When Maria Elena Salinas, co-host of Noticiero Univision and Aqui y Ahora, started her career in 1981, there were 14 million U.S. Hispanics. Today there are over 50 million.
It's a growth segment that is not lost on politicians as they stump for the 2012 election. While candidates 20 years ago had never heard of her news outlet, today Salinas says they are knocking on her door asking for interviews.
"No campaign can ignore the Hispanic community," she said at B&C/Multichannel News's ninth Hispanic Television Summit Tuesday, noting that most politicians now have designated liaisons for Hispanic media, which was unheard of years ago.
Part of the power of the Hispanic vote is thanks to television news, which the Hispanic community, once disenfranchised by the election process, depends on for information.
"By default we had a big role because we grew together, we were able to work together to gain the political power that we have reached now," Salinas said.
But despite their increased sway, Salinas for one is concerned about the Hispanic vote in the next election, mainly because of the issue of immigration.
"The country right now is so polarized and the immigration issue is such a divisive issue," she said. "It's the one that moves their vote."
The perception in the Hispanic community, Salinas said, is that conservative Republican candidates are against immigration reform and that Democrats have not kept their promise on the issue. The result in 2012 could be an election boycott. That, she fears, would negate the political power they've worked to build up.
"If politicians think Latinos are not going to go out and vote, they are not going to be addressing issues of our community," she said.
Laura Martinez, editor of Hispanic TV Update, interviewed Salinas at the summit.