How to Spot ‘Hispandering’ as the 2020 Election Approaches

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Is that time of the season again, Americans will elect the next President of the United States on November 3, 2020 and presidential candidates are doing whatever it takes to secure the Hispanic and Latinx community for the upcoming election. While “Hispandering” (Hispanic and pandering) is nothing new in the United States, after the constant attacks to Spanish-speaking immigrants from our current commander-in-chief, favorable immigration policies seems in everyone’s agenda.  

Politicians are trying to reach out to voters by speaking or including Spanish words during their speeches, TV commercials and debates; they also invite Hispanic and Latinx artists and use their music in rallies, express their discontent with the President and the immigration crisis on the southern border, not to mention they also let the community know about how they will fight against discrimination, racial profiling, police brutally, and the list goes on.  

“Never mind policy, trot out some Hispanic stars, drop a few words en español as you talk about how very important ‘Hispanic issues’ are — as if they weren’t the same as all Americans’ issues — and do everything but don a golden-threaded mariachi sombrero while promising ‘el mundo’,” wrote columnist Esther J. Cepeda in an Op-Ed during the President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney 2012 presidential campaign. 

But don’t get us wrong here! The community wants to be part of the conversation, especially since Latinos are the largest minority group in the U.S. The number of the amount of Hispanics allowed to vote in the country is high, important and can make a difference during the 2020 election. Hence the reason Spanish-speaking voters are careful with their decisions and are looking forward to support a contender that will keep his promises and is not only bombarding us with cringeworthy efforts to appeal to voters.

Latino USA digital media director, Julio Ricardo Varela, said that calling out politicians clowning Latino voters is one of his favorite practices. “We are talking about how politicians continue to miss the boat when it comes to Latinos,” Varela says. They know about the importance but “there’s this lack of understanding about the nuances,” he added. 

“But I think there’s a lot of woke, young Latino voters who understand the issues between right and left. And I think there’s this thirst to have some of these Democratic candidates embrace that a little bit more. That’s where the interesting things are happening,” said Varela.

There is a very fine line between “Hispandering” and expressing what most Hispanic voters really want to hear. “Talking to Latino audiences about immigration isn’t pandering. We know that is an issue that matters to this electorate. It disproportionately affects this electorate. So, if candidates are talking about immigration, that’s the right thing to do,” says Political expert Sylvia Manzano, as reported by the National Public Radio

What is not right to do is joke about learning our language in less than 24 hours just to sprinkle some words during the debates, like Marianne Williamson did. “I need to learn Spanish by tomorrow night at 9,” she wrote on Twitter. 

“Clearly that doesn’t even crack the top ten list of things you need to learn,” wrote Rob Jackson, in response of Williamson’s tweets. 

Another example of “Hispandering” is when Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke randomly switched from English to Spanish during the first Democratic debate in June — for the record O’Rourke is not Latino and the only thing he has in common with Hispanics is the nickname his family gave him to distinguish him from his namesake grandfather. After his speech, Twitter blew up with memes.

During the same debate, Cory Booker, also wanted to show his level of Spanish. After this,  Kevin de Leόn suggested to political consultants to “never let your candidate speak Spanish on a national platform, or for that matter any platform, unless they know how to speak Spanish.” It was unfortunate that the debate turned into a Spanish speaking contest or who could pronounce Spanish words correctly,” wrote a Twitter user. 

According to Refinery29, the main reason why candidates are doing it is because Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the United States and the U.S. Census Bureau, reported that nearly 40 million people speak it at home. 

2020 Democratic candidates also launched the Spanish version of their websites, however the translation from English is not accurate and contains a lot of grammatical errors. Politico reveal all the mistakes by comparing the texts with the exact translation from Google Translate. 

The magazine reported that Lisa Navarrete, an adviser at UnidosUS said the websites are “the front door to the campaign. And it’s indicative.” She also added that as a candidate “If you’re not investing in this … it will indicate to us that perhaps you’re not taking the other parts of reaching out to the community as seriously.”

“As Latinos we have to DEMAND that these things not happen, that they put the same care into their Spanish website as they do for their English version. It took me one visit to the website see the error, how hard can it really be to hire Latinos? We are everywhere!” tweeted Frederick Velez. 

USA Today revealed that not everybody is conflicted with the practice. Lisa Magaña, a professor in the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University, thinks that presidential candidates speaking in Spanish is “delightfully refreshing.” “Some may see this as Hispandering,” she said, “but I liked it.” She added that “It may look odd,” but  she “think it’s important because it speaks to the growing power of this constituency.”

The bottom line is that for many Hispanics and Latinx the problem isn’t their accents, nor their incorrect pronunciation of words, but how superficial is the substance of their speeches. The Latino community of the United States wants a breakdown of the solutions to all the problems the community faces. From economic obstacles, health disparities, to a clear, tangible strategy on immigration, deportation and family separation in the border, we want to hear it all.