The Myth of the Latino Monolith
Posted on 03/15/2016 @ 12:45 AM
Source: Cagle Cartoons
By: Stephanie Vela, LULAC National Education and Youth Programs Intern
The Latino voter in the United States has long been described as a “sleeping giant,” a potential voting bloc with the power to sway the election. Ever since this realization, politicians on both sides of the aisle have attempted to persuade the Latino community that their platform is the one that benefits the Latino community. With such a large amount of votes at stake, it is not uncommon to see politicians attempting to appeal to the Latino demographic in political ads, articles, and interviews. Some of these efforts include–but are not limited to–speaking Spanish (badly), claiming to be an “abuela,” making appearances at Mexican restaurants, and of course, celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Unfortunately, their attempts only come off as a form of pandering, or as some have coined it, “hispandering.” Instead of connecting with the Latino voter, their pandering just highlights their lack of understanding of who the average Latino voter is, often ignoring the nuances within the community.
However misguided their efforts may be to cater to Latinos, their outreach efforts make sense. It would be unwise to ignore such a large part of the electorate, and in this election, it’s projected that there are 27.3 million eligible Latino voters. This is a significant number, but up until now Latinos have largely been considered one monolithic group. Reducing them as such does not benefit anyone and has the capability of taking away the responsibility of candidates to understand the complexity of the community. One crucial characteristic of the Latino vote is the composition of who is voting. Forty four percent, almost half, of the Latino electorate are millennials. This is at a much higher percentage than any race or ethnicity. Similar to Latinos, It has also been clear that candidates have been vying for the millennial voter, and it seems that the Latino voter and the millennial voter may not be that different from one another.
It's important to note that millennials and Latinos alike prefer to talk about the issues rather than a candidate. They care about the issues that affect their friends, families, and neighborhoods. Yet, if we look at the way media, politicians, and the general public portrays Latinos, you would think that the only thing Latinos care about is immigration reform. This is simply not true. Like any other demographic in America, Latinos are deeply concerned with other issues. In fact, when determining their presidential candidate, 33% of Latino chose “jobs and the economy” as the top issue to consider. Only 17% believed immigration was the most important issue. Education and healthcare were also two other major issues. Of course immigration is still important to Latinos, as the immigrant and Latino experience, at some level, are tied to one another. However, the problem of simply focusing in on this one issue is that it polarizes immigration to be, almost exclusively, a Latino issue. It is time that politicians recognize that Latinos are not single-issue voters. We are diverse in the problems we care about just as we are diverse in our cultures, backgrounds, and stories.
You cannot show you care about Latinos by dropping a few words in Spanish, or claiming your parents come from an immigrant background as well. If candidates really want to engage with us, they must sit down and listen. We are more than just immigration. Our issues, Latino issues, are American issues. There is no separation between the two. By mischaracterizing the Latino voter, candidates are preventing themselves from truly engaging with the community, and awakening the burgeoning power of this “sleeping giant.”
Stephanie Vela is the Education and Youth Programs Intern at the LULAC National Office in Washington, D.C. She is a senior at American University and is majoring in Sociology with a minor in Education and will be graduating in the Spring of 2016.