LatinaLista — There has been an inordinate amount of press lately trying to distinguish the difference between when is a Hispanic a Hispanic or a Latino.
To add our two cents, it boils down to personal preference.
Yet, there is a far more interesting trend arising among Latinos (personal preference) which is only accelerating a debate beginning to form in communities as more and more Latinos enter public office — Is it right for Latino candidates to appeal to Hispanic voters using their ethnicity?
The question has never really been a big problem in the past since there were so few Latinos running for political office. Those who did run were pretty much in sync with their local communities. In other words, they shared the same political beliefs and cultures.
And for the most part, those local communities were largely homogenous — Cuban Americans in South Florida, Puerto Ricans in New York, Mexican Americans in the Southwest, west coast, etc.
Yet, because of assimilation and Hispanic population growth, Latino groups are really starting to integrate in numbers never before seen.
We know this from what we’re seeing happening in counties across the country.
According to Pew Hispanic, from 2000-2007 in Camden County, North Carolina, there was a 241 percent growth rate in the Hispanic population.
In Palm Beach County, Florida, there was a 56 percent growth rate in the local Latino population and in Broward County, Florida a 52 percent growth rate.
It is more obvious in Florida, than in other parts of the country, of the integration of different Latino groups that is evolving on a national scale. It’s reported that the Cubans’ share of the Hispanic electorate has shrunk from 75 percent in 2000 to 58 percent in 2008.
What does this mean?
It means that not all these Latino subgroups share the same political beliefs or even the same party and electing a Latino candidate, from an integrated area, to public office doesn’t mean that person will necessarily represent the political beliefs of all the Latinos in her/his region.
For example, in Miami, former Florida State Representative Marco Rubio is running for the 2010 State Senate. Rubio who is Cuban American and fully bilingual would appear to represent the voice of Latino constituents. He may but certainly not all of them.
Rubio supports making English the official language of the United States — while he campaigns in Spanish. Of course, it’s hypocritical of Rubio to do so but he knows to reach voters who most identify with him that he has to speak the language they most like to use, which in that part of Florida is Spanish.
Rubio has been accused by critics of hoping “to appeal to Florida’s Hispanic voters simply because he is Hispanic” and it would appear that way. Otherwise, why not campaign in English and English only if he feels English should be the official language of the country?
Rubio’s underscores an accusation long hurled at the Latino community — that we tend to vote for candidates on the roster based less on qualifications and more on whether or not they share our culture.
With so many Latino subgroups integrated into the same communities and more Latinos running for political office, that accusation will be increasingly harder to make because as time goes on there will be more of a choice among Latino candidates which will necessitate the need to look beyond ethnicity and actually determine what kind of Latino/a he/she is.