chapter one here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9545.pdf

Most histories of Catholicism in the United States focus on the experience of Euro-American Catholics, whose views on such concerns as church reform, social issues, and sexual ethics have dominated public debates. Latino Catholicism provides a comprehensive overview of the Latino Catholic experience in America from the sixteenth century to today, and offers the most in-depth examination to date of the important ways the U.S. Catholic Church, its evolving Latino majority, and American culture are mutually transforming one another.

Timothy Matovina assesses how Latinos’ attempts to celebrate their faith and bring it to bear on the everyday realities of their lives have shaped parishes, apostolic movements, leadership, ministries, worship, voting patterns, social activism, and much more. At the same time, the lives and faith of Latino Catholics are being dramatically refashioned through the multiple pressures of assimilation, the upsurge of Pentecostal and evangelical religion, other types of religious pluralism, growing secularization, and ongoing controversies over immigration and clergy sexual abuse. Going beyond the widely noted divide between progressive and conservative Catholics, Matovina shows how U.S. Catholicism is being shaped by the rise of a largely working-class Latino population in a church whose leadership at all levels is still predominantly Euro-American and middle class.

Latino Catholicism highlights the vital contributions of Latinos to American religious and social life, demonstrating in particular how their engagement with the U.S. cultural milieu is the most significant factor behind their ecclesial and societal impact.

Matthew Briones with Cornel West on C-Span

With recent immigration debates and events such as the Trayvon Martin case triggering racial anxieties,  Matthew Briones, author of Jim and Jap Crow: A Cultural History of 1940s Interracial America has been speaking out about the undiscussed and potential alliances between Asian Americans and Latina/os. Recently he spoke at the Hue Man bookstore in Harlem with his friend Cornel West about race relations and the coming election, as well as his book, which follows the life of Charles Kikuchi, a Japanese American who was sent to an internment camp alongside 100,000 other Japanese Americans following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The event drew a very engaged crowd, and was featured on Book TV this past weekend. Check out their conversation on C-Span’s site here, and their passionate post on this election year in interracial America for our Election 101 blog here.

‘Latino Catholicism’ by Timothy Matovina wins College Theology Society Best Book Award

The Princeton University Press would like to congratulate Timothy Matovina on winning the College Theology Society 2012 Best Book Award for Latino Catholicism:
Transformation in America’s Largest Church
.

You can read the first chapter of Matovina’s now award-winning book here. Congratulations again, Timothy!

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “Of the 5 million new voters in 2008 (compared with the election tallies of 2004), an estimated 2 million were African American voters, another 2 million Latino ones, and 600,000 Asian American. According to the Current Population Survey, the number of non-Hispanic white voters remained unchanged between 2004 and 2008 (U.S. Census Bureau, July 20, 2009). Moreover, while the voting rate of eighteen-to twenty-four-year-olds increased from 47 percent in 2004 to 49 percent in 2008, this increase was highest among African American youth.”

Why Americans Don’t Join the Party: Race, Immigration, and the Failure (of Political Parties) to Engage the Electorate
by Zoltan L. Hajnal & Taeku Lee

Two trends are dramatically altering the American political landscape: growing immigration and the rising prominence of independent and nonpartisan voters. Examining partisan attachments across the four primary racial groups in the United States, this book offers the first sustained and systematic account of how race and immigration today influence the relationship that Americans have—or fail to have—with the Democratic and Republican parties. Zoltan Hajnal and Taeku Lee contend that partisanship is shaped by three factors—identity, ideology, and information—and they show that African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and whites respond to these factors in distinct ways.

The book explores why so many Americans—in particular, Latinos and Asians—fail to develop ties to either major party, why African Americans feel locked into a particular party, and why some white Americans are shut out by ideologically polarized party competition. Through extensive analysis, the authors demonstrate that when the Democratic and Republican parties fail to raise political awareness, to engage deeply held political convictions, or to affirm primary group attachments, nonpartisanship becomes a rationally adaptive response. By developing a model of partisanship that explicitly considers America’s new racial diversity and evolving nonpartisanship, this book provides the Democratic and Republican parties and other political stakeholders with the means and motivation to more fully engage the diverse range of Americans who remain outside the partisan fray.

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9468.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

ELECTION TUESDAY

FACT: “Only 2.5 million Hispanics were registered to vote in 1972, with 2.1 million voting; these numbers increased to 9.4 million registered Hispanics in 2004, with 7.6 million voting.”

New Faces, New Voices: The Hispanic Electorate in America
by Marisa A. Abrajano & R. Michael Alvarez

Making up 14.2 percent of the American population, Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the United States. Clearly, securing the Hispanic vote is more important to political parties than ever before. Yet, despite the current size of the Hispanic population, is there a clear Hispanic politics? Who are Hispanic voters? What are their political preferences and attitudes, and why? The first comprehensive study of Hispanic voters in the United States, New Faces, New Voices paints a complex portrait of this diverse and growing population.

Examining race, politics, and comparative political behavior, Marisa Abrajano and R. Michael Alvarez counter the preconceived notion of Hispanic voters as one homogenous group. The authors discuss the concept of Hispanic political identity, taking into account the ethnic, generational, and linguistic distinctions within the Hispanic population. They compare Hispanic registration, turnout, and participation to those of non-Hispanics, consider the socioeconomic factors contributing to Hispanics’ levels of political knowledge, determine what segment of the Hispanic population votes in federal elections, and explore the prospects for political relationships among Hispanics and non-Hispanics. Finally, the authors look at Hispanic opinions on social and economic issues, factoring in whether these attitudes are affected by generational status and ethnicity.

A unique and nuanced perspective on the Hispanic electoral population, New Faces, New Voices is essential for understanding the political characteristics of the largest and fastest growing group of minority voters in the United States.

New Faces, New Voices successfully gives voice to the new Hispanic voter and clearly illustrates the importance of a diverse and growing population. The book is an invaluable addition to both ethnic studies and political behavior literature.”—Choice

We invite you to read the Introduction here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/i9158.pdf

Be sure to check in every Tuesday for a new tidbit from our great selection of politically-minded books.

Latinos in the 2012 Election–How Crucial This Time?

Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America’s Largest Church, by Timothy Matovina explores the ever-increasing contribution Latinos make to American religious and social life, offering a look at the important ways the U.S. Catholic Church, its evolving Latino majority, and American culture are mutually transforming one another. Today he writes for Election 101 on the growing electoral significance of Latinos, and offers his take on the potential impact for the 2012 election.

 


 

Latinos in the 2012 Election--How Crucial This Time?

Timothy Matovina

 

Bold proclamations about Latino voters determining presidential elections have become a regular feature of political commentary. When George W. Bush won a higher percentage of Hispanic votes than any previous Republican presidential candidate in his 2004 reelection, political consultant Dick Morris asserted that “the biggest reason for Bush’s victory was that he finally cracked the Democratic stranglehold on the Hispanic vote.” Four years later, Martin Kettle, associate editor of the British newspaper The Guardian, dubbed Latinos “the big racial game-changer” in Barack Obama’s election after Obama received two thirds of Latino votes cast, 25 percentage points more than John Kerry received four years earlier. Ruy Teixeira of the Center for American Progress Action Fund titled a recent blog post “Why Obama’s Re-Election Hinges on the Hispanic Vote.”

 

In fact the electoral significance of Latinos is growing steadily, but not as exponentially as such commentaries suggest. Though the growth of Latinos into the nation’s largest minority group has been widely reported, for the 2008 general elections eligible African American voters still outnumbered Latinos by five million. Many Latinos are not eligible to vote because they are not citizens or are younger than the legal voting age. Approximately half a million Latinos reach the legal voting age annually, but these increases add up to only two million new eligible voters since the last presidential election. Moreover, the majority of Latino voters reside in California, New York, and Texas, states in which the results of presidential elections are relatively predictable. The victorious candidate’s margin of victory in these states ranged from 9 to 27 percentage points in the two most recent presidential elections, with Republican candidates winning Texas and their Democratic counterparts winning California and New York. These comfortable margins mitigate claims of a critical Latino swing vote in presidential elections, and potentially reduce Latinos’ incentive to vote in states that pollsters declare are predetermined in advance. Comparatively low Latino voter turnout – in the 2008 general elections less than half of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, while nearly two-thirds of black and white eligible voters did – no doubt results in part from this disincentive to electoral participation.

 

The four swing states where Latino votes have the greatest influence are Florida, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado, all of which Bush won in 2004 and Obama won in 2008. Of course, in close races the importance of every grouping of voters is magnified. There is not sufficient evidence in such instances to deem Latinos the decisive factor. Indeed, asking if Latino voters were decisive in a given election result is not the sole or even the most important question to pose. Rather, greater attention should be given to Latinos’ relation to wider voting patterns and their participation in strategic coalitions that affect electoral outcomes. From this perspective, the facts that Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win a clear majority of Latino votes in Florida and that from 2004 to 2008 New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada were the three states with the largest increases in the Latino percentage of the voters who cast ballots reveal the growing significance of Latino voters as one key constituency in presidential elections.

 

Exit polls for the 2004 and 2008 elections revealed that a clear majority of Latino voters said jobs and the economy were the issues that mattered most in their choice for the presidential election. While the numerous working-class Latinos do not tend to have the same lens on the economy as more affluent voters – to use the language of the 2008 presidential campaigns, Latinos’ focus is more on jobs and Main Street than on investments and Wall Street – the strong focus on economic issues reflected a widespread concern within the broader electorate. Concern about jobs, as well as education and health care, remain important for many Latinos. But recent polls suggest that an increasing number of Latinos avow immigration will be one of the top three – or even the most – crucial issue swaying their presidential votes in 2012. The record number of deportations during Obama’s presidency has upset many Latinos, but many perceive the anti-immigrant rhetoric of leading Republican candidates as even more disconcerting. To the extent the immigration issue becomes more causative of Latino voting in the forthcoming election, the Latino impact will hinge not on whether most Latinos vote again for Obama, but whether they vote at all.

 

Timothy Matovina is professor of theology and the William and Anna Jean Cushwa Director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame.

 

Edwidge Danticat writes about Port-au-Prince for The Daily Beast/Newsweek

Edwidge Danticat, author of Create Dangerously, returns to Haiti and finds resilience and regeneration: http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2011/08/07/edwidge-danticat-reflects-on-port-au-prince.html

Built for 200,000 people yet home to more than 2 million, Port-au-Prince is a city that constantly reminds you of the obvious, as though you were a 6-year-old. No, not everything is broken. And no, not all the people are dead. It is a city that everything—political upheaval, fires, hurricanes, the earthquake—has conspired to destroy, yet still it carries on. The still-leaning houses and the rubble that has begun to grow weeds, the tent camps that have become micro-cities of their own, all bear their own testimony to a city that should have ground to a halt long ago, yet continues to persevere.

Create Dangerously will soon be published in paperback, but the cloth edition with its exclusive cover design and half jacket is still available everywhere. One of my favorite features of this book is that the half jacket can be shifted up and down along the spine, revealing different portions of the artwork beneath. It subtly changes the cover each time I pick it up. Check it out for yourself!