Mike Gonzales and the Shaming of the “Hispanic” and Latino Labels

By Alex Gonzalez

Mike Gonzalez is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
Mike Gonzales is a senior fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

The Heritage Foundation’s Communication Director and Cuban immigrant, Mike Gonzales, has a new book, A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans, arguing that The “Latino” label was political construction by non-Latino elites to monopolize ethnic groups into political “coercion.” These “non-Hispanic elites decided they were in charge of what ‘Latinos’ should be called,” he argues. And while it is true that the term Hispanic/Latino was bureaucratic “invention,” his main hypothesis that Latino is a “conquered” group identity, that predisposed Latinos to progressivism. He argues that the Hispanic/Latino label is being foisted on an ethnic group in order to monopolize democrat progressive politics, or “statism.” But the bureaucracy of the federal government has been used in the past to create social “statism,” by using  the “white” term to identify certain groups.  In his argument,  Mr. Gonzales completely omits the fact that the term “white,” culturally and bureaucratically, was also a “statism” creation by Protestant elites to coerce “non-whites” into self-identifying as “whites” to seek a national identity in the early 1920s.  Unfortunately, Gonzalez only shames Hispanics/Latinos in the southwest for this superficial cultural label,

Gonzales argues that:

Identity wholly crafted by members of the bureaucracy is being foisted on people who may or may not be ready to accept it but who certainly did not initiate the effort.

And that is accurate. Amitai Etzioni, of the Brookings Institute points out that the “invention” of the Hispanic Label was a government fabrication by politicians under the Nixon administration. The term “Hispanic” was coined and institutionalized in the 1970s by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Education, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Bureau of the Census.  It was a way to compartmentalize this multiracial, culturally-mixed group. For several decades now, the Census Bureau has been working to make Hispanics into a distinct group and—most recently—into a race. Indeed, Hispanic/Latino is a government fabrication. But so was the “white” term.

But how was the “white” label invented? The argument posed by Gonzales is that Hispanics/Latinos use that term to differentiate themselves from the “whites” due the trauma of “conquered people.” But what about those who self-identity as “white”? The term was coined in the 1920s by the elitist Waspish. Are they too “conquered” people?

Samuel Huntington, in his book How Are We: The Challenge to American Identity, argues that in 1787, when the Constitution was drafted, 98 % of the population was broadly protestant.  They shared a common culture and the political values embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution–principles of equality and individualism, which are central to the American character, according to Huntington. This creed was a product of the distinct Anglo-Protestant culture of the Founding Fathers, Puritan ideals, more precisely. This religious commonality was important because people identified themselves with those who share a common religion and a myth of common culture.

Huntington was a true Anglo-phile conservative authority on the American “creed” and group-identity.  He argued that part of the American assimilation process was to encourage non-Protestant groups to abandon their backward culture and religion,  and for them to foist a more Protestant culture based on civic adherence to Constitutionalism. In the late 18th century, according to Huntington, there was a need to broaden the characterization of American ethnic identity to included Catholics from Ireland, Germany, Italy, Jews from Southern and Eastern Europe. These new religious groups had to adapt to standards of the Anglo-Saxon patterns of institutionalism, or what Gonzalez would calls bureaucratic racial coercion.

In the 1850s the Protestant elites had to persuade Waspish governments to welcome Irish and German immigrants, and to create a mechanism so the immigrants could be incorporated into the Anglo-Protestant “moralsims” of government and  “white” society.

In the first half of the 20th Century, the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish groups pushed for integration of their immigrants. “The catholic church used its clergy, schools, press, charity, and fraternal organizations to persuade immigrants to give up their foreign culture and adopt Anglo American culture.” Irish bishops had difficulty in convincing  Irish immigrants to abandon their traditions to conform to  more “Anglo-American protestant traditions, values, and moralism.” But by the turn of the 20th century, Irish catholic schools and churches became a propagation of American values and American nationalism. But this assimilation process of incorporation was not an easy ride for early Christian Catholics like Italians and Irish who came from cultures with no civic institutions.

It was only until the 1920s when the census started using the term “white” in official Census surveys, that immigrants began identifying themselves within this term. There is an abundance of literature underscoring how we became a “white nation:” “the making of white race” or “The Invention of the White Race.” But still, in the early part of the 20th century, many American-born Irish, Italians, and Jews refused to call themselves “white.” Many books have been written detailing “How Irish Became White,” or How Jews became “white.”

In other words, becoming “white” takes more than just a bureaucratic label, the process itself includes the adaption of customs, morals, and ideas not readily found within the adopting culture itself.   It’s a psychological generational shift, unlike what Mr. Gonzales suggests about Hispanics/Latinos in that they are prone to be progressive just because they feel like using a label or feel like a “conquered people;” in fact, voting patterns by  groups—or political affiliation—have to do more with how a particular party supports or opposes certain issues important to that specific group.  (Not genetically or by foisted labels, as Gonzalez argues.)

Conversely, it has been an ethnic Diaspora that has created strong political forces among “white ethnic” groups like the Irish, Italian, and Jewish cultures–and Gonzalez’s ethnic group, the Cubans who have monopolized the politics of South Florida under the habitual anti-Castro rhetoric.

If you follow the Jewish-American experience as an immigrant Diaspora identity, it was their cultural and ethnic sanctity that developed their political power here in the U.S. Politics is about the allocation of power, and any path to that power is not an easy ascendancy because it requires aligning the masses with cultural and ecumenism elites. So Jewish-American elites and the state of Israel developed a cultural, religious, strategy to make Israel a perpetual ally and mobilize the American Jewish voters and intellectuals in support of this strategy, Israel. In this international cultural fraternal plan, the Jews of Israel where no different than the Jews in American, and therefore, an attack on Jews in Israel, would be an attack on Jews in American.

AIPACThey formed political groups like AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) to strengthen this fraternal ethnic bond and policy direction. Thus, without a strong cultural bond, and Diaspora Jewish identity, Jewish-Americans probably could have not developed strong political clout within the GOP and the Democrat parties.  Moreover, the Jewish identity was not a bureaucratic label, which prompted Jewish-Americans to  traditionally vote liberal and promote progressive policies.

The Irish  too developed a nationalistic ideal based on an anti-British Diaspora sentiment.   Irish nationalism was invented in America by Irish Diaspora, not federal bureaucratic policies.  the Irish in the America were liberated by republican ideals; and the development of Irish nationalism in America was to be carried in the development of Ireland as well using the powers of American government. the Irish proved adept in constructing such subculture as Irish-Americans in Irish communities across the U.S.

So “panethnic group,” or “ethnic whites” in American have traditionally used their cultural ethnic identity to develop political power by mobilizing voters, elites, and cultural groups across state lines. And these ethnic cultural traits and historical facts are shared and passed on to later generations as cultural pride and ancestry, not as shame or trauma of “conquered” people, as Gonzales argues.

The Shaming of the Latino label

Gonzales argues that the term “Latino” is less offensive and more politically correct than “Hispanic” since Hispanic still implies colonized people in the Southwest.

Whether Hispanic or Latino, it is clear that today’s generation feels some pressure to identify itself as members of a “panethnic group.” This came home to me in a conversation I had with a very young Los Angeles anchorwoman of Central American origin who identified herself as Latina in conversation with me in mid-2013. I asked why she did that, and she gave me a sheepish look. “I feel this is what I’m supposed to say,” she said.

In other words, just because someone from Central America likes to think of herself as “Latina” Gonzalez thinks she is asserting her “conquered” identity, as opposed to her free white identity. The Spanish Conquista and French Invasion in the 1860s created this “conquered” people trauma, according to Gonzales. But he is wrong as to what the term Hispanic/Latino means for Latinos in southwest and Texas.

The term “Hispanic” is primarily a cultural reference, as it presumes that the most significant traits shared among members of this otherwise very diverse group are the use of the Spanish language in their country of origin and a European cultural heritage. True, the term “Hispanic” fails to take into account the influences of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.

In contrast with the term “Hispanic,” the primary point of reference of the term “Latino” is not Spain, but rather Latin core culture from Spain’s former colonies in Latin America– South America, much of the Caribean, Mexico, the Latin countries of Europe like Spain Portugal and Italy; these cultural references include those parts of the national territory of the U.S. which were appropriated from Mexico not all that long ago: Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, California, Arizona.

So unlike what Gonzalez suggested that the Hispanic/Latino labels have any “conquered” identity, or an innate specific political philosophy, or alliances to one particular party, both Hispanic and Latinos cultural references that can be traces to early immigrant to the southwest—Hispanics, Mexican, Tejanos, Californios in the U.S. and Latino America.

Why the Shame?

If you are involved in politics, especially in conservative circles, there are code words to use to imply the Hispanic/Latinos are all like liberal Californians. Thus, it is imperative for Gonzalez to argue that 1) Latino means liberal and therefore wrong. And 2) All those self-identified as Latinos are like Californian liberals who are suffering from this “conquered” people trauma in the form of identity-politics; which coincidentally is only in the southwest, not in Florida where Cubans like Gonzalez self-identify as Latinos or Cubans, and they don’t suffer from this “conquered people” trauma. As a result, their identity, Latinos in the southwest, must be di-legitimized without offending Latino Cubans in Florida. And for him this “conquered” people identity is a “panethnic group” happens only in southwest and California where 80 percent are Mexican-Americans, or in Texas where 90 percent of Latinos are Mexican-American.

However, but for some reason Gonzalez only argues that there is innate correlation between the Latino label and Democrats and progressivism in the southwest, but not Cubans in Florida where Cubans are moving to the left. For example, in the election of 2012, Obama carried the state’s Latino vote overall by 61% to 39%, exceeding his margin in 2008 by seven percentage points. Together, both trends are accelerating a realignment of the state’s Latino vote, from once solidly Republican to now reliably Democratic.  Analysts say, that among Cubans,  national exit polls for media organizations showed him winning 49% of the Cuban-American vote in the state. By comparison, he captured 35% of that vote four years ago. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry received 29% of the state’s Cuban-American vote, and in 2000, Democrat Al Gore won 25% of it. If Gonzalez is right in his hypothesis, are Cubans too developing a “conquered” people identity, if we apply his argument that political democrat identity leads to a “conquered people” mentality among Latinos that vote democrat?

Moreover, the Jews and Irish have traditionally voted in larger numbers than Latinos as Democrats. Yet, I have never seen Gonzales going to New York to  tell Jewish-Americans, or Irish-Americans in Massachusetts, that they are a  “conquered pan-ethnic group,” even though these groups largely control the Democrat party apparatus and unions. Are those ethnic groups “conquered” people too? The Irish were in fact “conquered” for centuries by the British and when they arrived to America they became Democrats via the unions and most of their political identity is based around anti-British sentiments.  Why does Gonzalez single-out Latinos, or Mexican-Americans in the Southwest only when declaring that they have a conquered mentality?

The reason may be that old- Cuban guards like Gonzalez, who are now joining tea party groups, and becoming radicalized, are trying to hold on to whatever power they still have within the GOP.  In order to do so, they have to di-legitimize the raising of other Latino groups and shame them by stating that their  identity was a creation of white elites in the 1970s, even if Latinos or the Mexican-American culture has been part of the southwest for about 300 years.  Unlike the Irish and Jews in America, whose cultural acumen has nothing to do with the bureaucratic Hispanic/Latino “invented” in the 70s.

Therefore, as Huntington argues, cultural and historical commonalties are important to people, especially living the same region. Gonzalez shows little knowledge, or he likes to pretend he does not know, as to why people identify themselves with those who share a common religion and myth of common culture. For Mexican-Americans, the use of the term Hispanics/Latinos stems from historical references and attachment to the southwest, not as a form of political identity created by the federal bureaucracy.

Perhaps Mr. Gonzales argues such a thwarted point because he works for the Heritage Foundation,  has promoted SB1070, and  defended a controversial immigration study in 2009 and 2013, which basically concluded that Hispanic immigrants have lower IQs than Anglos, ( the Heritage Immigration Study was Fatally Flawed.)  As the communication director of Heritage, most likely Gonzalez will call any immigration reform as “amnesty.”

Delaying Their Ascendancy by Shaming it

And in fact, political power for Latinos will come when they assert their identity as a regional bloc, not by abandoning or shaming it, as Gonzales may suggest.

What I mean by Latino Cultural ascendency is the what Max Webber called the protestant ascendency in which cultural and religious acknowledgement by political parties, and business communities, are the foundation for their platform.  This is the main Reason why Scott-Irish have been successful in the South.  Latino Culture is what scholar Seymour Martin Lipset used as cultural cleavages, to explain the genesis of political parties and systems, all of which are based on the culture they seek to represent. A political party cannot represent a group without first acknowledging its cultural cleavages. And the best example is the Scotch-Irish.

Scott-Irish do not care about party ideology or taxes, but rather about which party will respect their history and culture.

Michael_Barone3According to Michael Barone from the American Enterprise Institute, and Jay Cost of the WeeklyStandar, in the South, the culture of South was created by “Jacksonean Scotch-Irish bloc” whose culture is what makes them a strong conservative bloc. And this bloc, southern Scott-Irish does not care about party ideology or taxes, but rather about which party will respect their history and culture. Southern “Jacksonenas Scott-Irish never apologized for their culture to be included in the Republican base; as such, Latinos should not deny their cultural as a prerequisite to join the Republican Party. Democrats began losing the Scots-Irish vote when they shifted to courting the black vote. That shift ended the Democrats’ hold on the South, where many Scots-Irish lived.

Barone and Cost argue that the poor South votes Republican because of their Culture. They are of Scott-Irish and Andrew Jackson’s revolutionary ideals of representation for the “humble” masses over the powerful; this attitude is an identity cultural politics, which it has nothing to do with taxes, and more with cultural values important to one specific group of people. It is these values that are passed from generation to generation regardless of party affiliation. As a result, the Jacksoneans Scot-Irish bloc did not have to change their values, but rather it was the Republican Party that moved to embrace the values of Scotch-Irish.

And this is the formula that needs to be duplicated with Latinos in the South whose culture and history are attached to one bloc of states in Southwest. Barone noticed that the Southern Scott-Irish have shifted parties many times, always going with the party that speaks to their cultural values in the South.

Republicans fear that too much focus on Latino identity will dilute the American identity of civic culture. But, unfortunately, these demands of pure American identity are only cast onto to Latinos, as Gonzalez does. Moreover, these demands are based on false idea that Latinos are different than other groups, but Latinos share the same common civic culture, American exceptionalism.

Latinos are the “new Americans,” and Republicans can benefit greatly from embracing this new ethnic voting bloc. Latinos and Asian — have similar cultural traits with a respective group from the nation’s past: Irish, Italians, according to Barone

The uncanny resemblance between Italian immigrants and the current wave of Latino newcomers shows that the Spanish-speaking arrivals too will merge into mainstream America. Neither initially placed much value in education, but both were diligent workers and family-oriented, and both largely shunned welfare-state aid and, initially, politics. Just as Italians became interwoven into American life after being clustered in ethnic enclaves, so too do later generations of Latinos learn English and make economic advances. As with blacks, Latinos face a policy difference, especially with bilingual education, which in practice has often been Spanish-based. Its failures are now evident, and there is movement back to English-based instruction. Italian immigrants, like today’s Latinos (especially Mexicans), came from countries where the government and culture discouraged trust in institutions; both have prized work over politics.

Thus, in Barone’s argument, Latinos share the same cultural values of other groups, especially Italians. But what is unique about Latinos is that they share a historical attachment to southwest, especially to areas like Texas, California, and New Mexico where Latinos see themselves as part of the culture of the region, and thus, forming cross-state cultural corridor similar to that of the Jacksonean Scott-Irish corridor in the South.

Therefore, any political power and cultural ascendency for Latinos/Hispanics in the southwest will come from asserting their identity as an “ethnic” and regional bloc,  not with a natural alliance to one party, like the Southern Scott-Irish who do not care about party ideology or taxes, but rather about which party will respect their history and culture.

And this cultural traits that has shaped the history of Mexican-Americans (Tejanos) in Texas. Mexican-Americans in Texas have been dealing with the issue of class and race since the arrival of the early “Anglo” Protestants in the 1820s and later in the 1950s. Mexican-Americans, in the 1950s knew how important it was to remain within “white” census box for categorization purposes. For example, in Hernandez v. Texas Mexican-American lawyers in Texas had to go to US Supreme Court to argue that “Mexicans are…members of and within the classification of the white race as distinguished from members of the Negro Race.” This was particularly important because if Mexican-Americans in Texas were put under a different category than “white,” they would have to be sent to segregated schools; so the case was effective bringing attention on why Mexican-Americans needed to be under the “white” category. As a result, Hernandez v. Texas was not only about race, but more about the government’s categorization of people, and how detrimental, it is for some groups to be out in the wrong category. And Mexican-Americans in Texas and California knew it and they objected to being categorized as non-white minority. As a result, Mexican-Americans have a unique perception about the history of the southwest as American citizens and as an ethnic “white” class of “Latino” American citizens were forced into cultural “shame” by the white “Dixicrat” culture in Texas and it the South to discourage any form of political power and social civic groups.

Mike Gonzales promoting his new book A Race for the Future: How Conservatives Can Break the Liberal Monopoly on Hispanic Americans.

So Mike Gonzalez wants to make the Latino/Hispanic label a “shame” term because in his argument “Latino” has innate predisposition to be progressive and a carries a “conquered” ethnic traumatic mentality. And he is not alone in this argument.

In Texas where 90 percent of Latinos are Mexican-American, within the Latino/Hispanic Republican conservative circles, there some group Hispanic leaders who are non-Mexican that use a generic Hispanic/Latino label over the Mexican-American identity. By de-emphasing the Mexican-American identity, and using a generic Hispanic/Latino brand, these leaders can claim to represent the interest of all Latinos (the 90 percent of Mexican-Americans) and not the interests of Mexican-Americans who are 90 percent in Texas. According to Peter Skerry, from the Brookings Institute on what he called E Pluribus Hispanics, the Hispanic label is used interchangeably by political small groups, like Cubans, to further their agenda by claiming to represent all Hispanics. In fact, some of these leaders, adamantly opposed the argument that Republicans should be supporting an immigration Reform and education—all issues important to Mexican-Americans.

Thus, this is what Mike Gonzales’ new effort is. He intends to “shame” Latinos and their culture to prevent any cultural and political ascendency by other groups within the Republican Party so that a small group of Cubans like himself can further their own agenda, by neglecting the interests of Latinos in the southwest, while still claiming that they represent all “Latinos.”

Gonzalez decries this Latino label as a problem. But the veneers of American history clearly show that, fraternal cultural bonds and regional cultural commonalties strengthens political movement—in both parties. And through a “panethnic group” identity, Cubans in Florida have kept a strong monopoly in the Politics of South Florida by calling themselves Cubanos–still longing for the old-glory days when they were part of despotic Fulgencio Batista dictatorship, but were pushed out of the island by Fidel Castro. And this it is important for “panethnic group” Diaspora Cuban identity to keep this alive so they can continues demanding that Republicans fund their anti-Castro efforts.

Because of record, and where he works, one can easily conclude that Mr. Gonzalez book’s is directed at making Hispanic/Latinos in the Southwest ashamed as “conquered” people based on their political identity, and he shames them into thinking that their ethnic identity is a foisted reactionary “conquered,” and used by liberal to “monopolize” their identity.

However, that is a misconception since the fraternal bond among Latinos, or Mexican-Americans, in the southwest goes farther than the 1970s when the Census started using the term “Latinos.”

Gonzales, does not want to empower, or free up Latinos/Hispanic from a monopoly of “conquered” people identity. Rather, he intends to shame the Hispanic/Latino label to discourage those Latinos from forming a stronger path to power–in both parties—and cultural ascendency as it was the case with the Irish, Jews, Scott-Irish and Cubans acquired through cultural harmonization–or issues salient to them.  This is essentially what the Heritage Foundation, the National Review, and Ann Coulter keep repeating by arguing that Latinos are genetically an un-assimilated and prone to use welfare, even if the data shows the opposite.

What a shameful argument by Mike Gonzalez. Would Gonzalez prefer we start calling ourselves Mexican-Americans? Perhaps, the only ones who will buy the book will be the same people at Heritage Foundation who hired him—-a Latino, to make Latinos, and Mexican-Americans feel ashamed about their culture.


meAlex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote! comments to vote@latinosreadytovote.com


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