How to lose the Philly Latino voter in six easy steps
A (mostly) tongue-in-cheek guide for the aspiring political candidate
1) Speak to one part of the Latino community thinking you’re speaking to all.
Yes, roughly 64 percent of Latino eligible voters in Pennsylvania are Puerto Rican, but 9 percent are Mexican and another 7 percent are Dominican (according an Oct. 2014 Pew Research Center study).
The Philadelphia/Camden metro area numbers top out at 242,000 Puerto Ricans, 69,000 Mexicans, and 32,000 Dominicans.
Mofongo? Menudo? Mangú? If you can’t match the traditional comfort food to its country of origin, you haven’t spent nearly enough time with Latinos to earn our vote.
2) Believe that because we speak with accents, we think with them too.
Okay, we poached that line from the 1995 movie by Alfonso Arau, “A Walk in the Clouds,” but it still stands. Too many assume that a Spanish accent indicates reduced capacity and comprehension, when what it means is, simply, that we speak (at least) two languages, one of them more fluently than the other.
Yes, while some of us need the candidates for public office to be attentive to the provision of language access that will facilitate civic engagement for those with limited English proficiency (Thank you, María Quiñones-Sánchez and Wilson Goode Jr. for your recent resolution), others of us don’t.
What accents require, of course, is that you listen, really listen, to us to understand. But you’re supposed to be doing that anyway, right?
3) Assume we’re undocumented.
Puerto Ricans are citizens from birth, and there are both naturalized and native-born citizens among Mexicans, Dominicans and other Latinos in the city as well — but you might not think so from the way we’re spoken to. And about.
Mention the word “Latino” to a Philly candidate and the first (sometimes only) thing to come out of his or her mouth is “immigration.” Don’t get us wrong, immigration reform is an important issue, but it is by no means the only issue Latinos are concerned about.
Have you talked with us about jobs, about bilingual and early childhood education, about student loans, preservation of landmarks or the policing of our communities? No? Then you haven’t really talked to us, have you?
4) Assume we’re newcomers.
South Americans hobnobbed with George Washington and Ben Franklin. A Cuban published the Spanish-language newspaper El Habanero from Philadelphia in 1824. Cubans and Puerto Ricans worked in the cigar factories in Southwark and North Philadelphia in the 1870s. By the 1920s, Latino workers (mostly from the cigar and garment industries) had developed Spring Garden to Girard Avenue.
Many Puerto Rican families have been in Philadelphia since the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Operation Bootstrap brought agricultural workers to the U.S. mainland and to the Northern Liberties neighborhood of Philadelphia specifically. Many Mexicans and Central Americans have been here, in South Philly and other neighborhoods, since the 1980s.
Don’t treat us as if we are transient.
Don’t treat us as if our needs are new, and our contributions fledgling.
In fact, one way to our hearts is to make sure sites of historic significance to us — like La Milagrosa Chapel on Spring Garden Street — aren’t lost to city development plans, or to disinterest in their part of our community’s — our city’s — cultural patrimony.
5) Erase us. Condescend to us. Tell us we don’t warrant more and better representation.
There are more than 200,000 of us in the city — 13 percent of the total population — but only one of us in City Council, and only two of us in the state legislature. That’s neither representative nor enough, despite Democratic City Committee chairman Bob Brady’s Feb. 18, 2014 assessment (via the Philadelphia Inquirer) to contrary: he “scoffed at the notion that Hispanics didn’t have enough representation now — ‘How are they underrepresented? Angel Cruz is Hispanic, and Ralph Acosta’s daughter is Hispanic.’”
Two or three for 200,000? That’s some undemocratic math there, boss.
6) Underestimate us.
Since the political season started, we’ve seen assessments from those looking in from outside the Latino community saying that we won’t be voting. That those of us who are candidates have no chance to buck the status quo, and that those of us who are voters are too sleepy and cannot be roused to care.
It is a mistake to buy into these stereotypes. If you take a look at the Latina respondents in this week’s story, “Dear mayoral candidates, we have questions,” all of them — Millennial, Gen X and Baby Boomer — are forthcoming with good, thoughtful and considered questions they hope to have answered. As we’ve said many times since coining it as a slogan, our community is, and deserves to be, informed and engaged. And unapologetic about our place in the past, present and future of this city we call home.