Busting the ‘Latino vote’ myth is one silver lining of this hellacious election | Helen Ubiñas
We have to consider: It’s about ethnicity, national origin, classism, colorism, racism, religion, and so much more. Not to mention the tensions and self-appointed hierarchies between groups.
And so it shall be known that on this day in the year of our Lord 2020, the country realized that Latinos come in all shapes, sizes, shades, and political leanings.
In the midst of an excruciating wait on results, it looks as if we may finally realize that the “Latino vote” doesn’t exist, that it’s as big of a myth as the Chupacabra.
Don’t know what that is? Look it up, because it’s about time that everyone do the work to understand why lumping all Latinos together isn’t just wrong, it’s a failure to recognize our fellow Americans.
And isn’t that what was behind those 2016 clarion calls for acknowledgment and empathy toward real (white) rural (white) Americans?
“Problem #1 is calling it a ‘Latino vote,'" Luisa Ossa, associate professor of Spanish at La Salle University, said. "It’s an artificial category that lumps together people of all racial backgrounds and diverse national origins.”
Spoiler alert, a New York City-born Puerto Rican is a lot different than, say, a Cuban living in Miami. Just look at the presidential election results, which should have surprised exactly no one: Miami’s Cuban exile community not only helped Donald Trump cruise to victory in Florida but helped flip two congressional seats.
We have to consider: It’s about ethnicity, national origin, classism, colorism, racism, religion, and so much more. Not to mention the tensions and self-appointed hierarchies among groups.
There has to be a lot more written about this, beyond today, beyond politics, beyond one high-stakes election.
Truth be told, there’s been some good work out there on this issue, most of it by Latino journalists and academics who have been trying to undo a mostly white media construct of the monolithic Latino voter.
But when you can count the number of Latinos in newsrooms on one hand (two if you’re lucky), when people still equate, for example, my Dominican-born colleague’s experience and existence with mine as a New York City-born Puerto Rican, we aren’t just choosing to ignore different realities, we’re choosing to erase them out of convenience, ignorance, laziness.
Many white journalists bemoaned that the media had blown it with their coverage of the “Latino vote.” They weren’t exactly wrong, but it speaks to whose stories are valued, and amplified in and out of newsrooms.
My experience is that when a journalist of color covers issues in communities of color — whether they be about immigration or race or politics — those stories are often treated as niche. Why is it only a revelation when white journalists call attention to those same issues?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: There are not enough Latinos in newsrooms. Not enough Latinos in newsrooms with the power to direct coverage and narratives. Not enough Latinos in newsrooms to get their voices heard when they not only watch themselves but also the communities that are covered superficially at best get lumped together. A high-stakes election is not the time to try to educate the public on a huge segment of their country. Latinos have varied backgrounds, and they know they have varied backgrounds, and that perspective is what’s too often missing from conversations and coverage.
Here’s some context: I was the first full-time Latina columnist at the Hartford Courant until I left about 10 years ago. As far as I know, they didn’t replace me with another, despite there being more than 300,000 Puerto Rican residents in the state.
I am the only Latina (Nuyorican, to be exact) columnist writing a column full time in Philadelphia, where 500,000 Puerto Ricans make up Pennsylvania’s largest group of Latinos. I am among a small number of Latino reporters not just in my newsroom but at news organizations throughout the city and state.
That needs to change, or we’re going to blow a lot more than just a story.