I was recently taking a walk at night in a Little Havana neighborhood smoking a cigar, something I do to relax sometimes, and I started thinking about the state of Hispanics in the United States.
To start, I need to make clear that the Miami Hispanic community is different from most other Hispanic communities because Cubans form the majority. In New York there are many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. In most of the country, Mexicans and Central Americans make up the majority. By and large, Hispanics tend to be Democrats… but is this really in our best interest?
For those following this blog, I am obviously not a Democrat and I am of Cuban descent, so many might expect my opinion to be skewed to the right. I will not be so predictable.
Hispanics come from many different countries with many pronounced differences in culture and way of thinking. Some elements are universal and those are the ones I will address. First off, the Hispanic community is very family oriented, tends to be very religious (Catholic), and very proud of its heritage. Oddly enough, Republicans tend to identify themselves as defenders of traditional family values yet have been unable to attract a majority of Hispanics. Republicans also tend to regard faith as an important part of our society, including public life, something that most Hispanics would also agree with, yet liberal “we” remain.
On the issue of heritage, liberals have an advantage on conservatives with respect to this community. Liberals believe that government should respect and promote diversity while some conservatives believe that Hispanics should assimilate and adapt to their new surroundings. Here is where both right and left get it wrong. Government should not infringe on the rights of anyone to have any culture, but they also should not try to, in the name of equality, force anyone to do anything or adopt another culture. This means that government should not pass laws requiring private businesses to make all of their materials bilingual, trilingual, etc. it should be up to the owner(s) of that company. Hispanic immigrants come to United States knowing full well that they would eventually need to learn English and integrate themselves into the system. At the same time, this system does not require a cultural assimilation… meaning that if Mexican-Americans want to open restaurants where it is Spanish speaking only, they can do so, even if it limits their business. Diversity is a right and should be tolerated. More importantly, a hyphenated American, be they Hispanic or otherwise, can be as patriotic as a non-hyphenated one. Take me as an example, I wave the American flag like no tomorrow and my pride is hurt whenever someone disrespects it, at the same time my Cuban heritage enriches my understanding of American freedom, because my family endured communism and the complete denial of their liberty. The concept that a person is either American or not is an antiquated one. The first Americans were the native Americans, everyone else is an immigrant of some sort and everyone has a different heritage. The first political party that understands how Hispanics’ heritage enriches America will be the most successful… and the Democrats appear to be winning in this respect.
Second, when it comes to the economy, Hispanics have a strong work ethic and are very entrepreneurial, especially because they are expected to contribute to the family here and/or back in the country of origin. Hispanic small business has been growing at three times the rate of the national average in recent years. This means that the Hispanic community would best be served by the party that protects small business, Republicans, instead of taxes it, Democrats.
Yet the Democrats have been consistently able to control the message and cast Republicans as being uninterested in the Hispanic community. They say that Republicans should give Hispanics more tax “credits” that basically amount to welfare instead of creating a generally low tax environment across the board. Read this where the Democrats decry Republican policies recommending what amounts to ethnically based subsidies. I guess no one informed the 1.6 million Hispanic small businesses in existence during the Bush years that Republican policies were hurting them rather than helping them. This approach of giving a man a fish versus teaching a man how to fish may win some votes, but the entrepreneurial spirit of the community is very strong and simply needs some encouragement, not a handout. At the same time, the Democrats, self-appointed defenders of the Hispanic community, just slapped a huge tax increase on smokers, 15% of the documented Hispanic population. When it comes to business and the economy, Republicans have an edge.
Third, in terms of foreign policy, liberals have tended to side with the socialist/communist elements that have destabilized the region for so long. While Hispanics agree with some progressive ideas, in general, it is communism that has caused massive exoduses from Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Nicaragua, and the list goes on. Communism has ruined the lives of countless in Latin America and the liberals’ insistence on supporting them has only worsened Latin people’s plight. On the issue of foreign policy, Republicans, who tend to side with the free market and democratic governments of the region (at least for the last two decades or so), score more points with Hispanics. Or at least they should.
Democratic former President Carter embraces Socialist Hugo Chavez
While there are other issues to consider as well, I am going to fast-forward to immigration. Along with the issue of heritage, the Democrats’ message of some type of amnesty and granting concessions to illegal immigrants sounds more humanitarian than the Republican message of no amnesty and closed borders. At times it seems like the xenophobic elements have hijacked the party, especially when Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO) speaks, a person whose every comment in one way or another offends Hispanics.
Seriously, the Republicans need to ignore most of his advice… Latin American immigrants want to come to the US, they/we want to become part of this grand experiment in democracy, not undermine it, so it makes no sense to take a hard stance against an entire ethnic group. People like Tancredo have been around throughout the entire history of this country, fearful of all types of immigrants of all colors, faiths, and cultures… only to eventually have these groups regarded as part of the American cultural quilt that is unique in this world. Ironically enough, Tancredo is Italian and is only a second-generation American, one up on me. I wonder if his xenophobia is more a product of self-loathing than anything else.
In sum, while Hispanics agree with many conservative principles, the Republican Party has failed to capture this community’s vote because it seems that it has rejected the very identity of Hispanics, calling for assimilation, closed borders, and no amnesty. Democrats, on the other hand, have done a great job of portraying themselves as in touch with the Hispanic community.
In general, neither party offers Hispanics a great choice and the main reason is that the left wants to promote class and ethnic divisions while the right plays into this by allowing xenophobia to play a central role in its policies. Both parties are treating our community like Hispanic-Americans, when in reality they should just be treating us like plain old Americans.