Lonely Stand for Hispanic Republicans
Traitor. Sellout. Lino (Latino in name only). These are some of the epithets Latino Republicans are called by fellow Hispanics who can't imagine why any self-respecting descendant of Latin American immigrants would ever carry water for the Republican Party.
Sadly, the stereotype of the monolithic Hispanic community lives not
only in the minds of non-Latinos who are unfamiliar with the cornucopia of
Latin American countries -- and
their political histories -- to which the U.S. Hispanic community traces its
roots. It is also alive and well in the minds of Latinos who can't stomach the
idea that one of their own could be associated with a party they believe
promotes anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiments.
Of course there's no shame in upholding the conservative, family
oriented, business-friendly values held dear by the party of Lincoln and
Reagan. But outside the state of Florida, the term Latino Republican is an
oxymoron to many. Hispanics may be a growing portion of the party that in
January will boast two Latino governors, a U.S. senator and several U.S.
representatives, but they walk a cultural tightrope daily.
"I go out into the community to do outreach and people ask me, 'How
in the heck can you be a Hispanic Republican?'" said DeeDee Garcia Blase,
a Gulf War veteran and founder of the Arizona-based Somos Republicans --
"We are Republicans" -- a national organization seeking to increase
the number of Latinos voting for Republican candidates. "I explain to them
that I'm pro-life, believe in less government, and many listen but Latino
liberals are the ones who give me the hardest time. They just don't get it,
they hate me, they say, 'You're crazy.'"
Tony Hernandez, a small-business owner who last month lost his bid for a
Minnesota state Senate seat, has learned to politely defuse the sparks that
come along with being a Republican living in a part of St. Paul where his
Latino neighbors are almost all Democrats. "It's a very, very difficult
issue," he said. "I remember my cousin's second birthday, it was
probably four months into my campaign and I saw my grandpa's compadre who has
always been warm to me. He looks at me and says, 'Oh, you're the Republican
politician.' That's how it is and it can be tough, but I get defensive in a
positive way. We are the party of economic opportunity, we want people to live
independently in a free society. Some people understand that and other people
Both Blase and Hernandez say the real difficulty is in getting people to
look past the headlines and the rhetoric the Republicans have spouted about
immigrants, especially Hispanic ones. "I think the party is failing on the
message-delivery part," Hernandez said. "Overall they need to be more
sensitive. I don't like to hear our leaders call the undocumented 'illegals' or
talk about immigration issues with knee-jerk reactions or a police-type
mentality like what you're seeing in Arizona. That's not going to attract a
good, solid Latino following."
Blase, who describes herself as living at "ground zero" of the
illegal immigration debate, says she just can't stand Arizona Republican
leaders freely using terms like "wetbacks," "anchor
"It's very difficult for me. I have to remind Hispanics that the
majority of Republicans are not this way."
Ruben D. Sanchez Jr., a Chicago flight attendant and self-described
triple-whammy -- "I'm Latino, gay and a Sarah Palin-loving tea party
Republican" -- echoed those sentiments. "There are some people in the
party who oppose illegal immigration for other than national security reasons.
They like to talk big and make a lot of noise but those people are mostly
shunned by the party," Sanchez said. "The media paints them as
representative of most Republicans instead of focusing on our commitment to
freedom of economic opportunity."
Of all the uphill battles Latino Republicans face, their biggest one may
be the GOP itself. Both Blase and Hernandez said they've so far been
discouraged or ignored by their state-level party organizations, and neither
they nor Sanchez sees any evidence that the national organization is preparing
to reach out to Latinos in any meaningful way. What a shame.
If Republicans want Latinos to help them meet their stated objective of
reclaiming the White House in 2012, they need to cultivate these passionate
advocates before their spirits are ground down by the party's indifference and
© 2010, Washington Post Writers Group