American politicians have a Latino problem. And it isn't the stereotypical immigrant patting tortillas, singing corridos in Spanish or sneaking across the border.
Their problem is the Hispanic U.S. citizen -- more likely than not to be assimilated, English-speaking and preoccupied with issues that have nothing to do with their ethnicity. Latinos make up a rapidly growing demographic group, and voting bloc, yet Democrats and Republicans alike fail to grasp their concerns and aspirations. Instead, candidates view them almost exclusively through the prism of immigration, especially illegal immigration.
As a result, Latino citizens often feel invisible.
A little math reveals why. According to
However, only 21 million Latinos are eligible to vote, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. And, even though their votes could be crucial to win in 12 of the 15 swing states, only 12 million are expected to vote in the upcoming presidential election, according to the bipartisan
Immigration is not a pressing concern for Latino citizens. According to a Pew poll, the top 2012 election issues among Latino registered voters were jobs, education, health care, taxes and the federal budget deficit. Immigration was last.
So, here's a helpful tip for politicians: The typical Latino voter bears little resemblence to the images you conjure. Quit yammering about illegal immigrants.
Courting voters is a lot like dating. Successful politicians will play to how their constituents like to see themselves. They will use words and images that show that they recognize voters' most deeply held beliefs, even aspects they might not articulate.
If you're a politician who wants to appeal to Hispanic voters (and you should), what should you be talking about?
The recession hit Hispanic families harder than it did other racial groups. What these families want to hear is how you are going to put America back to work and safeguard its economic stability. They want to hear what you will do to make their schools better, so their children can raise the family's economic prospects, as previous generations did. You might mention that a prosperous and well-educated Latino demographic is imperative for the nation's future, simply considering its burgeoning size.
You know, let them know they matter.
Why has this not sunk in with the political class? For Republican candidates, two explanations suggest themselves: Either they don't know much about Latinos, or they deem it a more profitable politically to demonize Latinos.
Democrats like to tout their more enlightened stand on immigration, but in doing so, they simply reinforce illegal immigration as a political issue.
The truth is, the backlash against new immigrants finds an echo within the community they hope to join: Latino Americans already on the road to assimilation. Mexican-Americans aren't the first ethnic group to look askance at more recent immigrants from the mother country. It has happened with every wave of immigrants, from the Irish and Germans to the Poles to the Vietnamese.
Some of the nastiest comments about illegal immigrants sometimes come from the mouths of Hispanics. They rarely do it on camera, but they do it. Yet their discontent isn't hateful enough to buy into the crazy rhetoric of some anti-immigrant candidates. They know better. They just find it convenient or emotionally more palatable to forget their own family histories.
Immigration is an important political issue. U.S. immigration policy has failed at many levels, and the next president, whoever he may be, must address it.
But if candidates want to "capture" the Latino vote, they'd best shut up about illegal immigrants and start talking to the rest of us.
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Latino Voters to Candidates: What Are We, Chopped Chorizo? | Politics
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