There’s no “Latino” vote

New Mexico

By Caitlin Kelly

This is a smart and powerful argument why the Democratic party needs to wise up fast — with mid-term elections within two years for both Senate and House seats.

Their abysmal failure to speak intelligently to — and listen carefully to — millions of Hispanic/Latino voters cost them a state they expected to sweep and didn’t, Florida.

As a white middle-class Canadian who grew up in two of the most racially and ethnically diverse cities — Toronto and Montreal — these persistent blind spots are both annoying as hell and depressingly consistent in American politics, at least at the federal level.

Expecting a wildly heterogeneous group — whose birthplace or ancestry maybe as disparate as Chile, Mexico (whose many regions are also wildly different from one another), Argentina, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic or even Spain — to somehow share aspirations, beliefs, education and other values is naive at best, desperately ignorant at worst.

There is tremendous racism (thanks to millions of undocumented Hispanics in the U.S.) and wilful ignorance, a toxic combination when formulating intelligent policy and trying to win votes.

I’ve seen it firsthand in a few terrible moments with my husband — a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist mistaken for (of course!) a day laborer.

Both are important jobs but never ever ever assume who anyone is based on the color of their skin!

Here’s Isvett Verde, a New York Times staffer:

Journalists and pundits who have spent some time in Latin America or interviewed a few Spanish speakers (and now fancy themselves experts) have suggested that machismo, and a desire to be closer to whiteness, is what drove these voters to support the man who promised to build a wall to keep caravans of Spanish-speaking brown people out. That may be true, but it’s far from the whole story.

I’m a Cuban-American from Miami, and I’m not surprised that around 52 percent of Cuban-Americans in Florida voted for Mr. Trump. No one who was paying attention could be. In the weeks leading up to the election, Cubans in Miami composed a salsa song in support of Mr. Trump and organized Trump caravans hundreds of cars long.

It may sound ridiculous, but some of those voters are genuinely afraid of socialism, and he leaned into that. “We will never have a socialist country,” he promised. He understood that for Cubans and Venezuelans, the word is a reminder of the dysfunctional governments they left behind.

I know this firsthand because I live it — as a partner of 20 years with Jose Lopez, born in New Mexico and whose father was born in Mexico. Jose worked for 31 years as a photographer and photo editor and teacher within a bastion of American media power, The New York Times, where a former very senior colleague once said — to his face — “A preppy Mexican!” — when Jose wore khakis, the dull-but-safe East Coast uniform.

It was decades ago….but really?

What bullshit.

Nor does Jose speak Spanish, which I do fluently enough to have worked in it.

Nor is he Catholic — his father was a Baptist minister and he is Buddhist, his sister Baha’i and one sister Catholic. Yes, even within one family, diversity. All three siblings married non-Hispanics. One has lived and worked all over the world.

I lived briefly in Mexico as a teenager and have been back many times, although not recently. I’ve also visited Peru, Colombia, Nicaragua, Cost Rica, Venezuela, and Spain.

It’s pretty obvious none of these countries resemble one another beyond a shared language — and even then, not really! I learned to be very careful with local idioms; the verb “coger” can mean quite different things!

I want to see — demand to see — a much much smarter parsing of what it really means to live and work and pay taxes and vote in the United States as someone of Latino or Hispanic heritage.

18 thoughts on “There’s no “Latino” vote

  1. Jan Jasper

    That’s shocking that a senior NYT colleague actually said “A preppy Mexican!” to Jose’s face. I hope that was 30 years ago, not that it would be OK even then. But not surprising, back then.

  2. Even just In NYC, no intelligent politician should elide Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and more recently Mexicans. Is intelligent politician too often an oxymoron?
    Stunning photo, btw.

  3. Caitlin, I’m wording this comment very carefully so as not to be misconstrued.

    Democrats are criticized for not putting in enough of an effort to win over Latino voters in states like Florida during the 2020 race. Well, y’know what? Making an effort works both ways. A small percentage of Hispanic America does not speak English. Why not? When I moved to France, I had to learn French for economic survival. It was sink or swim. I learned the language late in life, and basically taught myself to become fluent.

    Secondly, about many of those voters being genuinely afraid of socialism, and Trump exploiting those fears by saying “Socialism is the mainstream of the Biden campaign, but we will never have a socialist country”? It’s not true, of course. But those Hispanic/Latino voters didn’t look it up, didn’t research, didn’t go onto Biden’s website – WHICH OFFERS A SPANISH-LANGUAGE VERSION!! – and details his proposals, his vision and his extensive policy platform. Nowhere does it say that he supports a socialist agenda. Instead, they just took Trump’s words at face value and voted for him.

    That Isvett Verde opinion piece in The New York Times received over a thousand comments. Two of them were –

    “It’s fine to vote for your interests, but at least learn what you are voting about.”

    “This re-enforces to me that we live in a country where a large percentage of the population practices wilful ignorance. I’m talking about all ethnic groups. To equate Biden with the type of government under Castro or the old Soviet Union is total nonsense. There is an abundance of evidence world wide and in this country as to what a partnership of socialism and capitalism looks like. It requires a little critical thinking, observation, and a desire to educate oneself.”

    I totally agree.

    You wrote – “I want to see — demand to see — a much much smarter parsing of what it really means to live and work and pay taxes and vote in the United States as someone of Latino or Hispanic heritage.”

    As a non-French person living, working and paying (a lot) of taxes in France, I say “I want to see a much smarter participation – and deeper assimilation – of foreigners/expats/immigrants as they live, work, pay taxes and vote in their host countries.”

    P.S. I don’t have the right to vote in France, but it nevertheless behooves me to learn everything I possibly can about all the political parties here.

    1. I agree 100%.

      Too many Americans have a really tedious habit of whining “it’s soooooooo hard” and grabbing easy/stupid “explanations” — without even bothering to realize how manipulated so many of them are.

  4. Well done! #broadsideblog…In January, we should get better numbers on the demographic turnout in all states. AOC in a recent article with the NYTimes noted the disconnect with the DNC and Biden camp…in recognizing the diverse populations that impacted the races in Arizona, Georgia and Philly.

    Words like the “Left,” & “socialism” as applied to health care and jobs, are easily misinterpreted by the media and serve to keep us polarized. I love America as a first generation born here. My family has built a better life while serving in WWII (My jefito joined at 17yrs to avoid working the fields in California), Vietnam (My Tios) and my son and nephews in the Middle East after 9/11.

    You and I share the same critical eye for what is and could be in this great nation. Your blog reflects your diversity in thought and empathy for all communities…Keep up the great Blogging!

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

      I did read that NYT interview today with AOC…I don’t envy the challenge of effecting any sort of progressive change(s) within a divided Democratic party.

      I also have tremendous frustration as a journalist — albeit NOT one inside a major news organization now, only freelance (hence very limited in my reach) — with how badly these have been covered and “explained.”

      1. In that AOC interview, I was struck by her “voice” – to borrow a fiction writer term. She sounds like a person, not like a politician — even as she was talking about politics. I can’t claim to be any sort of Democratic party insider, so whether her argument has merit I can’t know. But partly by virtue of that ‘voice, she had me pretty well convinced by her points.
        I do recall when, soon after the first Macron election in France, a Democratic consultant to Macron’s “En Marche” party, spoke to a group of Paris expats and happily took credit for importing Obama-style door-to-door voter operations (not previously practiced in France, he said) really helped elect Macron. Whereas now,, AOC considers such an approach outdated — if not just plain obsolete — but still a staple of the Democrats arsenal.

      2. It’s interesting — and disturbing (given the toxicity of the Republicans) — how divided the Democratic party now is. There are so many people who feel as she does the urgent need for change that oldies shush and call radical.

      3. Let’s call ’em oldTIMERS (I’m sensitive 🙂 but I certainly agree as to the serious, counterproductive schism.
        Trying not to read any more trumptrash

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