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Latino Politics in the U.S.

Latino Politics in the U.S.
Kendall-Hunt, 2012 (2005)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

¡Basta Ya! “Cuando el tuerto en el pais del ciego es rey”

¡Basta Ya! “Cuando el tuerto en el pais del ciego es rey”

Please Stop! “When the one-eyed man in the country of the blind is king

As someone who writes and teaches Latino politics, as a Puerto Rican/Latino activist, I am appalled at the persistent efforts of U.S. media to give authority and credence to analyses of Latino politics that are superficial, inaccurate and which have a hidden agenda. These pieces are not efforts to elucidate, reveal truths but advertising/public relations efforts to mold public opinion. While fortunately they are ineffective in the long run in the short term they might lead to some confusion among those who are not familiar with the complex nature of the Latino communities in the United States. One basic lesson that all of us who have studied these communities for decades have learned is that “one size does not fit all.” Corporate America and their mouthpieces have for decades attempted to create a “Latino Market” with the purpose of enjoying the benefits of broader markets (economics of scale).  

While on some levels there are significant points of convergence the reality is that still significant social, cultural differences exist, and these persist across generations. Ruben Rumbaut, Cuban sociologist at UC Irvine coined the term “segmented assimilation” where he showed that there is not one road to cultural and social integration but that the path has a number of different tracks. While I no longer use the term assimilation because of its linear connotation it is important to note that depending on the characteristics of the local population, members of a minority Latino sub group at times adjust to U.S. society on the basis of the majority Latino group in its region. Central Americans in Houston “assimilate” and mimic Mexican cultural traits just like they also do in South Florida where they mimic Cubans as studies have revealed. In Long Beach California, Cambodian youth who grew up in majority Mexican barrios also incorporated some cultural traits from their Mexican counterparts. In New York, the New York Times had an article a few years back of a Peruvian girl singing “Preciosa” with as much patriotism as a Boricua. However, these communities still remained distinct.

But this recent piece in Huffington Post is the classic example of sloppy, inaccurate and harmful fluff that passes for political analysis. Fortunately, writers like Luis Varela demystify and challenge the narrative created by this piece but I will add a bit more comment to the counter narrative.  Unfortunately, during the 2008 elections a number of writers became instant experts on Latino politics which made them as the saying goes, “one-eyed men/women in the country of the blind are king.”  Despite the fact that Latino political scientists have produced a respectable amount of empirically verified analysis on Latino politics it has only been recently that these experts are getting on the front stage of Latino political analysis.  One great journalist who is always on the mark in her analyses is Pilar Marrero from La Opinion, another great analyst is Angelo Falcon from the Latino Institute for Public Policy.  But unfortunately, they did not write this recent piece in the Post.

The writer Gretchen Sierra-Zorita, makes some accurate points about the inability of Republicans to attract the Latino vote, and their need to have an economic agenda that would be more palatable to Latinos. However, given the disproportionate power of the extreme right Tea Partiers (recently making their Speaker Boehner look weak and indecisive in the recent budget fiasco) it is even ludicrous to consider any change in their worldview. Socially, Republicans are isolated from Latinos, most do not have Latinos in their primary group relationships so they are totally immersed in the popular culture prejudices that hark back to what is called by historian Gilbert Gonzalez, the ‘Mexican Problem” ideology. This anti-Mexican (and by extension anti-Latino as most who have lived in the U.S. can attest to) is deep and pervasive.

On her comments on Puerto Rican Governor Fortuño’s bid as VP under a winning Republican candidate (which is the hidden agenda), that is another siren song that does not deserve serious consideration. In fact, given the anti-Republican sentiment that Republican xenophobia has elicited from a broad spectrum of the Latino community, especially among the youth, Gov. Fortuño would be the wrong pick for three basic reasons: First, while ethnicity is not the primary factor when people vote it is still important if the “Latino” candidate is from another Latino ethnic sub group. Mexicans would not feel much attachment to an outsider, especially an outsider who is alien to the Mexican American community and who is not in touch with the experiences of Latinos in the mainland.  Secondly, Gov. Fortuño’s economic agenda is right there with the Tea Party so his packaging as a “Latino” would not hide the reality of his anti Latino economic policies. Thirdly, opposing candidates from the Democrat Party, would have a battering ram to demolish his standing in the community, all they would need reveal the fissures is point out the civil and human rights violations, identified by the recent Department of Justice’s scathing indictment of the Puerto Rican police department. This 143 page document has particularly disturbing information about the racist treatment of people of Dominican descent in Puerto Rico. All carried out under the authority of Governor Luis Fortuño, as the report states in the use of excessive force, seizures, intimidation, etc.  

Finally, the Puerto Rican population of Florida is still an unknown, a third is young (25 years and 44 years, Duany and Matos-Rodriguez) highly educated, more likely to identify as white than any Puerto Rican community in the United States. However, there is another segment that came from New York so this is one community which still is in a fluid state so it remains how it will go in the 2012 elections. The recession has hit the housing sector hard with many foreclosures so this is a community that like the broader community needs more state intervention than the neo liberals are willing to provide. But as Luis Varela correctly states, given the tens of thousands economic exiles that have left Puerto Rico and now live in central and South Florida, give me a break, most of them know why they had to leave: Fortuño’s policies. Any GOP candidate that would be foolish to choose him would be assuring the loss, not only of the Puerto Rican vote but also of the broader Latino support.

As to “Disneyricans”! Please!

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