Translation: Tom Atkins
The intriguing ethnicity called Latinx, immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries, is the biggest US minority. You may know them as Latinos or Hispanics, a term which has recently gone out of favor due to evoking racist connotations. Latinx has recently replaced Latinos as a gender-neutral alternative, influenced by gender- and queer discourse.
Even though all forecasts point to Spanish speakers being the majority of US citizens in twenty years’ time, Latinx voter turnout is traditionally very low. Out of the 32 million eligible Latinx voters in the US, estimates are that at least 57% did not vote, whether in person or by mail. This low turnout seems to be the result of several reasons, mostly related to a lack of trust in the political establishment. Professor Lisa Garcia Bedolla, talking to the NPR political podcast gave an example of how this electorate is often mishandled:
Last September, following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and before President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, he considered Miamy Judge Barbara Lagoa. Lagoa is not only a conservative judge, but hails from a family of Cuban exiles, a fact Trump hoped would help him win the favor of Florida’s Latinx community. As we now know, she wasn’t eventually nominated.
Professor Bedolla explains that this simplistic approach not only doesn’t win the support of Latinx voters, it actively alienates them. It is based in stereotypes and a gross misunderstanding of Latinx voters. The important thing to realize is that there is not one Latinx electorate. The often heard term is that the Latinx vote is not monolithic, but composed of diverse opinions, beliefs, sentiments and needs.
Up until the 1970s, most Latinx immigrants to the US were Mexican, settling mostly in the South-West (Arizona, Texas and California). Cuban immigrants settled mostly in Florida and Puerto-Rico. Today, there is a huge variety of Latinx, from wildly different backgrounds. Most speak Spanish, but some Portuguese. Some are darker-skinned, some lighter. They hail from different social-economic classes and backgrounds. And in the 2020 election, even the most religiously conservative among them, even the anti-abortionists among them, are very concerned with other issues on the agenda, such as the Coronavirus pandemic, education, healthcare and work related issues.
As with white voters, there is a gender gap among Latinx voters. Men are more likely to buy into Trump’s machismo, while many women are very concerned about his remarks and conduct. there is also a huge difference between immigrants who left a tyrannical socialist regime such as those in Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela,and those who became activists after arriving from Mexico. Some southern Latinx have never immigrated – their families lived there ever since it was a Mexican territory.
Many experts agree that both Democrats and Republicans have yet to find a respectable way to talk to Latinx voters: Spanish language election ads are simplistic, rarely mentioning relevant political issues. Latinx voters complain that politicians on both sides of the aisle only remember them every four years, and even then only go so far as to play Mariachi music or incorporate a Spanish expression into their speech. In 2015, Hillary Clinton made this mistake while campaigning for Presidency: In a speech to a Latinx crowd in Iowa, she compared herself to their abuela, Spanish for grandmother. She was accused of hispandering, and was the subject of a trending Twitter hashtag – #NotMyAbuela.
Latinx are apparently a much more sophisticated demographic then politicians seem to think. They are obviously highly sensitive to anything reminiscent of condescension and colonialism. They have years of experience with institutional discrimination, and if politicians want their votes, which often decide elections, they demand to be listened to and taken seriously.
Latinx vote researchers agree that the reality and challenges faced by Latinx communities affect their vote. Nowadays, such challenges are the Coronavirus pandemic and illegal immigration, which is personally relevant to many Latinx whose relatives are illegal immigrants and at risk of deportation.
The treatment of immigrants, particularly children, is a painful topic for many Latinx voter. One of Trump’s first actions was a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration. While Trump wasn’t the first to take a tough approach towards immigrants, including deportation and family separation (which existed even during Obama’s terms), his administration applied harsher deportation techniques. In late 2017, a secret pilot program was launched, separating children from their parents: Families arriving at the US-Mexico border were separated, the parents deported and the children remaining in the US, housed in cages at first. this inhuman program continued to operate, openly, throughout 2018. According to recent data, until public pressure successfully terminated the program, 4,368 children were separated from their parents. 545 have still not been reunited.
The deportees may be “illegals” (i.e. non-voters), but this policy has a major influence on the Latinx community, both because of family members on the other side of the fence, and in purely American terms: They encounter more suspicion from the general population, and are more concerned about the police and ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement).
Separating children from their parents is a direct result of Trump’s 2016 campaign promise for a “zero tolerance” immigration policy. A red flag is waving over his 2020 bid for a second term, a red flag marked 545.
Headline photo: Flickr/Joe Plette