NEW YORK – The most interesting development
out of this weekend's Nevada caucus votes had little to do with Hillary
Clinton winning a large percentage of the Latino vote – that was
predictable. More fascinating was the sudden and exponential surge in
the number of experts in Latino politics.
It was tragicomic to watch non-Spanish speaking pundits explain the ‘reality’ of
the Nevada vote while standing in the artificial light of the casinos during
one of the first caucus meetings held entirely in Spanish. Reporters had to wait
for translators to tell them what campaign workers were saying before they could
report it to us. Understanding the electoral needs of casino, hotel, restaurant
and other workers who labor in a new economy – and require new hours for
voting – proved very difficult for many in the media to understand.
It was no less difficult having to watch the white, and some African American,
political commentators on MSNBC, CNN and other networks tell us that the Latino
vote for Clinton reflected “Black-Latino tensions.” The New York
Times newspaper had earlier echoed these observations in a story that
caused frustration in the Latino blogosphere. In a recent issue of The New
Yorker, a publication that has no Latino editorial staff and publishes very
few stories a year about the country's 46 million Latinos, the magazine showed
off its newfound expertise in a story which
detailed how Latinos are Clinton's electoral "firewall," thanks to the "lingering
tensions between the Hispanic and black communities." It’s hard to know
how they know this when only one serious polling organization in the country
conducts polls in a language other than English.
Yet everybody, it seems, has something to say about Latino politics. Everybody
that is, except Latinos.
The awkwardness and simplicity seen and heard in the coverage of the Latino electorate
illustrates how ill-equipped the news organizations, the political parties and
the society as a whole are to understand and deal with the historic political
shift previewed in Nevada: the death of the black-white electorate. Simplistic
talk about the Latino vote provides another example of how we live when the ‘experts’ and
their organizations are increasingly out of touch with the dynamism and complexity
of the electorate and the general populace.
As a result, the growth of the very diverse Latino electorate will likely force
the revelation of more inconvenient truths. Principle among them is the media’s
conclusion that anti-black racism among Latinos explains why they voted Clinton
and not Obama in Nevada. Story after story tries to fit the Latino vote into
the procrustean bed of old-school, black v. white politics.
Typical of these conclusions are statements by the liberal New Republic's John
Judis. He explained Latino support for Clinton this way: "Latino immigrants
hold negative stereotypical views of blacks and feel that they have more in common
with whites than with blacks." Judis backed his claims with a modicum of academic
seriousness as he quoted "experts" like Duke University political scientist Paula
D. McClain. McClain told me in an interview that she neither speaks Spanish nor
watches the primary source of Latino news and political information, saying: "I
don't watch Univision." Quoting her makes little practical sense.
It only makes sense when we consider how ever-expanding Latino power in Nevada
and across the country is pushing up against people's fraying sense of nationhood
and citizenship. Latino citizens and voters, not undocumented immigrants, are
the targets of many liberals. These liberals long for the simpler days of a black-white
electorate, a less-globalized country. Like Clinton, Obama and all Republican
candidates, they support the political and racial equivalents of the anti-immigrant,
anti-Latino border wall.
So instead of considering that Latinos reflect the new complexities of our political
age, we should, experts tell us, simply swallow the black-white political logic
of the previous era, like the half-moon cookies our grandmothers made. Ignore
whatever you think of the Clintons - they have more than 15 years of relationships,
name-recognition and history in the Latino electorate. Outside of Chicago, Obama
has less than two years. Never mind that Latinos may still be wondering about
why Obama did not, until recently, secure the support of most black voters. Never
mind about the political amnesia about how the country's last black candidate
of national stature – Jesse Jackson- defied the prevailing racial logic
during the Presidential primaries of 1988, when his Rainbow Coalition secured
almost 50 percent of the Latino vote in Latino-heavy New Mexico counties like
Santa Fe and San Miguel and 36 percent of the Latino vote in the largest Latino
state in the country: California.
The Latino experience of the right-of-center Clintons and the left-of-center
Jackson, who the Illinois senator did not ask to campaign for him, raises questions
about Mr. Obama's political operation and his political agenda. Time will tell
us what was behind the Latino support for Clinton in Nevada. And who knows, maybe
the experts telling us about Obama, Clinton and other candidates' fortunes in
upcoming primaries will do so without the black and white lens that has proven
obsolete in the face of a new country.
Roberto Lovato is a contributing Associate Editor
with New America Media. He is also a frequent contributor to The Nation and his work
has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Salon,
Der Spiegel, Utne Magazine, La Opinion, and other national and
international media outlets. Prior to becoming a writer, Roberto
was the Executive Director of the Central American Resource Center
(CARECEN), then the country’s
largest immigrant rights organization. Click
here to contact him or via his Of Américablog.
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Vernellia Randall. All Rights Reserved
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