Monday, June 23, 2008

Hispanics and Obama

Bloguera's headline "Latino artists who can't vote support Obama" raises one obvious issue with regard to the Hispanic vote -- while nearly 15 percent of the U.S. population is Hispanic, we make up only 8 percent of eligible voters -- but not the much touchier question of whether the browns will vote for a black (which Hillary Clinton answered "no").

Logic would suggest that la güera Clinton is wrong, as I have argued. The spunky Bloguera, however, did point to a fact worth underlining: Hispanics are not all alike.

Clinton won a majority of Hispanic votes in Texas and trounced Obama in Puerto Rico. Yet there you have a video of Hispanic artists who sing praises of Obama.

How to explain this?

First, Clinton and her husband had good advice and years of building bridges into the Hispanic community thanks to that advice. However, some of that bridge building was largely symbolic and opportunistic.

I will never forget the stupid dog trick of a Clinton White House adviser who tried to wow a group of Hispanic journalists by having his pager buzz so he could excuse himself at about quitting time by saying he had to go to the Oval Office. The contempt had been visible from the first moment.

Secondly, the Hispanics who vote are largely union members. We do know that the union leaders on the ground went all out for Hillary, despite her husband's North American Free Trade Agreement betrayal. (Is it any wonder that AFL-CIO unions are shrinking?)

OK, so you knew this.

Thirdly, and what we do not often admit, despite Virgilio Elizondo's multiracial, multicultural theology of mestizaje (or blending or races), is that, yes, Virginia, some Hispanics are racist.

For example, I will never forget the embarrassing Cuban minstrel show to which I was treated in the presence of a Cuban-born bishop whom I was visiting in Miami. This was not in the Al Jolson era but in the 1980s, when the very white Cuban exiles looked down their noses at the darker, more newly arrived Marielitos -- to say nothing of their disregard for the Negros of the Liberty City slum.

In my parents' country of origin, Argentina, I heard university professors joke about how they trimmed points off the score of certain students' work, merely because they were Jewish.

Sotto voce, some of the darkest Dominicans in new York City still have hatred for anyone of African origin, due to the 19th century invasion of their country by the first black-ruled nation in the world, Haiti, which shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic.

Are these obstacles insurmountable for Obama insofar as the Hispanic vote? Why should he care?

Like Hillary, Obama will learn, sooner or later, that there are differing Hispanic constituencies. He probably won't win the Cubans, but he can probably win the Mexican-American vote and the Neorican.

Some of the Hillary connections can be transferred through the party. Certainly, the unions, are unlikely to oppose the anointed Democratic nominee and likely to see common cause in someone who as recently as last spring was defending the notion of an accelerated union certification process in the halls of the Senate.

As for the racists, they're not really American in the finest tradition of America, and they are not the majority by a long shot. The majority of Hispanics have good reason to see common cause with the son of an immigrant than with someone who courts the border-wall party.

The question that remains open, to my lights, is whether the Hispanic vote will matter. Those in the business of promoting Hispanics have been crowing that this vote is "pivotal" since 1980 -- to little discernible effect.

Hispanics make up 8 percent of all U.S. voters. However, if their turnout follows the pattern of past elections some studies estimate that they will make up only about 6.5 percent of those who actually vote next November.

Of course, Hispanics are not distributed evenly and made up more than a tenth of the electorate in the past primary season only in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Texas.
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