Perry Courts the Latino Religious Right Too

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Rick Perry is using religion to court Spanish-speaking voters, too.

In addition to his affiliation with the  New Apostolic Reformation group and The Response prayer rally in Houston, Perry also rallied this summer, largely unnoticed, with the pro-life nonprofit Manto de Guadalupe (or Mantle of Guadalupe), created by Mexican model and actor Eduardo Verastegui. Verastegui, a 37 year-old telenovela star and former Mexican boy bander who bills himself as the “Brad Pitt of Latin America,” has appeared in at least one Hollywood movie, several U.S. television series, and a Jennifer Lopez video. More importantly, he is hell-bent, pardon the expression, on using his celebrity status with Latinos in the United States to spread his strict Catholic ideals.

At a public speaking event last spring, Verastegui famously touted his own alleged eight-year chastity, telling a group of women that he was influenced by a vocal coach on the film Chasing Papi—that movie might make me reconsider my life’s direction, too—where he reconnected with his Catholic upbringing. He made a commitment from that point on, he says, to work on only projects that align with his religious beliefs. He created a production company called Metanoia Films—Metanoia is Greek for repentance—and the company’s first project, a pro-life film called Bella, won the Toronto Film Festival’s People’s Choice Award in 2006.

Verastegui, a Mexican citizen who cannot vote in this country, is no stranger to American politics. He campaigned heavily for John McCain to Latino voters during the 2008 presidential election and led a campaign to get Latinos in California to vote yes on Proposition 8, helping ensure that gay marriage stayed illegal in that state.

But Verastegui’s biggest feat in the United States so far was the day he hosted a Spanish-language pro-life rally at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to fund “the largest pro-life women’s clinic in the United States,” which he had vowed to build in that city, just a few miles from ten abortion clinics.” About 5,000 Spanish-speakers showed up and the clinic was dedicated in July.

Along with several religious leaders, the fundraising event, called Unidos por la Vida, (United for Life), was attended by iconic Mexican actress and television show host Veronica Castro and none other than the Governor of Texas. Perry was the only English speaker at the event and his attendance there was widely seen, by those who noticed, as his first attempt to court the national Latino vote for his impending bid for the White House. 

A quote from Perry’s speech at the event did make international news, but not many in the English-speaking world realized the weight of those celebrities who flanked the governor as he called America an “exporter of abortion,” referencing the Mexico City policy signed by President Obama that allowed NGO’s performing abortions abroad to receive aid from the U.S.

“I’m especially proud that within the last few weeks, I signed a bill that will not allow any child to be aborted in Texas without the mother first having a sonogram,” Perry said, referencing the controversial Texas legislation or Forced Sonogram Bill.

Perry’s Christian values mesh well with Verastegui’s, “I will not use my talents except to elevate my Christian, pro-life and Hispanic values,” he promised a group of celebrity guests gathered at a smaller fundraiser for that same pro-life clinic. That meshing could be the sweet spot Perry needs to gain favor with conservative Latino voters. The combination of the governor’s historically lenient immigration record and his pro-life stance, and affiliation with the very Catholic and somewhat beloved Verastegui could be a winning combination not tapped by the Mormon Mitt Romney.

Video of Rick Perry’s speech at Unidos por Vida:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IO38OOI69Yg

Cindy Casares is a columnist for the Texas Observer. She is also the founding Editor of Guanabee Media, an English-language, pop culture blog network about Latinos established in 2007. She has a Master's in Mass Communications from Virginia Commonwealth University Brandcenter. Prior to her career in journalism, she spent ten years in New York City as an advertising copywriter. During her undergraduate career at the University of Texas she served under Governor Ann Richards as a Senate Messenger during the 72nd Texas Legislature.