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After the protests, Latinos start to come together politically

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'Today we march," the banners read, "tomorrow we vote." Seventeen-year-old Paulo V., an undocumented Brazilian student who marched at an immigrant rally in Boston three months ago, was among the Latinos who saw hope in those words. "This was the determining point," says Paulo. Before the marches, "I didn't know anything about the topic. But after, I understood how much I could be a part of it."

Recently, he took a break from painting houses with his dad to teach Edirson Paiva, the editor of a local Portuguese-language newspaper who just got his US citizenship, how to register to vote. "Even if I can't vote," Paulo says in his native Portuguese, "I can get 10 others to vote."

Five months after pro-immigrant protests swept through more than 100 US cities, an unprecedented Hispanic political force seems to be taking hold, one that may finally unite what could be the fastest-growing voting bloc in the United States.

In the latest poll after the marches, 63 percent of Latinos surveyed said the rallies signaled the beginning of a new social movement, according to the 2006 National Survey of Hispanics by the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, D.C.

"It's important because Latinos have not been a major political force in the US," says Gabriel Escobar, the center's research director and coauthor of the study. It's even more significant "because they represent the fastest-growing minority in the nation. Every year the population will grow and more Latinos will vote."

Currently, 4 out of every 10 adult Latinos are noncitizens and therefore cannot vote. Historically, their voter-participation numbers have lagged. In the last presidential election, only 18 percent of all Hispanics voted, compared with about half of the non-Hispanic white population and more than one-third (39 percent) of the black population, according to Pew data.

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