A primer on Latinx political culture in the United States

A primer on Latinx political culture in the United States

The other night, our own glddraco posted a tweet detailing the GOP’s problems with Americans who are non-Anglo.

To which our very own ekitty responded:

I'm surprised that it's only 62% of Latinos, considering the endless racism Trump and Trumpers and GOPers have thrown in their direction.

To which Dr. Robert Ellis then rejoined:

My understanding of LatinX cultural mores and dynamics is that they are variable and complicated. For example, there are aspects that sometimes demonstrate very conservative views about things like men's and women's "places" in society (machismo culture), religion, heritage, and LGBTQIA+ persons and identity.

I'd welcome the thoughts and perspectives of those who have better knowledge than I do, and apologize if I'm wrong.

These are all very salient points and comments. So, as moderator, writer, and resident guahiro, I will venture to give a quick primer on the difficulty of pinning down Latinx people politically.

Now, 62% of any grouping being unified in a political manner is pretty good. But it’s not monolithic, as compared to the African-American and Asian-American communities, which support Democrats more deeply.

Latinx isn’t a race. Latinx is barely even a culture. And Latinx applies only to the US; if you were to go to Argentina and ask about Latinx culture, you’d be laughed at.

Latino/a is an appellation applied to a group of people for which there is no easy identifier. African-Americans share a history and culture. To a lesser degree, so do Asian-Americans, if only as the target of anti-Asian sentiment. (Of course, ask a Nissei if she wants to be lumped in with someone descended from Hong Kong.)

The same cannot, and should not, be said of Latinos. (I’m dispensing with “Latinx”, with which I have a whole other slew of problems.)

I will give you an example from my past.

As a freshman at UCLA, I sought to meet new people. So, being Cuban, I joined the UCLA Cuban club. I attended one meeting—I’m not much of a joiner—and what was said there perfectly encapsulates my point. The president of the club said that we wouldn’t join in programs with the main Mexican-American organization, Mecha, because of political and cultural differences.

What? You mean there’s a difference between Mexican-Americans and Cuban-Americans?

Oh yes, grasshopper, there is. And moreover, there are differences within those communities as well.

Non-Spanish speaking America, because it needs to codify and simplify complex cultural constructs, has placed on people descended from, or from, Cuba, Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Puerto Rico, etc., one blanket term. On the census form, we’re “Hispanic”. In the culture, we’re “Latino/a”. But a Cuban who immigrated to the US after the Bay of Pigs is a different creature than a Mexican who stayed after the brasero program ended. Politically, culturally, economically, we’re different. Cubans are more likely to be Republicans, at least from my parents’ generation. Mexicans are more likely to be Democrats. But these are not monolithic statements.

Spanish-speaking America—because even “Latin America” is an imposed construct—has the same diversity of politics, culture, and religion that the United States has. South American history is replete with swings from socialism or social democracy to authoritarian military juntas. Argentina went from a quasi-socialist in Christina Fernandez de Kirchner to a Chicago School conservative in Mauricio Macri. Thinking that these divisions wouldn’t be replicated in immigrant communities in the US betrays a lack of knowledge.

And, of course, there’s our favorite bugaboo: racism. Any cursory look at Latin American history shows that racism, though maybe not as virulent in the US, is still a motive force. Cuba, Bolivia, and Mexico are just three examples where dominant white cultures used racist tropes to maintain power against more numerous communities of color. Again, those divisions are repeated in the US.

However, by being labeled “Latino”, the Spanish-speaking community in the US is achieving a sort of unity. Most American xenophobes wouldn’t care if a Latino looked white like me or had dark skin. The Spanish surname and the appearance are all that matter. As xenophobia takes hold among a white America which is losing power, Latinos are learning Benjamin Franklin’s dictum about hanging together or hanging separately. So although different Spanish-speaking communities are, well, different, the blast of xenophobia is serving to unify them.

But because Spanish-speaking communities have a history which predates the settlement of North America by the English, we will never be as “monolithic” as the African American community. There will always be a significant minority within our communities which will align with the current power structure. This might change as these power structures are reworked; but there will always be a significant segment among our communities which won’t subscribe to “progressive” nostrums.

No one should be surprised that 38% of Latinos vote for the GOP. Our communities are as diverse as they country in which they live.

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Only those willing to sacrifice it deserve great power. That's why I'm on #TeamPelosi.

Only those willing to sacrifice it deserve great power. That's why I'm on #TeamPelosi.