I often wonder how white people see Latinos, America’s largest minority and its fastest-growing group of voters.
Do they see us the way we really are, or do they buy into the caricatures generated by media, Hollywood and the political parties? Do they think we’re all pushing grievances, playing the victim and accusing anyone who disagrees with us on immigration of being racist? Do they believe we all expect handouts, unearned benefits and special treatment – and that the main reason more than two-thirds of us are registered Democrats is because that’s the party that delivers the goods?
Those questions came to mind during a recent visit to a community college in Michigan where a Latina speaker and I discussed the worst election of our lifetimes with a mostly white audience of students, faculty and townspeople. Each of us said we’re not voting for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and we both explained how each candidate has shortchanged Latinos.
Of course, we’re not the only ones coming up short. The candidates – and, in fact, this entire election – have failed tens of millions of Americans, of all races and ethnicities.
Still, it’s worth paying particularly close attention to Latinos and trying to understand this community. After all, while we may not be getting ahead politically, we do get more than our share of attention.
You might even say that we helped shape Election 2016. Often in ways we could never have predicted and would never have wanted, we’ve made our mark by living rent-free in the head of one of the major candidates.
Latinos landed on the front page over and over again thanks to Trump, who in June of last year kicked off his presidential bid with a blanket indictment of Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists. Then he doubled down by ghoulishly exploiting the tragedies of Americans killed by illegal immigrants without mentioning all those Americans who are killed by other Americans.
Trump also promised to build a giant wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and stick our neighbor with the tab. From there, two months later, the GOP nominee stampeded clumsily into the legal minefield of whether to continue to grant birthright citizenship to the U.S.-born children of the undocumented, as the Constitution requires. And he also vowed, in November, to create a deportation force to remove the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the United States and cited as a model the horrific 1954 mass repatriation effort known as “Operation Wetback.”
That was followed in May of this year by Trump’s attack on U.S. District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who had the misfortune of being assigned to hear a lawsuit against Trump University; the fact that Curiel was born in Indiana didn’t stop Trump from insisting that he wouldn’t get a fair shake from “the judge, who happens to be, we believe, Mexican.” Then came August and Trump’s surprise trip to Mexico to meet with President Enrique Pena Nieto.
There was also the appetizing prediction by Marco Gutierrez – founder of a group called “Latinos for Trump” – that if the Republican lost, “you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” That was followed by the first presidential debate where Clinton zinged Trump by bringing up his bullying of Venezuelan Alicia Machado, a former Miss Universe who Trump allegedly dubbed “Miss Housekeeping.” And, just last month, during the third and final debate, Trump zeroed in on Latinos again by distilling his immigration plan down to an intention to deport “bad hombres.”
You see what I mean? This guy is a stalker. Latinos need to get a restraining order.
And yet what good is all that media attention if it doesn’t translate into those things that really matter in politics – power, influence, respect and having your concerns addressed by elected officials? Sadly, over the last year and a half, Latinos didn’t get any of those things. Now, we’re told we have to vote for a dishonest and corrupt Democrat to stop a bigoted and ill-tempered Republican. We made headlines but we didn’t make headway.
Sorry, Latinos. Thanks for participating in this horrible election. Our parting gift is a T-shirt. It reads: “Donald Trump repeatedly went to town at our expense. And all we got was this lousy choice.”
Contact Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.