Campaign season is in full swing and politicians are courting voters harder than
R. Kelly at a middle school dance. Sorry, maybe that wasn’t the best comparison. Both Republicans and Democrats are doggedly vying to woo an important voting bloc- Latinos. The Census Bureau—in its first nationwide demographic tally from the 2010 headcount—said Thursday the U.S. Hispanic population surged 43%, rising to 50.5 million in 2010 from 35.3 million in 2000. Latinos now constitute 16% of the nation’s total population of 308.7 million.The Census Bureau has estimated that the non-Hispanic white population would drop to 50.8% of the total population by 2040—then drop to 46.3% by 2050. These numbers have candidates tripping over themselves in attempt to seem passionate about “Hispanic issues”. This problematic language and campaign approach is the reason I believe elected officials continue to do a poor job serving communities of color. To paint the Latino community as monolithic is folly. The voting patterns, key issues, wants, and desires among Latinos are as varied as Mitt Romney’s views on health care.
Landmark legislation such as the Dream Act and Arizona’s S.B. 1070 are key examples of how seemingly Latino issues have become American issues where many actors feel that they have a stake. Yet, the notion that all Latino people regardless of nationality, immigration status, and class have shared interests assumes that they are politically monolithic. The intersectionality of their respective identities makes it difficult for all people to coalesce around any given platform. Therefore because the scope of what constitutes the Latino community is so broad I will argue that there is no unified Latino political agenda because many people operate within the framework of what political scientist Michael Jones-Correa calls the “politics of in-between”.
Hispanics often struggle with even more identities that are often related the duality between their national origin and the United States. For example, when Jones- Correa examines the presence of civil societies in Latino communities he makes note that various civic organizations have mobilized in many cases based on events in their respective places of origin. “Disasters affecting the home country can lead to the mobilization of aid efforts that have long-term organizational consequences in the immigrant community” (Jones-Correa 1998: 143). As he illustrates through anecdotal evidence, a Honduran issue may not necessarily be the same as a Colombian issue and vice versa.
One must look no further than the contemporary landscape of American politics to understand the varied interest and opinions of Hispanic organizations, communities, and political elites. Marco Rubio, winner of the U.S. Senate race in Florida, ran on the theme of living the American Dream. Unlike other Hispanic politicians before him, he failed to mention the structural inequalities that have played a role in thwarting any semblance of political pluralism. Rather, he discussed personal responsibility when he made reference to the story of his Cuban parents that were exiled from the island. His narrative is one that is common within the Republican Party. In fact, Rubio publicly supported Arizona’s S.B. 1070 during the Republican to curry favor with right wing xenophobes. Despite his Cuban background, he felt that law enforcement not only had a right but obligation to ensure that illegal immigration was cut down drastically, even through tactics that could be construed as racial profiling. Rubio is just one of many classic examples of why it is tough to claim that a unified Latino agenda exist. However, Rubio wasn’t alone in his support of the controversial piece of legislation. According to a CNN poll 24% of Hispanic-Americans support the bill. But the real division was along generational lines. 45% of Hispanic-Americans 50 and older support the bill while only 17% of Hispanic-American who are younger than 50 support it. Perhaps the fact that the older generation is more likely to be first generation immigrants plays a role in their support, while the younger demographics may have a different view if they are second and third generation. Ultimately, this issue shows that the interesectionality of identities within the Latino community makes it almost impossible to form one unified political agenda.
Ultimately, it is folly to suggest that a unified Latino agenda exists in the United States today largely because of intersectionality. People’s lived experiences shape their personal politics, and as we’ve discussed all quarter in class, immigrants have had different experiences based on many factors. Although it is important to address hot-button issues like the Dream Act and Arizona’s S.B. 1070, we must approach them in a way that doesn’t paint Latinos as a political monolith.