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Siempre ha existido latinos republicanos, ¿realmente entendemos su voto? Photo: NBC News.
There have always been Latinx Republicans, but do we really understand their vote? Photo: NBC News.

Democrats vs. Republicans: Latinx are not electoral chess pieces

Conservative or liberal by "nature," politicians of one sign or another have treated Latinos as a single bloc. But the Hispanic vote is very diverse.

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For decades, it has been said that Latinos would be a centerpiece of elections, but it has not been until now, as Generation Z comesof age, that they have "visibly" turned the balance in traditionally Republican states, such as Arizona. 

However, are they the sleeping giant that just woke up? What role have Latinx voters played in the history of the American political system?

According to Northwest University History Professor Gerardo Cadava, author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, From Nixon to Trump, the Latinx vote became more important after World War II because many Hispanics participated in it and wanted to take part in the future of the country.

"Many more Latinos went to college, bought homes and also started voting and becoming politically active," Cadava said in an interview with NPR.

He added to that is the rapid growth of the Latino population in states like Texas, Arizona, Florida or California, which became essential during the elections, also played a big role and drove the fight for civil rights. 

They became so prominent that, according to the professor, even Time dedicated a cover to what they predicted would be "the decade of the Hispanics" in the 80s, thinking the so-called Sleeping Giant that was about to wake up. And the argument, as we've seen, came back to haunt these elections.

"It's kind of surprising to me that every four years there's this idea that Latinos are about to come out of their shell and really determine the elections; it's like experts and politicians rediscover them every four years," the professor said.

Although for Cadava, the image of the "sleeping giant" has some negative stereotype, since historically Hispanics, especially Mexicans, have been represented as people who doze off drinking tequila. But the fact that every 30 seconds, a Latinx is eligible to vote in the country and they are the largest minority and second-largest group of voters that keeps growing, accentuates the idea of a collective with immense political power. But it has not reached its full potential. 

"We are not reaching our full potential because we are not registering to vote in numbers as high as other groups," said Cadava.

Essential in history

This is not the first time that Latinx voters have played a major role in an election. In 1964, during the contest between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Carter won in Texas because of the Mexican American vote. It also happened in the 2000 election in Florida, when George W. Bush took the ruined his chances for refusing, along with his brother Jeb, the state governor, to return Elián González to Cuba.

"That really galvanized Cuban-American support for Bush," said Professor Cadava. 

But even in 2012, Latino support for Obama in swing states like New Mexico or Colorado was argued to be part of his success. 

"Reagan is probably the most famous example of someone who tried to argue that Latinos are conservative by nature."

But there is still a sense that the political potential of the Latino electorate must go a step further, especially since their historic "electoral apathy," which many have spoken of. It has to do with feeling alienated from the policies of different parties and not finding a candidate who will really take them into account.

It's something that accentuates the fact that the visibility of Hispanics is not the same in all territories, especially at election time: 

"When we talk about elections and presidential politics, we are paying a lot of attention to Latinos in Arizona, Texas and Florida; critical battlegrounds. So Hispanics in those states are hyper-visible, while Latinos everywhere are ignored and invisible," said the expert.

Democrats vs. Republicans

One of the big surprises of this election, especially abroad, is the defeated belief that Latinos in the United States were a single bloc and almost all of them, except for Cubans, vote for Democrats.

When the reality is that there is a great diversity of political sensibilities among Hispanics, which include elements such as fear of socialism and communism, religion, or the power to choose schools. 

"They are not easily persuaded just because a politician speaks to them, they are complicated political actors," said Cadava. 

Among them, Hispanic Republicans have developed their political identity for even longer than Trump's term. According to Cadava's research, they have been sought to be naturalized as originally liberal or conservative, largely as a result of a general lack of knowledge about the collective as a political actor. 

"Latinos are not easily persuaded pawns just because a politician speaks to them, they are complicated political actors."

"Reagan is probably the most famous example of someone who tried to argue that Latinos are conservative by nature. And it was a statement he apparently gave to one of his Hispanic campaign organizers, an advertising executive named Lionel Sosa of San Antonio. Reagan told him he was going to have the easiest job in history, because Latinos were Republicans who didn't know it yet. And it was his campaign that, for the first time, tried to articulate these core values that supposedly united all conservative Latinos," he explained.

Values such as family, the hard work ethic, patriotism, sacrifice, and the free enterprise system, which are part of the discourse of groups such as Latinos for Trump, have been present in the Latino right wing since the 1980s. 

"This year, I'm always reminded of that line by Joe Biden that 'if you're Black and you support Donald Trump, you're not Black'. Democrats have had a lot of those moments when it comes to Latinos, too. In 2010, Harry Reid of Nevada said he couldn't understand how a single Hispanic could be a Republican. So I think both parties take it for granted that Latinos are naturally one way or another," he concluded.

Maybe it's time for the power of one sign and another to stop seeing the Latino community as pieces of their chessboard and really take them as a plurality of feelings and minds that are not willing to be used.

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