Are you "Latino" enough for Mark Halperin?

Posted on 05/13/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: identity, politics, intern

By: Francisco Castaneda, LULAC Policy and Legislation Intern

On April 30, 2015, Journalist Mark Halperin, Bloomberg Politics, interviewed Texas Republican presidential candidate and Cuban American Ted Cruz. Halperin’s interview was so guised with racist undertones that ThinkProgress named it the “Most Racist Interview of a 2016 Candidate.” Syndicated journalist Ruben Navarrette compared watching the interview with “watching a college fraternity have fun with racial stereotypes.” The interview has received widespread criticism by individuals from both parties with many labeling it as bad journalism that crosses the line of what is acceptable from a national news anchor.

Throughout the interview, Halperin asked Cruz unorthodox questions completely unrelated to his policies, such as “What’s your favorite Cuban food?” and if he could welcome Rep. Bernie Sanders to the presidential race “en Espanol?”

What is the point of questions like these? What is Halperin trying to achieve by subjecting Ted Cruz to an identity litmus test?

Simply put, he is asking Ted Cruz to prove his Cuban American identity by asking him insignificant questions and scoring his answers based on his own stereotypical assumptions of what it is to be Latino. What does this question try to accomplish besides trying to set a stereotypical standard on what it means to be Cuban/Latino/Hispanic or any other group?

Aside from designating individuals as “different” and “other,” it also reveals the biases and prejudices that can easily make their way into journalism. Can you imagine how inappropriate it would be to ask President Obama a set of questions to determine how black he really is? Or Hillary Clinton how much of a woman she really is? How about a similar set of questions posed to a Jewish candidate? Or a gay candidate? These types of questions are predicated on the idea that there are answers that serve as evidence to a prototype Latino/Black/Gay/Jewish/Woman identity, even though the very idea of such a prototype existing is absurd.

These types of assumptions result in bad questions that discredit the field of journalism. There is no standard Cuban, Latino, Black, Gay, Jewish, etc. individual. People in these communities are of diverse backgrounds, political affiliations, and exhibit a variety of tastes in music and food. Trying to standardize these identities homogenizes the rich experiences of individuals who comprise these groups.

Halperin, in his interview with Ted Cruz, displays what minorities throughout the country have to go through every day in various social settings. Standardizing identities through trivial litmus tests contributes to the process of labeling individuals, reinforcing stereotypes, and dividing society based on these fabricated labels and stereotypes. Halperin attempted this with Ted Cruz by forcing him to prove his identity in a way that would require him to provide Halperin with stereotypical answers that would satisfy his own personal assumptions on what it meant to be Cuban American and Latino. Halperin fails to observe that identity is personal and that each person ascribes their own meaning to their identity. Unfortunately many minorities are not afforded the luxury of personal exploration, and are forced to confront, debate, and challenge socially ascribed expectations about what it means to be Latino, Black, Gay, etc.

Aside from the Latino Litmus Test so poorly demonstrated in the Ted Cruz interview, many Latinos are subjected to an American Litmus Test every day. Many constantly feel pressured to prove how “American” they are; often going to great lengths to do so, from willingly changing the pronunciation of their names to refusing to speak Spanish in public. Historically, many Latinos experienced forced assimilation that often prohibited students from speaking in Spanish at school in an effort to “Americanize” them.

I found Halperin’s interview and lack of respect for the Latino community particularly insulting, because like Ted Cruz, I also do not fit the stereotype that Mark Halperin has likely drawn up about Mexican-Americans. I am not fluent in Spanish and I like Blues-Rock. Does this make me “not Mexican enough” to represent Mexican Americans?

I don’t have to wear a sombrero or wear a zarape and carry around maracas to satisfy someone's craving to put me in a box. Ted Cruz can be a Republican from Texas who listens to country music, runs for President of the United States, and still be as Cuban-American as they come.

We should really care more about Ted Cruz’s policy stances than his ability to “prove” his Cuban American identity. Mark Halperin could have questioned Senator Cruz on how he will sell his immigration position to the Latino community considering that 86% of Latinos are in favor for a path to citizenship, or about his alternatives to the Affordable Care Act which has benefited millions of Latinos, although he continues to voice his opposition to both issues.

For as much as we would like to know Ted Cruz’s favorite Cuban dish or his favorite Cuban singer, I would much rather like to know how his policies are going to impact my future.

Click here to watch highlights from the Halperin and Ted Cruz interview.

Francisco Castaneda is a Policy and Legislation Intern for the League of United Latin American Citizens. He is currently an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, with a concentration in International Relations, and minoring in Public Policy. He is also currently attending the Center for American Politics and Public Policy Quarter in Washington Program where he is conducting his own original research on Black and Latino coalition politics in municipal settings.

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