Opinion » Viewpoint

Losing the Latinos: The President’s Failed Strategy

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The national media has reported recently (and erroneously) that Latino support for Joe Biden is flagging. These reports note that Hillary Clinton, in October 2016, held wider margins of support with Latino voters across the nation.

First, "Latino" is a strange term and fails to adequately capture the vastness and diversity of the Hispanic/Latino/Latinx communities living in this nation. "Latino" creates the appearance of a monolithic culture, when in reality people descended from Puerto Rico are called Americans or Puerto Ricans. Mexicans living here are more accurately Mexicans or Mexican-Americans. People from Brazil are "Brazilian"; labeling them as Hispanic is historically and culturally inaccurate, as Spain (for the vast majority of Brazilians) has nothing to do with their identity.

Losing the Latinos? - WHITEHOUSE.GOV
  • whitehouse.gov
  • Losing the Latinos?

Latino historical assimilation here in the USA is equally complicated. In Memphis, our Latinx community is relatively young (largely dating back to the early 1990s) and has evolved from a community mainly comprised of Mexican immigrants to one that increasingly draws from throughout Central America.

The community here is younger demographically and poorer economically than the more established Cuban community in Miami. That community grew in direct proportion to the Cuban Revolution; the Miami community is relatively wealthy, virulently anti-communist, and politically powerful in the state. Miami Cubans, with a 60-year foothold in South Florida, tend to vote conservatively, but their children and grandchildren see the world beyond Cuba, which sits a mere 150 miles off their southern shore.

These differences are critical, yet largely ignored when the media covers the Latino community. For example, a recent poll suggests that Hillary Clinton was about nine percentage points ahead of candidate Trump four years ago (late in the campaign) with the Latino vote compared to where Joe Biden is now. That figure is misleading and mostly meaningless as race/culture in the Latino community is too complicated to categorize (or poll) as a single entity.

The groups comprising the Latino community have not shared a common unifying event or struggle like the African-American community to warrant polling the community as a single group. That could change, however, as the absolute horror bestowed on our Latino brothers and sisters (and children) by the Trump administration may bring this divergent vote together.

Trump's actions include the following efforts: First, the deliberate policy, organized in the White House and executed through DOJ, of separating parents from children at our southern border and placing children (literally) in cages should serve to unite not only the Latino community against Trump but anyone with a soul.

Second, Trump's "Puerto Rican Paper Towel Toss" and his abandonment of aid to the island after Hurricane Maria in 2017; third, his early reference to Haiti and El Salvador as "shithole countries." Fourth, "the beautiful wall" that was never funded and only haphazardly built. Lastly, the Trump administration, certainly in violation of the law, has unilaterally changed the arc of our immigration system so that we now essentially deny asylum-seekers the opportunity to plead their case before an American judge.

This utter assault on core, fundamental, and established American values may serve as the impetus to mobilize the Latino vote. We can't pretend to understand why, given the realities presented above, Latinos would support the president. Yet millions within the Latino categorization align with the Republican Party, and most Republicans continue championing the president heading into next month's election.

Here in Memphis, and in the nation writ large, both the health and economic disparities laid bare and exacerbated by the pandemic have highlighted the Trump administration's galloping incompetence. Latinos need fewer platitudes, less paper towel showmanship, and more governmental support that translates to better employment, stronger healthcare access, and the best possible public schools that the wealthiest nation on the planet should provide.

It's not easy to understand how Latinos, in this city and in this nation, would eagerly vote for President Trump. This administration has been a catastrophe for those who view America as a nation of immigrants, as a welcoming refuge for people fleeing poverty, oppression, and political turmoil abroad. That dream endures in the American imagination, as the four-year nightmare of Trump and his policies of anger, division, and delusion ends. Soon.

Bryce Ashby is a Memphis-based attorney and the board chair of Latino Memphis. Michael LaRosa teaches history at Rhodes College.

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