Dominican Republic native German Garcia is aiming to become the first Hispanic American to serve on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education.
Garcia, a Democrat, is one of eight at-large candidates in the 2014 race. Fellow Democrats Suzanne Carroll, Donald Dunn, Katherine Fansler and incumbent Elisabeth Motsinger are also vying for the three countywide seats, as are Republicans Robert Barr, Mark Johnson and John Davenport Jr., a current board member representing District 1.
There are more than 10,000 Hispanic students in the school system, and Garcia, who retired in 2000 after two decades in the U.S. Army, says it is high-time that that demographic is reflected on the school board.
“I’m bringing a cultural diversity awareness to the board and to the whole city, too,” said the father of three. “It’s a matter of everybody understanding that I understand you because I know where you came from. A human being is a human being. All you’ve got to do is nurture that human being for them to become somebody productive.”
As president of the Forsyth County Hispanic American Democrats and a teaching assistant at Petree Elementary for the past two years, Garcia says he has a unique perspective that would allow him to understand and effectively address the needs of students from all across the county, while giving special attention to those in predominantly minority or low performing schools.
“Sometimes society stereotypes people and doesn’t look at them as a whole,” said the Webster University alumnus. “But if you give them the opportunity, the sky is the limit, and I’m an example of that.”
Susan Campbell, chair of the Forsyth County Democratic Party, said Garcia has represented the interests of the Hispanic community well.
“They’ve certainly thrived under his leadership,” she said of the group, which has been in existence for three years. “He’s a delightful character – very personable – and he’s quite dedicated.”
If elected, Garcia said he will work to level the playing field for schools with underserved populations, increase partnerships between community organizations and individual schools and increase parental involvement and support.
Democrat Cristina Vazquez, a former educator and native of Havana, Cuba, is also hoping for an election victory this year. She has launched her third attempt at winning a seat in the North Carolina House of Representatives. Vazquez made local history when she launched her first campaign for the North Carolina House of Representatives four years ago, becoming the first Hispanic woman in the county to do so.
Vazquez is taking on Republican State Rep. Julia Howard for her District 79 seat. Unseating the incumbent in a GOP stronghold is a long shot; Vazquez knows her chances aren’t good, but that hasn’t deterred her from trying.
“I’m running not so much that I think I’m going to win, but to share ideas with people and to give a new perspective and raise their awareness on issues, because most people get their information from mainstream media,” she said. “…In order to bring change, you have to take certain steps.”
If elected, Vazquez says she would focus on protecting the environment from harmful measures such as fracking and work to start a “public funding system” that she says could balance the state’s budget. Win or lose, Vazquez is hopeful her campaign will have an impact on other members of her community.
“I hope it encourages people to run; everybody should be concerned about what decisions are made in the legislature,” she remarked. “I hope that (my campaign) will be an inspiration to others.”
Vazquez and Garcia’s campaigns are reflective of a larger movement that is going on across the state and the nation, according to Buenos Aires, Argentina-born Betina Wilkinson, an assistant professor of political science at Wake Forest University. Wilkinson, whose research interests include Latino politics, public opinion and political behavior, says Latino political influence is growing as the population grows.
“Overall, you see that more and more Latinos are gaining political power and entering political office,” she noted. “…We’ve definitely seen a rise in Latino candidates in the last few years, and individuals who have a chance of actually winning, because we have a growing Latino electorate.”
Democrats’ support of legislation such as the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), coupled with the GOP’s prevailing attitudes about immigration, have caused the Latino population to side more often with progressives, but unlike African Americans, who vote almost exclusively Democratic, Latinos are more likely to side with a candidate who shares their ethnicity regardless of their party affiliation, Wilkinson said. Because they are politically flexible, the Hispanic populace is increasingly courted by both parties, Wilkinson explained.
“Across the country, we’re seeing Latinos who cross party lines to vote for the Latino,” she stated. “…Many times, Latinos vote based on the ethnicity of the candidate, so if they share their ethnicity with the candidate, they feel like that candidate has their best interests at heart and understands their issues.”
Winston-Salem is currently home to the largest Hispanic population in the state, Wilkinson said. Although the community makes up only a small portion of the local electorate today, that statistic will likely change drastically in the coming years, as the community, which is home to a burgeoning population of young people, comes of age, Wilkinson said.
“Now, more than ever, we have more and more Latinos voting because they’re becoming old enough to vote,” she noted. “…Regardless of the issues at hand, more and more Latinos will be turning out to vote because they can.”