BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- I would like to personally thank Charlie Rose, the wonky, late-night talk show host, for saying these words on broadcast TV last week: “13 million Hispanics are expected to vote in the 2016 presidential election, but as we saw in Tuesday’s primaries, they won’t all say the same thing. Lumping Latinos into one monolithic voting bloc is one of the many myths perpetuated about them.”
Amen and hallelujah.
Rose gave that stereotype-busting introduction to a segment about the Latino Donor Collaborative, a nonprofit that is working to get an accurate portrayal of Latinos out into a media that tends to lump all Hispanics together.
It’s important that Rose made the simple declaration at the outset instead of letting one of his guests -- an esteemed lineup of Sol Trujillo, the collaborative’s founder and chairman; Aida Alvarez, the chair of the Latino Community Foundation of San Francisco; and Henry Cisneros, the 10th secretary of housing and urban development -- say it.
Actually, Trujillo, Alvarez and Cisneros have been trying to eradicate the myth of the monolithic Latino voting bloc for years -- as have I and other Latinos who even have the opportunity to speak out about the topic. But it seems that when such information comes out of the mouths of Latinos themselves, it doesn’t get much traction.
Or is it that Latinos who speak out are too often in the sad position of communicating almost exclusively with themselves -- other Hispanics -- because the media environment has gotten so fractured that the “Hispanic” news is segregated from the “mainstream”?
News websites and podcasts such as Latina Lista, NewsTaco, Pocho.com, Latino Rebels, Latino USA, Remezcla, NBC Latino and many others are well-known to Hispanic audiences but off the radars of just about everyone else.
So while Latinos themselves know that most of their population is neither immigrant, nor unlawfully present, when an expert like Cisneros goes on Rose’s show and says that only about 16 percent of the entire Hispanic population is unlawfully present -- compared to most people’s assumption’s that about half are here illegally -- one can imagine millions of non-Hispanic eyebrows ascending in surprised unison.
Let’s hope so because most non-Hispanics -- even the ones who should know better -- get this one wrong, to the great detriment of the Latino community.
For instance, Suzanne Gamboa, a senior writer at NBC.com, whose work is most prominently displayed on the Latino section of the site, recently noted how Bernie Sanders painted Latinos with too broad a brush during his concession speech in Arizona.
“There was a quote from Sanders ... where he said ‘I think Latinos want to come out of the shadows’ and I know what he meant, I know he was talking about [unlawfully present] immigrants,” said Gamboa during an episode of “In The Thick,” a Latino political podcast. “But ... I wanted to say, ‘You know what? We need to remember that not all Latinos are immigrants and not all Latinos are here illegally.’ It doesn’t help to say these kinds of things and to stereotype us over and over again that way.”
So, once more for the record: The Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project says that there are nearly 54 million Hispanics living in the U.S. and 64.8 percent of them were born here. Millions more are immigrants who reside legally.
And, again, Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc. This glint of understanding is finally starting to make the rounds.
Quartz magazine, “a digitally native news outlet ... for business people in the new global economy,” recently posted a piece that hopefully made many non-Latino light bulbs go on.
It spelled out the intricacies about how little many Latinos have in common with each other. Quartz quoted demographer Roberto Suro: “If you start with all the ways the Latino electorate can be subdivided into distinct groupings -- age, generation, origins, etc. -- and then you add the difficulties of explaining the politics of some 10 million voters with a simple label, you have to ask whether the idea of a voting bloc is really useful in a country as big and complicated -- and this year, as unpredictable -- as the United States.”
Being neatly packaged as a single voter bloc isn’t actually necessary. What Hispanics need is acknowledgment, respect and support in getting to the polls -- it’s really not rocket science.
Esther J. Cepeda is a Nationally Syndicated Columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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