As covered in part I, Latino conservatism is not an outlier or a historical aberration. Many of its features developed over the course of the early twentieth century and were, at first, fused to civil right goals. Civil rights social conservatism accepted the idea that racial and economic inequality was not the product of structural problems, but individual failings. For these middle-class mid-20th century Latinos, Anglos did not systematically exclude Latinos, nor did they make Latinos poor. Instead, Latinos kept themselves in poor economic conditions and in segregated neighborhoods because they refused to assimilate, learn English, become educated, and be industrious with their time and money. Groups like LULAC and the American GI Forum subscribed to these types of ideas for much of their histories.
The coming presidential election has brought Latinos into the spotlight. Primarily, Democratic presidential hopefuls have reached out to the community, hiring key immigration activists and political actors. Yet, it is the Republican Party that has brought forward two Latino presidential candidates, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. But how did a party known most recently for its anti-immigrant stance produce the first two Latino presidential candidates? Many have wondered about how Latinos could be conservatives or if Latino conservatism is an oxymoron. United Farm Worker Union (UFW) co-founder Dolores Huerta even called them “sellouts,” a term with a long history associated with elected Latino officials. Luis Valdez, founder of Teatro Campesino, a Chicano theater troupe associated with the UFW, wrote a 1967 play called “Los Vendidos” aimed at Mexican-American appointees of Ronald Reagan, who was then governor of California.
More recently, the Republican autopsy after the 2012 elections pinpointed Latino voters as key to Republican electoral success, yet Republicans in general have only doubled-down on anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric. Citizen militias, 2nd Amendment activists, and Tea Party activists supported the rhetoric of politicians that targeted Latinos and immigrants as the source of American political and social decline. Almost all on the far right, and increasingly in the mainstream, believed that immigrants were destroying American culture. And yet, Rubio and Cruz came to the fore. Does this mark the beginning of a new era of Latino conservatism or is this an anomaly?
It is probably a little of both. Latino conservatism is not an aberration. It has a long history within the Latino community in the U.S. and it continues today. Interestingly, in many moments in history it has even intersected with civil rights activism. It is important to note, that there are many types of conservatism and not all of them have strong traditions in the Latino community.
Up to this point I have enjoyed or at least been mildly entertained by Hillary Clinton’s hispandering. Part of it has to do with the fact that she has hired a cadre of creative, adept, and incredibly talented Latinas who craft her Spanish language and Latino-directed messaging. Her team all but hides Clinton’s ignorance of Latinos in their carefully crafted cloak (dare I say rebozo) of biculturalism. They turn phrases: “I am not La Hillary, but tu Hillary.” They make homages: Clinton walked onto stage to none other than the Queen of Tejano music, Selena, at an event in San Antonio. They tweet in Spanish, participating in #RetroJueves or showing how to say “Go Hillary” in various Spanish dialects. They forge iconographies: Clinton’s posters at events in Texas evoked images of Eva Perón, to an audience of U.S.-Latinos who might not be familiar with the actual historical person, but are certainly familiar with the musical, sans Madonna or with her. Her team has wrapped her in the cultural symbols of the community she desired to reach. (Sidenote: If you want to know why La Hillary is doing better with Latinos than Bernie Sanders, one reason is that Clinton hired U.S.-Latinas not just immigrant rights activists.) But today, my amusement with her pandering to the Latino community stopped.
Clinton traveled to Mountain View College in southwest Dallas, an impoverished and majority-minority area of a town most famously associated with the iconoclastically Texas stereotypes of big hair, big oil, big trucks, and big money. Yet, this part of Dallas stands apart. Dallas is 28.8% percent white, 25% African-American, and 42.4% Latino. The poverty rate is 23.8% across the city, but most of those areas are concentrated in the southern and western parts of the city—the very communities that Mountain View services. These areas are disproportionately poor and minority and MVC reflects that in its population. The student population of MVC is, 49.1% Latino, 27% African American, and 15.7% White.
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump is slated to host Saturday Night Live and Latino groups across the country have organized to protest the show. For those who want SNL to rescind the offer, Trump is the symbol of a resurgent and unapologetic nativism and racism that is directly aimed at Latinos. The show’s uneven history with diversity also points to the problematic issue of representation and white privilege. The fact that a show which refuses to acknowledge its own institutionalized racism is joining forces with a personality who is quite comfortable with his public bigotry highlights the built-in nature of racialized power in this nation. It is the institutional equivalent of the statement, “I’m not racist but…”
Trump’s appearance on SNL is not inconsequential. Comedy has, in many ways, replaced journalism as the primary institution that keeps politics honest. Today, journalists that ask difficult questions are forced out of press rooms and criticized by their peers for being “activists.” Satire like The Daily Show, Colbert Report, The Nightly Show, and Last Week Tonight have revealed nightly news shows and newsclips to be absurdist performances that operate outside of the confines of truth or policy. It is a dangerous moment when comedians are more interested in uncovering the truth and journalists are reduced to framing an unmoored “story.” What happens when our politics become performance? Trump happens.
On October 15, 2015, the last day of Hispanic Heritage Month, Hillary Clinton flew to San Antonio to receive a key endorsement from HUD secretary and rising-star in the Democratic Party, Julian Castro. Clinton played Selena’s “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and spoke Spanish, not much better than a former Democratic presidential hopeful’s wife nearly 55 years ago. Castro is probably the most prominent Latino politician in the nation, coming out of Texas with its important electoral votes and changing demography. But other than the fact that a popular Latino politician in the Obama administration endorsed “La Hillary,” why does this matter?
It is no longer surprising to find Latinos in the news. Fluctuating demographics and Republican rhetoric regularly bring attention to the fact that Latinos are part of a changing nation. It is rare, however, to find Latino newsmen as the topic of headlines. Recently, the two of the highest-profile Latino newsmen have made the news themselves—José Díaz-Balart and Jorge Ramos. Díaz-Balart’s MSNBC show, The Rundown, is set for cancellation as the network makes more room for Joe Scarborough’s Morning Joe. Ramos garnered immediate attention for his exchange with Donald Trump in Iowa, where he was forcefully removed and told to “go back to Univision.” Later, in the hallway, a Trump supporter would tell Ramos to “get out of my country.” Ramos, a U.S. citizen, tried to explain that he was in his country, but the supporter refused to acknowledge that fact.
The coverage of the exchange moved away from Ramos’ engaged insistence that politicians tackle immigration reform, toward Ramos himself. Terry Gross had Ramos on Fresh Air, where he acknowledged she would not have him as a guest if it was not for the episode. The New Yorker wrote a feature on him, calling him “The Man Who Wouldn’t Sit Down.” The altercation even garnered international attention, acclaimed Mexican journalist, Carmen Aristegui, commented that “[Ramos] is controversial and some think that he is too aggressive, but I think he is a valuable journalist.”
Hillary stands with Latinos, apparently. She wrote an op-ed declaring her solidarity with Latinas/os and she tweets in Spanish.
But, there is still a problem with Hillary’s message. Her historicity is unmoored which allows for the creation of a happier, rosier, kinder story of the nation. Instead of delving into the complicated, controversial American past, she provides an exceptionalist vision of America that is misremembered to explain why America has been great, why America is great, and why America will be great in the future. She writes:
Will we continue to be a country that is proud of our immigrant heritage? That continues to welcome the struggling, the striving, and the successful to our shores? That continues to offer unparalleled opportunities and freedoms to all? Or will we make among the biggest mistakes we could by turning our backs on the world and allowing hatred to turn into policy?
Mexico celebrated its 205th year of independence with the traditional grito. Yet, on the 16 of September 2015, some wonder whether Mexico has anything to celebrate, whether the people of the nation are independent or free. Under the current president, Ernesto Peña Nieto, politically-expedient disappearances have increased in the nation. In the case of the forty-three disappeared school teachers, multiple mass grave sites were found—none of which held the bodies of the teachers and instead brought to light the murder of so many unknown and unnamed people. Drug violence continues, political corruption is endemic, and popular political disaffection continues to spread. Political disenchantment on Independence Day is common, a day that begs for introspection and remembrance. On the same day in 1918 a Mexican journalist, suffering from the same disillusionment wrote, “the 16th of September… will be a day of pain; for the inhabitants of the biggest cities of Mexico it will be a day of desecration.” He continued, “This is not the time to sing, nor the time to give in to vain laments. We must prepare to return to our land; we will restore profaned altars; we will recover our country.”
Interestingly, the author of the article was not writing from Mexico City, or the industrial cities of the North. He was writing from San Antonio, Texas. He was part of an elite exile class living in the United States, displaced by the radicalism and violence of the Mexican Revolution. Of course, journalists and rich businessmen were not the only ones who fled to the U.S., both then and now. Millions of Mexicans made their way northward and between 1920 and 1930 the ethnic Mexican population in the U.S. grew over 100 percent.
Despite dire warnings from the Republican National Committee, a slew of Republican presidential hopefuls have veered to the right and have alienated Latino voters. In an attempt to win an aging, isolated constituency that is increasingly afraid of technological, economic, social, and demographic change, the candidates have become enamored with the idea of overturning birthright citizenship in this country.
The lesser candidates have followed front-runner Donald Trump’s nativist and xenophobic rhetoric while Floridians Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush have shown moderation, which is not surprising given their family histories. Rubio is the son of Cuban exiles and Bush’s wife was a Mexican national, which would in a very real way make Rubio and Bush’s children—including George P. Bush, Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office—anchor babies themselves. Interestingly, Jeb Bush used the term anchor baby and in a testy exchange with reporters refused to concede that the term was offensive. He pushed the media to develop a better term but ultimately concluded that “I think that people born in this country ought to be American citizens.” Rubio answered Bush’s urging to develop a better term by calling them “human beings with stories” and not just statistics.
William Deresiewicz’s incisive cover story in the August issue of Harper’s, “The Neoliberal Arts: How College Sold its Soul to the Market,” criticizes higher education for its misshapen form and circumspect goals at the beginning of the twenty-first century. According to Deresiewicz, this is the age of neoliberalism, an era and an ideology that reduces all values, skills, and thought to its monetary value. “The worth of a thing is the price of the thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of a person,” he writes.
This is not a new critique. Since the middle of the nineteenth century, capitalism has certainly produced its fair share of discontents. Marx wrote of the alienated working class reduced to nothing but the value of their labor sold on the market. Henry David Thoreau wrote of the “mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation” as the industrial revolution eliminated the singularity of homespun products and replaced them with standardization and mass production. If all products and parts were undifferentiated and interchangeable, so too were the people. Critiques of this kind would continue through the New Left and Generation X, but are limited among the millennial generation—a generation that seems to have made peace with capitalism.