As a result, we aren’t seen as part of the national fabric. President Trump made this clear when he asked one of his supporters at a campaign rally in New Mexico, “Who do you like more — the country or the Hispanics?” as though these were incompatible.
Of course, campaigns have limited resources, so they spend strategically. What I have in mind, though, wouldn’t cost a penny. Instead of talking to American voters as representatives of distinct groups of dairy farmers, autoworkers or suburban housewives — who, by the way, are also Latinas and Latinos — candidates should work to stitch our communities together, making all Americans feel invested in the lives of others.
The idea goes contrary to Latino political strategists, who say that candidates should segment and micro-target Latino voters — Cubans, Venezuelans and Puerto Ricans in Florida, or Mexicans in Arizona, for example — with advertisements that feature familiar accents, cultural icons and issues specific to individual national groups.
This approach demonstrates a campaign’s implicit understanding of Latino diversity, but it’s overly simplistic. Even as we articulate our respective national identities, we increasingly see ourselves as members of a pan-ethnic Latino community, who are also representatives of our particular national groups. These two identities are not mutually exclusive.
Vicki Ruiz, as president of the Organization of American Historians, called for a rethinking of how we talk to and about Latinos more than a decade ago, when she argued that Latino history is the history of the United States. It may seem like a pie-in-the-sky idea that candidates would engage and sustain relationships with Latinos everywhere, even in swing states where they don’t represent a large slice of the electorate.
This moment seems ripe for such a fundamental rethinking. It should be possible for a candidate to acknowledge that a Mexican-American garment worker in Los Angeles may have different concerns than a Mexican-American business owner in Chicago, while also addressing them as part of the same national community.
Politicians reckon with shifting demographic realities by following new voters wherever they may be, but when it comes to Latinos they also need to think beyond elections, and beyond the strategic importance of Hispanic Heritage Month itself. When they see us as more than voters, we may give them our votes.