For his final Cinco de Mayo fiesta at the White House, President Barack Obama is celebrating with some old friends, Maná, the Grammy- and Latin Grammy-winning band that helped get him to the White House a second time.
The performance Thursday for the commemoration of a Mexican battle against the Frenc – never as robustly celebrated in Mexico as in the U.S. – marks a coming full circle for Maná and Obama. It is the band's first time to perform at the White House.
Their first public appearance with him came in a Latino Las Vegas neighborhood in the heat of the 2012 election, with Obama and Mitt Romney fiercely battling for voters in the swing state and spending heavily on Spanish language television and radio in a tussle over the Latino vote.
“It was a historic moment for the band and a battleground state. It was the first time a world-famous Latino musical group had come and performed with a president,” said Texas Rep. Cesar Blanco, who was part of Obama’s campaign staff in Nevada at the time.
More than 11,000 Hispanics showed up to the one-set concert at Desert Pines High School, according to reports. But even more important, hundreds registered and pledged to vote.
Mana’s appearance was so huge in the community, that a couple of people who had picked up tickets at the campaign office to see the band were overheard saying “Wow, and President Obama is going to be here” as if he were the warm up act, Blanco said.
In a 2012 interview, Maná told NBC Latino they endorsed Obama and chose to perform for him in Nevada because they wanted to fight racism and support those who fight against marginalization. They said then that Democrats and Obama fit that definition and that Obama had pledged to keep working on immigration.
Their endorsement of Obama came despite grumblings in the community that the president had failed to keep a promise to get immigration reform done in his first term in office. In today's era of Donald Trump anti-immigrant rhetoric and proposals, Romney's views in 2012 seem tame. But his were considered the extreme at the time and Maná had been vocal against them.
Blanco said Mana’s history of activism on human rights, the environment and other issues had given the band a place of trust in the community so that their appearance with Obama changed how many Latinos viewed the importance of participating in the election.
In the end, Nevada Latinos voted 70 percent for Obama to 25 percent for Romney, a drop from 76 percent in 2008, but a resounding victory nonetheless. Maná then performed at Obama’s inauguration.
The band had wanted to help Obama in 2008 too, but details couldn't be worked out with visas and more.
Their performance had additional significance. Adrian Saenz, who at the time was national Latino vote director for Obama's campaign shuttled the idea for a Maná campaign performance to high level campaign decision makers.
Few of the non-Latino strategists knew who Maná was. Saenz had to make the case, arguing that Maná was the Latino U2 or Rolling Stones. The success the band brought to Obama's campaign helped demonstrate the value of Latino staff in a campaign that wanted to connect with the community. Saenz is now deputy director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the White House.
Nathaly Arriola, national Hispanic press coordinator for Obama's 2012 campaign, recalled going to the band's Chicago concert and going backstage to discuss the band appearing with Obama. She considers it one of the highlights of her career.
"It's full circle. They continue to push the same message and they are kind of critical now with what we are dealing with with (Donald) Trump," Arriola said.
Having listened to Maná as a young girl in Peru with her family and being a child of immigrants in the U.S. and then working to enlist them to help get a president elected made the kind of impact she and other Latino staff knew they would have on Latinos in Nevada, where there is a high immigrant Latino population.
"They've grown with the community and they understand our struggles and where we're at and where we're going," Arriola said.
Maná continues to work with Arriola in Peru on an effort to conserve the Tropical Pacific Ocean in Peru, where 70 percent of the fish consumed in the country are found. Maná has its own environmental organization, Selva Negra, which was the origin of its political involvement.
"They have our backers here. They have our backs there. They understand our perspective," Arriola said.
The band has not waited for an invitation to become involved in this year’s election.
The group appeared on stage with Los Tigres del Norte during the 2015 Latin Grammys to accept their "Best Pop Rock Album" award last November, and, after singing “Somos Más Americanos (We Are More American) they displayed a banner that read: “Latinos unidos no voten por Racistas. Latinos Unite. Don’t Vote For Racists.
A month before the election, the band launches its tour dubbed "Latino Power Tour." They’ll join with groups such as Voto Latino, as they have in the past, to register Latino voters and urge them to turn out in November.
Maná's lead singer and guitarist Fher Olvera and drummer Alejandro “Alex” Gonzalez spoke Wednesday night at a “Latino Talks” panel discussion sponsored by Latino Victory Foundation, a group that works to get Latinos into public office.
“It’s so important with this tour that … we celebrate how Latinos have contributed to this country, how we’ve been part of that contribution that made this country so great,” Gonzalez said.
He called on Latinos to register and to “vote for the party that you think will contribute for the next four years for your community, to your state, to this amazing country,” he said.
The panel was moderated by actress Eva Longoria and also included as panelists actress Diane Guerrero, who has just released a new book about her parents’ deportation as well as New York City Council president Melissa Mark-Viverito.
An earlier panel featured chef Jose Andrés, who canceled plans to open a restaurant at a hotel Donald Trump is developing in Washington, D.C.; Sky Gallegos, executive vice president of NexGen Climate, Horacio Gutierrez, Spotify general counsel and Henry Muñoz III, founder of Latino Victory Foundation.