It was a frantic Tuesday with voters lining up in the early morning to cast their votes in another historic election. Media coverage lit up the screens of homes and businesses across the nation, social media crowded the internet and pundits began their analyses. By the time night had descended on this great nation, even as some votes were still being counted in Florida, the message was clear: Democrats would return their candidate to the White House for a second term. It was a bitter pill for Republicans to swallow, even Fox News had a fit of denial, as they continued to scrutinize “the numbers” and began the blame game.
Reports showed that President Barack Obama captured an astounding 71 percent of the Latino vote. That translated to a 44 percentage-point advantage over Republican challenger Mitt Romney, who won just 27 percent of the Latino vote–down from Republican shares of 31 percent in 2008, 44 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in 2000. President Obama also picked up 93% of the African American vote and 73% of the Asian American vote.
The message was clear. Not only do the political parties need to wake up to the changing demographics of our nation, but the nature of the American discourse on immigration must change. Winning the Latino vote requires consideration of tone, respect, and connection with the community. Republicans were able to attract Latino voters in the 2004 Presidential election because they showed with their language and tone that they had respect for the Latino community.
Not so in 2012. Latinos were treated to an onslaught of poisonous and dehumanizing anti-immigrant rhetoric by the Republican candidates; from their incessant use of the racially charged slurs like “illegals” to their standard bearer’s opposition to the DREAM Act and support for the inhumane policy of “self-deportation.”
Nor was the hateful rhetoric limited to the presidential debates. Congressional Republican candidates, like Steve King, added to the fervor by categorizing immigrants as “animals” and then added insult to injury by claiming he meant his words as a compliment to Latinos and the immigrant community.
In this politically hostile climate Latinos were subject to racial profiling in several states and a rise in hate crimes in their communities. The effect on Latinos was perhaps best summarized by a Puerto Rican voter inFloridawho answered when asked by a reporter why he voted for President Obama, “Don’t the Republicans know we are listening?”
As the comedic genius, Rodney Dangerfield, repeated throughout his career, we “just don’t get any respect.” Human nature requires respect as a starting point for any meaningful communication or relationship. The disrespect exhibited by the anti-immigrant voice in this election cycle was obvious and clear. No party can expect political support when there is no basic human respect. If the message of hate is directed at me, why should I support you?
Political candidates need to understand that dehumanizing the undocumented immigrant population is also offensive to against those who immigrated but are now citizens with the power of the vote. Simply stated, if you attack the undocumented immigrant population, you inherently attack the documented immigrant’s sister, brother, parents, uncle, aunt, cousin, boyfriend, girlfriend and family. Statements like, “we support legal immigration, but not illegal immigration,” do not effectively distinguish between legal or non-legal family members or mixed status families. Latinos do not tell their family members, “We support and love legal family members, but not undocumented ones.” This runs to the core of the Latino Community.
Nor is it enough to simply learn “Latino Speak,” as suggested by Republican strategist Karl Rove. Understanding Latinos necessarily involves connecting with our community. That means making sincere efforts to incorporate and interact with the fastest growing minority group in the United States. Embracing Latino political candidates is a start, but not an end in and of itself. Understanding, believing and advocating for issues that are important to the Latino community is certainly the right road to travel. These issues are not Democratic or Republican. They are American.
Political candidates need to come to terms with the awakening of a political sleeping giant. Thanks to all the dehumanizing attacks against the immigrant population, this voting population has been rudely awakened, and it will never go back into hibernation. Latinos have decided to stand up and say in a loud and clear voice “enough is enough! We will no longer be ignored and we will be counted.”
Political parties who alienate the Latino Community do so at their peril. This likely explains conservative political pundit Sean Hannity’s new found and “evolving” support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
Latinos seek a serious and robust debate about all issues of concern to their community and to America as a whole—including comprehensive immigration reform. But the discussion must be respectful in tone and founded upon a sincere desire to connect with our community.
In the words of Aretha Franklin, political parties need to have a little “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Tone, respect, and connection come before political support.
Who will take it up? ¿Quien dice yo? We are listening…
Written by Victor Nieblas Pradis and Annaluisa Padilla