“Hispanic” as a political consciousness might be mistaken

by Alex Gonzalez

Some people were cheering about Hispanics becoming the largest “minority” in 2020, but it means nothing to predict turnout.

The Pew Research Center published new projections underlining that the 2020 Election will mark the first time that Hispanics will be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate, accounting for just over 13% of eligible voters. But this means nothing.  See pic

The fact is that we don’t know how many Hispanics actually voted in the 2018 mid-term until the U.S. Census releases the official numbers in mid April or May, we only know that in 2018, a record 29 million Latinos were eligible to vote. However, we do know how many Hispanics voted in the 2016 Presidential election.

Of the estimated 27 million of Hispanics who were eligible to vote only 12,682,000. And this Hispanic vote increased by only 1.5 million from 2012 when about 23 million of Hispanics were eligible to vote.

When broken down into states, Hispanics in Texas perform even worse than the average national 47% of Hispanic turnout.  In 2016, Texas slightly moved up to 40.5% turnout from 38% turnout in 2012 among Latinos. Texas increases it turnout by 42,000 to 1,938,000 in 2016 from 2012 when only 1,898,000 Hispanics in Texas voted.  And Texas is especially important because of its 40% of Hispanic population, 90% are Mexican-Americans, or as I call it Texas is the most Mexican state, yet it has the worse Hispanic voter turnout of all the Southwestern states with large Mexican-American populations.

And I can show more evidence underscoring that Hispanics overall do not vote in high numbers that will be representative of all those Hispanics who are eligible to vote. Or we could argue that a “Hispanic” label is not enough to mobilize and build a more cohesive cultural political clout. Furthermore, historically, no evidence exists that shows Hispanics, as a racial “category,” leads to a cultural consciousness and no data exists suggesting that a Hispanic identity leads to high turnout and national cohesive political agenda around the Hispanic identity.  And one thing is sure, Hispanics, as “minority” identity, is not enough to enhance the political clout of “Hispanics.”

Moreover, new book by Bernard Fraga, a political scientist, called “The Turnout Gap,” Fraga argues that Hispanic as political category is wrong because Hispanics, a category created by the Census Bureau, do not feel very Hispanic because in “Florida’s politics often sets Cubans against Puerto Ricans.” In Texas, the term covers Mexicans who arrived in the 1970s, recent migrants from Central America and Mexican-American families who have been in Texas for centuries.  So  the expectation that they should have a shared political consciousness might be mistaken.

As shown in Florida and Texas, the label does not fit all the groups’ interest, and thereby, makes it a weak identity to build political clout. Moreover, many “Hispanics” are rejecting the term “minority” term or “people of color.”

The 2010 U.S. Census showed that of the 50 million Hispanics in the US. But the census also showed that 63%, or 32 million, of Hispanics self-identify as “white.” The current U.S. Census estimates in states that are predominantly Mexican-Americans like California, Texas and New Mexico, the U.S. Census  also put Hispanics as both white and Hispanic categories. For example, in California, current population estimates is 39,557,045  with “white alone” making  72.4% of the total population. In a state that is almost 1/2 Hispanic, how can the “white alone” population is 72.4%? that is because the U.S. Census officially also counts Hispanics as “whites” and as Hispanics. The total  Hispanic population of California is 39.1% and “whites alone, not Hispanics” are 37.2%.

The same is for the other state, Texas, with the second largest Hispanic population. In Texas, population estimates are 28,701,845 with “white alone” making  79.2%. But like California, Texas is already a minority-majority state where Hispanics are 39.4% of the total population and “whites alone, not Hispanic” are 42%.  If you look and New Mexico, state with the highest percentage of Hispanics at 48.8%,  the same arbitrary racial categories are used.

There are two important points underlined by U.S. Census racial categorization of Hispanics and the Pew Hispanic surveys. The marjory of Hispanics preferred to self-identify as “white” and as Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans, Colombians, and so forth, more than Hispanic/Latinos, “people of color” or “minority.

The Pew Hispanic survey shows that:

When it comes to describing their identity, most Hispanics prefer their family’s country of origin over pan-ethnic terms.

Hispanic” or “Latino”? Most don’t care.

Most Hispanics do not see a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics.

Similarly, another Pew Hispanic survey shows that by  4th generation, half of all Hispanica stop self-identifying as Hispanics.

Thus, it would seem important to note, as self-classifications in private, Hispanics are not overall all happy with an arbitrary cultural and racial label “invented” by government bureaucrats, and  they are not a sure about “minority” label.  The Pew Hispanic surveys shows that  all “Hispanic adults half say they most often describe themselves by their family’s country of origin or heritage.”  Therefore, this superficial racial and ethno-cultural categorization of  58 million of Hispanics in the U.S.  cannot have a similar political identity;  and this why voter turnout is low, Hispanic as political identity doesn’t reflect that historical and cultural experience and ethnic identity of Mexican-American in the Southwest, Cubans in Florida, and Puerto Ricans in New York and Florida.  Even worse, political parties are using the Hispanic identity to  sets Cubans against Puerto Ricans or Cubans against Mexicans. Similarity, this arbitrary classification is even worse in politics because political an groups try to imposed their own ideas too about being “Hispanics.”

Why are Hispanics even called Hispanic?

In 1970s, when Nixon and Senior George W. Bush lumped all Hispanics lumping together of all “Hispanic” groups to try to find out who these new Americans. However, that attempt for a monopolistic cultural did not develop into political power, politcal engagement, or high voter turnout in the Southwest for the last thirty -years for Hispanic communities in the Southwest, especially Mexican-Americans.

Conceivably, turning Mexican-Americans in the southwest into a single Hispanic “minority” to unify them with other Hispanic groups in Florida and New York made sense in the 1970s when the population of Mexican Americans was only 4 million – today there are 40 million. This forced a monolithic cultural approach has not worked as  initially intended. It has, instead, created an un-amicable relationship between Republicans and Hispanics because it puts a “minority” group—which may be perceived as an outside group– against white dominant establishment. True, for Republicans in the Southwest  prefers the label ‘Hispanic” than Mexican-Americans because it sound less menacing than Mexican-American.

Conversely, Liberal white progressives and African-American leaders like “people of color” and “minority” classification because, under the “minority” classification, African-Americans and Asians, too, benefit from a perception of  big “underrepresented” multi-racial larger minority group; it is a coalition of minorities to unseat the “white establishment.”  But, what then happens to all those 65% of  Hispanics who self-identify as “white” in the U.S. Census? Who do they want to unseat? In essences, for 58 million of Americans, the government deliberately classifies them as “minority.” Moreover, the term “Hispanic” only minimizes the political clout and legal accomplishment of  each the biggest Hispanic group, Mexican-Americans.

Mexican-Americans, in the 1950s knew how important it was to remain within “white” census box for categorization purposes. For example, in Hernandez v. Texas Mexican-American lawyers in Texas had to go to US Supreme Court to argue that “Mexicans are…members of and within the classification of the white race as distinguished from members of the Negro Race.” This is particularly important because if Mexican-Americans in Texas were put under a different category than “white,” they would have to be sent to segregated schools; so the case was effective bringing attention on why Mexican-Americans needed to be under the “white” category.   As a result,  Hernandez v. Texas was not only about race, but more about the government’s categorization of people, and how detrimental it is for some groups to be out in the wrong category.  And Mexican-Americans in Texas and California knew it and they objected to being categorized as non-white “minority.”

In essences, the Nixon Administration  effectively created a new class of a “minority” Americans that Hispanic themselves  don’t like.  Some Hispanic Republicans, wanting to make the GOP appealing to Latinos, often only paint an elephant from red to brown to make it more “Hispanic” looking.  But the browning of an elephant not only is insulting but also failed because the substantive issues Hispanics want to talk about are left out. So a brown elephant alone is not enough to woo Hispanics because the term was just an invention to suppress the regional Mexican identity in the southwest with “Hispanic” label. And this is something that historians know about.

Amitai Etzioni of the Brookings Institute points out that the “invention” of the Hispanic Label was a government fabrication by politicians in the 1970s under the Nixon administration. But Pew Surveys shows that Hispanics don’t like to be  to be labeled as a minority or has Hispanics.  And the labels itself was designed to be fractured and weak.

According to Peter Skerry, of the Wilson Quarterly E Pluribus Hispanics, the Hispanic label is used interchangeably by political small groups, like Cubans, to further their agenda by claiming to represent all Hispanics.  However, this Hispanic identity is weak and easily fractured because it is a political creation and it does not really embodies the group(s) experience that tend to strengthen a community. It is only when a community shares a common cultural experience that it can be built into political power.

Regional Character Matters more than “Hispanics” and “Minority” Labels.

Cuban-Americans in Florida are successful and cohesive in advancing their agenda because their main goal is Castro, and they all rally behind  that single goal. Proof of  this is how Cuban flags have become part of the landscape in the state of Florida while the  Republican Party and the Cuban political power coalesce behind the anti-Castro rhetoric.  Consequently, Republican candidates are forced to embrace the Cuban Diaspora of “libertad” to get votes.  Cubans never embraced the “minority” Hispanic identity. The Cuban elite and political class only rally their anti-Castro, but they also see as an extension of dominant white ruling establishment.  Therefore,  a similar cultural experience is important to build political power; and Mexican-Americans have used cultural regional identity to build political clout within the Republican establishment.

It is only when local regional “ethnic” Hispanic groups with the same cultural experience controlled the agenda that an effective cohesive party agenda can be built. But this regional ‘”Hispanic” political cohesiveness is good for centralized party in D.C. Therefore, assuming that a group of “Hispanics” in Florida can manage the affairs of Mexican-Americans from Florida, or vice-versa, is under the Hispanic/Latino umbrella is an illusion.

Cubans are mainly concerned with anti-Castro policies, Puerto Ricans with statehood, and Mexican-Americans and Central Americans with education and immigration reform and jobs.  But, according to Skerry, this ever-present “Hispanic” de-emphasized country of origins with a “Hispanic” label only has diminished the political influence of large “Hispanics” (Mexicans) while giving control of the agenda to smaller groups (Cubans). So in setting up this Hispanic category by the government, politicians avoided the problems of attending each group’s demands and let the various groups “fight among themselves” for attention of party leaders.

The term “Hispanic” has been the term of choice for political convenience that led to lack of politician independent cohesiveness for some “Hispanic” groups. Therefore, in a desperate attempt to woo all Hispanics at once, the GOP naively created the “Hispanic” class of people to avoid dealing with each group country of origin like Mexicans, Cubans, and Puerto Ricans.  But this approach has been a total failure for Hispanics in the Southwest since the label Hispanica has not led to high turn our, or, a more cohesive Mexican-American political agenda.

The Cubans in Florida want to focus their agenda on toppling Castro, the Mexicans in the southwest want to address immigration, trade with Mexico and education, and Puerto Ricans in New York want to push for statehood.  Consequently, the idea that Hispanics from different regions of the county can be a cohesive political force under one single platform is unrealistic and difficult to achieve. It is even more detrimental for Hispanics themselves because the intra-fights create a stalemate originated from different regional “Hispanic” groups fighting for power and difference in priorities. And this is not good for Hispanics  since they had to fight with other groups for the “representation” and attention.

Conversely, if Mexican Americans, especially old elites in Texas and California and New Mexico– in the Southwest were to assert their historical regional character that would reinforce the notion that they are not a foreign culture,  they could potentially woo millions of new Mexican-Americans voter. Again, keep in mind that older generations of Mexican-Americans in Texas and California grew up in time when speaking Spanish at school merited punishment and when the population of  the population of Mexican-Americans was only 4 millions. The population of Mexican-Americas ins now 40 millions and everyone want to learn Spanish. Marring the of the old and the new generations would create a more assertive political force that can guarantee stronger  regional turnout.

Conservative columnist Linda Chavez argues that “on most counts, Hispanics show great promise of becoming just another American ethnic group, like the Italians, Irish,  and Germans “So long as we think of Hispanics as a single minority group, along with blacks, we will miss the great diversity within the Hispanic population.”  I am not sure that Ms. Chavez is correct in arguing that a Hispanic non-minority identity is enough to enhance the political clout of Hispanics. As shown in Florida and Texas, the label does not fit all the groups’ interest, and thereby, makes it a weak identity to build political clout.


Alex Gonzalez is a political Analyst, Founder of Latino Public Policy Foundation (LPPF), and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com or @AlexGonzTXCA


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