OP-ED: The Latino vote paradigm
Every election cycle, an elusive creature surfaces into mainstream consciousness and baffles the otherwise indifferent hive known as big media. It’s like the frustrating Pokemon no one can capture despite constant chasing.
The Latino vote, as covered by the national press, appears to be a monolithic bloc of like-minded people who vote as a whole. They are largely under-privileged, under-educated and extremely Catholic. Consider recent stories like the Houston Chronicles’ “Latino Vote Redux,” which bills itself as a cheat sheet for non-Latinos hoping to understand the meteoric rise of the aforementioned demographic. It starts by alerting people to an obvious fact: “Both parties need to offer Latinos good reason to go to the polls.”
Well, yes. Both parties need to do that with all voters of all persuasions in order for a candidate to win. Isn’t that how competitive elections function? How is the concept of attracting Latinos to the polls any different than bringing in female, male, Asian, black, young and old voters? Reality check: there is no difference. A successful democracy demands the participation of all citizens and a successful campaign understands that in order to take The White House, he or she must appeal to a wide range of voters. It can’t just be about one group.
To treat Latinos as a homogenous population is to degrade our diverse experience within the United States. We are not one branch of a bigger tree. Instead, we are each individual leaves constantly growing, changing and evolving. Some of us were born in this country. Some of us weren’t. Some of us dropped out of high school, while some of us have doctoral degrees. Some of us are conservative, and some of us are liberal. Our diversity is as far ranging as the shades of our skin and the places from which we came.
By the numbers
When my great-grandfather emigrated from Mexico to San Antonio in 1908, Latinos already inhabited large swaths of the Southwest. They were largely of Mexican descent, having occupied the region for generations dating back to when Mexico still controlled modern day Colorado.
Meanwhile, the East Coast was experiencing an influx of European and Irish immigration with a steady, but significantly smaller, Puerto Rican flow. In 1910, there were still fewer than 100 Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia, according to some estimates.
Now, there are nearly 200,000 Puerto Ricans in the county that account for 72 percent of the total, local Latino population. Compare that to just 17 percent of Latinos with Mexican origins.
From 2000 to 2010, Philadelphia saw a 46 percent increase in Latino immigration, according to the Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Nationally, the Latino population grew by 43 percent from 2000 to 2010. We comprise 55 million residents across the U.S. and currently make up about 17 percent of the total population.
With numbers so vast and ever expanding, the concept of a single, Latino vote quickly starts to unravel. The notion that we speak with one voice feels antiquated and more appropriate to 1910 than 2016
“We’ve got to say with one voice that Latinos are a vital part of the American community,” Hillary Clinton recently told her supporters. It’s time elected leaders put aside their Hispandering and recognize that we aren’t just part of the American community, we are the American community.