By Mason Krohn
Every year, approximately 900,000 Hispanics born in America reach voting age and America’s Hispanic population is forecasted to double by 2050. As a result, politicians across the nation are pining for Hispanic votes that are increasingly a deciding factor in the results of elections. Take, for instance, Scott Fistler, an Arizonan who ran for office as a Republican in Arizona’s Seventh Congressional District in 2012. After losing two campaigns, Fistler became a Democrat and renamed himself to Cesar Chavez (a Mexican-American labor rights activist), in the hopes of appealing to his district’s numerous Hispanic voters. In an interview with Arizona Republic, Chavez claimed, “People want a name that they can feel comfortable with.” Thankfully, Chavez lost in the race against two candidates, one of which marched for farmworker rights in the 1970s alongside the actual Cesar Chavez. Yet, Arizona’s tasteless candidate is not the only politician who gave Latino voters ill-suited hispandering, which linguist Ben Zimmer defines as, “political pandering by elected officials or candidates seeking to win over Hispanic voters,” in place of actual promises for change. Both candidates in the 2016 election attempted to use artificial gimmicks in order to relate to Hispanic audiences while ignoring the real issues affecting this prominent American minority group.
Hillary Clinton’s most blaring offense was an article her campaign team released entitled, “7 Ways Hillary Clinton Is Just Like Your Abuela.” The list included “She reacts this way when people le faltan el respeto” (lack respect) with a gif attached of Clinton looking unimpressed during her congressional testimony about Benghazi. Of course, Clinton’s campaign team was naive to believe that this list could capture the experience of every Latino-American’s relation with their abuela. Shortly after receiving criticism, the campaign team renamed the list to “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela” and today the article is no longer on her website. But, the damage was already done, and Twitter erupted with #NotMyAbuela in tweets like “My Abuela came to this country with a 6th grade education and worked in favorites for 50 something cents to a Man's dollar” as well as “[Hillary] is ... #NotMyAbuela because I was separated by mine by many miles, and a militarized border.” At the end of the day, Clinton was out of touch to claim that, as a privileged white woman, her experience was equal to the struggle of abuelas in America. Perhaps the better call would have been for Clinton to publish more articles about the benefits of her immigration reform plans.
Behind Clinton’s staffers’ mistake, though, was a larger choice that influenced her campaign as a whole: the selection of Tim Kaine as running mate. Immediately after Clinton chose Kaine as her hopeful vice president, her campaign touted his fluency in Spanish through his introduction as her running mate to a crowd in Miami and an interview with Telemundo, all in the language he learned as a missionary in Honduras. However, since Clinton weighed Kaine’s linguistic skills as a factor placing him over potential Latino running mates like Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, it calls into question whether Kaine's proficiency in communication and work in Honduras qualifies him as a sufficient representative of the issues Latinos face. Chuck Rocha, the former senior adviser for Bernie Sanders (who many voters affectionately called “Tío Bernie”) and a third-generation Mexican-American, commented, “I was looking for a VP choice that showed my son that one day he could be president — not that he needs to work on his Spanish.” A poll by the Spanish-speaking network Univision supports Rocha’s view by finding that 68% of Hispanic voters say that the fact that a candidate might speak Spanish fluently will not influence their vote. In addition, many Latinos do not speak Spanish today as bilingualism fades into English for third or fourth generation citizens. The Pew Research Center found that 87 percent of U.S. born Latinos and 81 percent of registered voters believe the ability to speak Spanish is "not necessary to be considered Latino." All in all, Clinton misread the desires of Hispanic voters in regards to her running mate for the 2016 election.
Unlike Clinton’s occasional slip-ups in relating to Hispanic voters, current president Donald Trump distinctly alienated these voters with offensive Hispandering throughout his campaign. The prime example of Trump’s problematic message to Hispanic voters was his tweet on May 5, 2016 proclaiming, “Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!” After Trump posted the insensitive message alongside a picture of him smirking with his imitation of Hispanic cuisine, it became clear that Hispanics in no way loved him. The first clear issue is that not all Hispanics celebrate Cinco de Mayo, only Mexicans celebrating a victory in the Second French Intervention in Mexico, meaning 36.7 percent of Hispanics in the United States #cantrelate. Ironically, in 2017, Trump cancelled the annual White House Cinco de Mayo celebration, a 16-years-running tradition that Obama used to connect with members of the Hispanic community including Cabinet members, Latino celebrities and Mexican Embassy officials. Instead, he let Mike Pence hold a private event elsewhere with a limited guest list. Second, taco bowls are not authentic Mexican food, adding to the list of evidence that establishes Trump’s tweet as tone-deaf. Never mind the fact that, at the time, taco bowls were not served at the Trump Tower Grill and food critics considered the dish “passable at best, mediocre at worst.” Given the level of falsity and hypocrisy in Trump’s tweet, it raises the question whether Trump knew his post would actually garner backlash. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager and current suspect in the Russia investigation, reportedly warned Trump that the tweet may come off as condescending, nevertheless he failed to heed Manafort’s advice, and later insisted, “the people who were offended were people we wanted to offend.” Therefore, it appears that Trump utilized the tweet to distance America’s Hispanic population in order to closer align himself with his white voters. He hoped to stir the pot and anger Americans who clearly were not part of his voter base (he only gained 28% of the Latino vote). Furthermore, it would be close to impossible to persuade Hispanics already offended by his declaration of Mexicans as rapists and criminals, his forceful removal of Mexican-American journalist Jorge Ramos from a press conference (followed by him shouting “Go back to Univision”), and his claim that a Mexican-American judge should not rule on a lawsuit against him because of his race. In many ways, Trump behaved far worse than Clinton because he purposely belittled a part of the American population in order to gain closer ties with people that disrespect them.
On the other hand, because of Trump’s adoption of a confused definition of pandering, he has propagated discrimination. When asked about who the Trump campaign might choose for vice president, Manafort explained, “The campaign probably won’t choose a woman or a member of a minority group. In fact, that would be viewed as pandering, I think.” Thus, the Trump campaign promised a white male as their running mate, recruiting from just 31 percent of the American population, and that was what we got. Given that Manafort left his role in Trump’s campaign a month after VP selection, he stuck to his statement and influenced today’s leadership in the Executive Branch by excluding minority Americans in favor of a homophobe. What Trump and Manafort did not understand is that representation is not pandering. Having more minority members in office is exactly what disenfranchised Americans need, not pictures of taco bowls nor inauthentically parading a Colombian woman across a stage. In 2020, Trump might regret his marginalization of Latino voters and his failure to properly embrace minorities in his campaign, but in the meantime, America is left with a president that shoots paper towels at victims of Hurricane Maria.
In 2016, Hispanics deserved better. Hispanic-Americans account for 17% of our nation’s population and have a combined purchasing power equivalent to the 16th largest country, but they still face severe inequality in America. The median wealth of Hispanic households is 8 times smaller than that of white ones and 16.9% of Hispanics remain uninsured (more than twice the white uninsured rate). For undocumented Latinos, life is even worse. According to the Pew Research Center, 47% of Hispanic adults, regardless of their immigration status, say they worry “a lot” or “some” about deportation. The lack of resolution on the White House’s repeal on DACA provides even more fear for families that could be split apart. While Washington politicians attempt to sway Hispanic voters with inauthentic lists of comparison to their abuelas, Spanish-speaking running mates, taco bowls, and legal name changes to Cesar Chavez, they have yet to substantially deliver on the issues hurting Latinos in the United States. With a new year brings new elections, so in 2018, we will see if candidates will actually communicate with Hispanic voters or utilize the familiar meaningless tactics of 2016.