The United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, in terms of population. We are constantly told that the Latino vote is rising and yet it bubbles up but never asserts itself. Latinos are present in America, but our voices are muted in the national dialog. The reason for this is that Latinos are not one, but several cultural and political identities each pulling in different directions.
Unlike the Alt-Right or the Alt-Left, the political identity of Latinos varies from person to person. Therein lies the problem. As Latinos, we come in many different forms. Some of us are plump while others are athletic or fill the covers of the beauty magazines across America. Some of us speak only English while others speak only Spanish and others are multilingual. Some of us work as industry titans while others serve people and others fill the creative realms of America. Our skins come in all shades of colors and our complexions represent the kaleidoscope of our indigenous roots with our participation in the great civilizations of our history.
We may differ in ideology and in thought as well as in language but most of us ascribe to the Latino label as a unifying identity for ourselves.
Because we are made up of different ideas and experiences there cannot be one representative Latino voice in America. There must be many.
Therefore the “rise of the Latino vote” or the unifying Latino identity is not possible because it assumes that all Latinos identify as one.
There are Mexican Latinos. There are Cuban Latinos. There are Boricuas, aka Puerto Ricans. The Boricua’s are as alien to Cubans as the Chinese are to the Japanese. The roots may be the same, but the world view is different. This is true of all Latinos.
Nonetheless the national narrative is missing the Latino voice.
Of course, there are television channels purporting to serve the Latino voice. For example, Univision tries to be the Latino voice, but it fails miserably in that has become nothing more than curvy, voluptuous women being used to bring eyeballs for the advertisers to salivate on. Not only does it demean women, but it creates the false narrative that Latinos is about sensuality.
Latino movie actors are starting to be noticed in Hollywood but even then, their presence does little for the general Latino in that the Latino presence in America is significant and yet the Latino presence in the movies is severely lacking.
Almost 20% of the American population is Latino. There are about 50 million Spanish speakers in America. Yet, the Latino voice is not part of the national dialog.
To resolve this, we first need to acknowledge that the Latino label is not one identity but a representation of many cultural and political identities. As Latinos we disagree on many things, but we must also be part of the national dialog.
How do we do this while keeping our own identities intact?
First, we must understand that we will disagree on many things. This must be encouraged and cultivated because our diversity makes us stronger. But to find common ground we need to listen to other Latinos.
We can’t do that now because Latinos are being represented by others.
The Republicans talk about including Latinos in their ranks. Although the common notion is that Latinos gravitate towards the Democrats, the fact remains that there are many Latinos who support Donald Trump. Yet, the national narrative is that Latinos are voting for Democrats.
The reason is that others are driving the narratives. The Republicans talk about Latinos favoring the Democrats and the Democrats just sit by and let the narrative remain. But if Latinos were really for Democrats, Beto O’Rourke would have defeated Ted Cruz. Yet, Ted Cruz, also a Latino, won.
The whole Ted Cruz-Beto O’Rourke narrative was about whether Beto was Hispanic or not. Beto’s use of “Beto” is a cultural misappropriation was argued by many.
Yet the fact is that both candidates are Latinos.
Latino does not mean Mexican-American or of Hispanic descent. Latino represents a geography. The Hispanic label represents a language. Beto O’Rourke was born and raised in El Paso, Texas, a geographical cultural identity closer to Latino than white protestant. Beto is his nickname.
Some readers are going to argue that the geography for Latinos starts at America’s southern border.
Yet that simplistic definition ignores the fundamental reality that America is the second largest Spanish speaking country in the world and that the Latino culture is found in every state of the country. But, doesn’t Hispanic represent the language, why use it to move the Latino border to include America, some will argue.
Because language is a significant part of the cultural identity.
The debate over Beto’s use of his nickname proves that the Latino voice is absent on the national stage.
Now that we understand that Latinos are a mix of different ideas and we know that the Latino voice is absent how do we go about correcting this problem?
First, we must understand what we are up against.
The Alt-Right voice speaks for about 11 million Americans. That is significantly less than the 50 million or so Latinos in America and yet, the Alt-right voice is part of the national debates. Even Russian operatives had a say in the 2016 national elections. Russian trolls spent about $1.25 million on social media operations to interfere with the election on September 2016.
American Super PACs raised about $780 million in 2018. Of that money, about $433 million went to conservatives, $347 million to liberals and the rest to other groups. The Latino Victory Fund raised about $3.3 million in 2018 and spent a little under $3 million. All their funds went to Democrat candidates.
With much fanfare, the American Latino Alliance was announced to bolster the “Latino political power” in 2012. The SuperPAC did not raise any money. Also, the American Workers Super PAC announced it was going to bolster the Latino vote in 2011 by spending $1 million in several Latino states, under the auspices of its “Latino Project”. It went nowhere.
In 2014, Eva Longoria launched the Latino Victory Project to empower the Latino vote. Although labeling itself as bi-partisan, the project was decidedly anti-Republican in 2016 and again in 2018. The group supported Veronica Escobar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez among others in the last election.
Among its National Committee members is Taylor Moreno who was the Chief of Staff for El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and now works at the El Paso Children’s Hospital. Moreno has previously worked for John Cook and Silvestre Reyes.
The Latino Victory Fund raised about $3 million in the 2018 election cycle. It spent most of it on candidates. George Soros donated about $500,000 to the fund.
For years, there has been a battle between English and Spanish speaking audiences in advertising. Latinos are worth about $1.7 trillion in purchasing power. But the battle is over language – Spanish speakers rather than the Latino identity.
In other words, millions are being spent on the idea of the Latino and yet the Latino narrative is nonexistent.
Understanding that the Latino voice is missing, that there are millions of dollars spent on the Latino ideal, and that the Latino voice is not one voice, but many voices with different perspectives, is the starting point.
From there, the solution is simple. Latinos need a virtual hub where each idea or perspective is shared and developed. As each perspective is debated common ground can be found and the common narrative for Latinos is made by Latinos. The hub can then become the Latino voice amplifier spreading the Latino voice where it then becomes part of the American narrative.