Is Speaking Spanish Enough to Win Over Latino Voters?

Spanish Language BELatina

The answer is “no.”

Since the opening of the Democratic primary debates, the ability of some candidates to speak Spanish has been as laudable as it has been uncomfortable.

Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, and Julián Castro tried their best lines on the first podium in July, making more than one listener uncomfortable, and earning the admiration of some others.

Even President Trump has a “Latinos for Trump” campaign that tries to keep Hispanic Republicans on his side and win over some undecided with simultaneous campaigns by his vice president remember Pence’s Vayan Con Dios to Venezuelans in Florida? *Shivers.*

Although Spanish is the country’s most common non-English language spoken by some 37 million Latinos in the country, according to Pew Research Center figures speaking our own language is not enough to convince us of a political plan.

In fact, it’s a bit patronizing.

During the midterm elections, the main argument for the Hispanic community was affordable health care, not immigration as many analysts assumed. By 2020, it won’t be the candidates’ ability to speak Spanish that will convince voters to go to the polls.

While inclusion and distribution of information in both languages is important especially to increase voter turnoutLatinos do care about plausible projects and proposals that speak to our needs.

The United States is currently one of the countries where inequality is most pronounced, especially among ethnic minority groups.

According to figures from the Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino Studies at the CUNY Graduate Center (CLACLS), between 1967 and 2018 “inequality in the United States has become increasingly pronounced, across racial groups.”

Although white Hispanics have experienced the greatest growth in median household income during this time period, their average income still remains well below that of whites and Asians in the country.

In fact, the gap between social strata in the country “is now the largest in the last 50 years.”

According to what Sebastian Villamizar-Santamaria, one of the CLACLS researchers, said to City Limits, one of the reasons for this phenomenon in the Hispanic community is that “the strongest impact is that Latinos stay in low-paying jobs. That could be because they don’t get enough credentials because they don’t go to school or because they don’t want to hire them because of some racial bias.”

This is the reality experienced by most Latinos in the country, especially second and third-generation immigrants, who not only need to be spoken to in Spanish from the podium of political rhetoric but who urgently need a radical change in the opportunities they have in the country.

That’s why campaigns like the one organized between Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortéz (AOC) seem to be the most coherent way to speak to the public.

During a rally last Sunday in Las Vegas, AOC gave her first speech entirely in Spanish, not without first asking for “patience” from her interlocutors for her Spanish still under construction.

The congresswoman repeated in Spanish the speech that led her to victory in the midterm elections: her experience from a bar in the Bronx to a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Speaking of her family’s efforts to provide her with a better education in Westchester County, AOC said in Spanish: “That’s when I understood what it means to live in a country that allows the fate of its children to be determined by zip codes.”

“Much of my youth was spent being transported between worlds,” she added. “Not just between the Bronx and Westchester County which was richer and whiter but the continental United States, New York State, and the realities of my family in Puerto Rico.”

“We saw the distinctions between these worlds. And I grew up where income inequality was a fact of life and it took everything my family had to give the next generation a chance. That’s a Latino story. That’s a story of our community.”

And it is precisely these stories that make the Hispanic community in our country feel recognized.

It’s not just about (mis) pronouncing a couple of words in Spanish; it’s about having a concise message that includes us in the discussion, once and for all.