As the Yuletide approaches in the US followed by year’s end, the joy of the Latino celebration of these holidays is evident. This includes the sounds of villancicos, the stagings of the Posadas, accompanied by the season’s Hispanic gastronomical delights such as buñuelos, tamales, lechon asado, turrones and countless other delicacies from the different Latin American countries. Yet, as a whole, the ‘state of the union’ of the Latino community appears to be one of confusion or uncertainty in what awaits it. The public discourse this year has been replete with talk of the following: the Latino impact at the polls; the future of Immigration Reform; the DREAM Act; increasing deportations; the Arizona ‘profiling’ law; the increasing anti-immigrant and anti-Latino tone in the public discussion; the social, political and economic divisions among the Latino communities; the lack of clear leadership in the national community, the impact of the deep economic recession in terms of the menacing debt, credit and unemployment, and the way forward. Yet not much seems to have been resolved.
Moreover, the upcoming release of the 2010 census will not provide sufficient clarity but probably provoke a debate on the accuracy of the Latino population numbers and the statistical definitions of the overall Latino community. Also, the changing political landscape in Washington and the state houses bodes a tough slog ahead. Plainly, the Latino community’s challenges persist and often appear to become even more muddled. The apparent political meltdown of the Obama Administration suggests an even more difficult time for the traditional Latino Democratic Party consensus. They are coming up empty-handed by and large. The GOP also faces a real dilemma with its feverish anti-immigrant emerging majority and its pragmatic need to continue to attract Latinos beyond the social conservative mantra.
This past election Latino GOP candidates achieved better results than their Democratic counterparts. As the political passing of Democrat Governor Bill Richardson occurred, with the end of his tenure, there were no Latino Democrats running for governor in any of the 50 states, yet, Republican Latino candidates for Governors were elected in Nevada (Brian Sandoval) and in New Mexico (Susana Martinez). Three or two new Mexican-American GOP Congressmen (depending on whether Jaime Herrera of Washington State considers herself Latina) were elected. Texas chose two of these newly elected legislators: Kiko Canseco and Bill Flores. Additionally, in Idaho, another Republican Raul Labrador was elected to Congress; Labrador is Puerto Rican. The GOP also sent three Florida Cuban Americans to Congress, two were re-elected (Ileana Ross-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart) and one was newly elected (David Rivera). While Marco Rubio, the newly elected GOP Senator from Florida, restored the number of Cuban-Americans in the US Senate (2), after Mel Martinez’ departure; Senator Bob Menendez is the only Latino (Cuban-American) Democrat in the Senate. While two Democrat Latino congressmen from Texas lost their seats (both Mexican-American) Solomon Ortiz and Ciro Rodriguez; three Democrat Puerto Ricans Congressmen were re-elected (Serrano, Velazquez and Gutierrez). Let’s not forget that Mexican-American Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado left the Senate in 2009 to become President Obama’s Secretary of Interior and was replaced by a non Latino. At the same time, Democrat Congresswoman Hilda Solis left the House of Representatives to become Secretary of Labor and saw her seat also go to a non-Latino. The sum of all these musical chairs further suggests that neither party has nor will have, any time soon, a solid in-run into the Latino community.
While the Democratic Party still appears to garner more Latino support over all, the question is whether this may hold solidly in the out years. The growing willingness of Latinos to vote for either party makes them most attractive to court since this vote will increasingly be ‘up for grabs’. But for the GOP to reap the benefits of this voting population, it will have to become more welcoming to the Latinos. Lately we have seen some GOP leaders seeking to augment their outreach to Latinos by restating their outlook on issues such as immigration reform. For example, Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House, has made an about face. Though historically he was Tea Party-ish on immigration, he is now openly seeking to position himself favorably with the Latino community by calling for the legalization of all workers residing in the country.
As the GOP begins to position itself for the 2012 presidential elections, we may yet see Jeb Bush (President George W. Bush’s brother) emerge as the GOP’s leading candidate who can deliver the Latino vote, especially Cuban Americans, the more conservative segment of the Latino community. Jeb is Roman Catholic, has a Latina (Mexican) wife, speaks fluent Spanish and has a solid base among both Florida and Texas Latino Republicans. Though his dynastic family name could still be an obstacle, given the current lack of potential candidates, the Bush name still could re-emerge. The biggest impediment for Latinos to vote solidly GOP is the troubling tenor or anti-immigrant tone among many of the rank and file members and some extreme sectors of its leadership.
The most immediate challenge to the Hispanic/Latino community is the conduct in addressing the undocumented or illegal conundrum: how do you satisfactorily resolve the status of over ten million undocumented people? The Latino community faces a formidable challenge in making the case for amnesty. An expanded Cuban Adjustment Act is not in the cards for the rest of the undocumented Latino immigrants. Getting to the front of the line is politically unacceptable. Plainly, politically the conditions for a reasonable and just resolution are distant. Especially when while the economic conditions are bleak or at best uncertain the mantra from some quarters seems to be: blame the illegals.
Immigration, educational achievement and equal economic opportunity are the most important and pressing issues on the Latino agenda. They remain unresolved or unmitigated. The Latino socio-economic indicators reveal a huge underclass in the making. Though, some progress is also apparent: more college graduates and an increasing middle class; the vast influx of immigrants in the last three decades has raised the numbers in poverty. Educational statistics show a startling under-achievement among Latinos. Health and income conditions among Latinos are most unsettling. They continue to confront the Latino community. Most disturbingly the election of the first Black-American to the Presidency has sadly unearthed and aroused many racist sentiments in the body politic. Obama inherited two costly undeclared wars, the deepest recession since the Great Depression, a run-away debt crisis, the clear lack of vision among the leadership in Congress, a fractious body politic, a lame press, a growing income inequity, a withering national infrastructure, an underfunded and weakened educational system and a shrill tax sharing burden debate. The GOP take over of the House of Representatives will further hinder the President’s range of action. This is a daunting scenario. Obama is now weakened and is in no position to take up the Latino agenda. In sum, the national Latino leadership should be readying itself for a monumental struggle in addressing the key issues confronting the community. Moreover, the bruising political effort to attain some rational discussion and resolution of the tangled issue of immigration will not be swift. Success or failure will serve test the Latinos’ ability to manage formidable issues.
Lastly, Latinos seem to be totally disengaged from the global agenda. When a Latino soldier’s body is brought back home from war seems to be only occasion we discuss the war and the security challenges facing the country. Security policy is virtually absent from the Latino national agenda. Hence, it seems almost premature to discuss the Latino participation in globalization or its engagement in foreign policy and trade. The way forward is indeed a true challenge.
Photo Credits: NV Governor-elect Brian Sandoval, taken from his campaign’s Facebook page, and NM Governor-elect Susana Martinez, campaign website photo