The marches may have been a catalyst for change. In the last Pew poll, three-quarters of Latinos said the debate would prompt many more of them to vote in November.
Others are skeptical. "We've been hearing this for years," says John Keeley, director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in Washington. He might be persuaded if a poll found that naturalized citizens who did not vote in '04 were more likely to in '08.
In order to wield more political power, Latinos need to tackle several issues. One is unity. Mexicans, Brazilians, Salvadorans, and others feel connected to their native lands but have a harder time identifying themselves as "Hispanics." The policy debates that launched the protests may have changed that. The Pew survey showed that most Latinos (58 percent) now believe they are working to achieve common goals.
The decentralized nature of the movement has helped unify those nationalities around a common goal, says Maria Elena Letona, director of Centro Presente, an immigrant-advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass. "There's not a leader or an organization in particular that stands out [as] in past movements," Ms. Letona explains, "where we have a Martin Luther King Jr. or a César Chávez, because it's not the vision of one but of many."
In order to make that vision a reality, US-born and naturalized Latinos must vote.
"There's an incredible apathy problem," says Jim Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland in College Park. "Many Latinos seem difficult to mobilize. They tell you: 'What if I do it wrong?' They don't have a sense of advocacy or self-esteem and it's hard to overcome."
The language barrier has also been a problem, says Tom Patterson of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass. "If you don't speak the language well, how do you navigate this bureaucracy? How do you reach the polls?"