No matter what we call ourselves, Latinos or Latinx, can we agree on voting in 2020?

by Fabiola Santiago

Cash-strapped but hopeful, a lineup of Latino community advocates launched from Washington, D.C., an ambitious voter registration drive on Tuesday with a unifying “stand up and vote” theme.

One of the top targets is Florida.

The goal of “Poder 2020” is to change through a technology-driven, social network campaign this astonishing statistic: Between 15 million and 18 million Latinos in this country are U.S. citizens eligible to vote, but they aren’t registered to do so.

And, looking into the future, there’s this other fact : Every 30 seconds, a Latino in the United States is turning 18, voting age.

“No matter Republican, Democrat, or independent, the more voters, the more poder [power],” said Ben Monterroso, senior advisor to Poder Latinx.

The group’s mission is “to build a political wave where the Latinx community plays a key role in the transformation of our country, where immigrants, Latinx and other people of color are decision-makers of our political process.”

They’re the latest group to step up to the plate looking forward to the 2020 election.

If all the Latinos eligible were registered — and voted to end the demonizing of immigrants, the insults and attacks, and the xenophobic immigration policy coming from the White House — Donald J. Trump might just be a one-term president.

But to make this happen, advocates need voter registration and turnout success in swing-state Florida, which Trump won after the so-called “Obama coalition” of black, Hispanic, and other minority voters didn’t turn out to vote with the same enthusiasm as in 2008 and 2012.

One of the most talked about voter groups is Central Florida’s Puerto Ricans, automatic U.S. citizens who were supposed to be Hillary Clinton’s “secret weapon” but didn’t show up in large enough numbers. The thousands forced to relocate here by Hurricane Maria’s devastation are a new pool of potential voters, but will they be angry enough at Trump’s shortchanging them of aid and his contemptuous attitude — and motivated enough to vote?

Other important groups are Cuban Americans and Venezuelans in South Florida, not exactly monolithic in party alliances but still stirred by the politics of Cuba and Latin America.

No, it won’t be easy making inroads with Latino/Latinx/Hispanic citizens in Florida.

If you’ve read this far, you can already see part of the problem with outreach and messaging, right?

We can’t even agree on what to call ourselves — and every label comes with connotation and baggage.

For some, Hispanics is a lazy U.S. government-imposed term to cast everyone from a Spanish-speaking country under an umbrella. The more widely accepted Latinos has gone all of a sudden out of fashion. But being replaced by Latinx is only creating confusion. For some, the contemporary Latinx has shifted from being an inclusive gender-neutral term to acquiring overtones of a left-wing agenda.

How do we overcome labels in favor of a straight and simple message that appeals to progressives and conservatives in communities?

Latinx, Latinos, Hispanics, it shouldn’t really matter what people call us — or what we call ourselves. Let academics, philosophers, and pundits battle out the semantics.

What does matter is whether the country’s second-largest minority group can be effectively reached and galvanized to become the voting force for better governance.

There has always been racism and xenophobia in Florida. But, before Trump, the prevailing narrative was that the state’s growing Hispanic population was a welcomed and vital part of the state’s economy and cultural heritage.

These days, many Hispanics who live outside of Miami-Dade Countylive in fear of becoming targets of racist violence in a state that has been adopting Trump-inspired anti-immigrant legislation.

In Sarasota last weekend, for example, five young Puerto Rican tennis players competing in an international tournament were removed from the Bath & Racquet Club after a candidate for the city commission, Martin Hyde, accosted the players for speaking Spanish and had them removed from the premises.

He’s seen on video telling them to “go cut the grass” and “shut up.”

“That’s racism, man,” one of the players, a 15-year-old, says to Hyde.. “How can you say something like that? Aren’t you human?”

“This is a private club,” Hyde responds. “Get out.”

The club has since said it revoked Hyde’s membership, but family members of the tennis players are upset that the club hasn’t issued an apology to them or to the community. The lack of respect isn’t surprising, given that the sponsor of anti-immigrant legislation was stateRepublican Party Chairman Sen. Joe Grutersof Sarasota.

Yes, if ever there was a time, it’s now.

Florida’s non-registered citizens need to wake up and demand respect by voting.

There’s only one label that can make a difference.

“Somos americanos.”

We’re Americans, too.

But it means little if we don’t embrace to our full potential the responsibility to vote.

Fabiola Santiago is an Award-winning columnist who has been writing about all things for The Miami Herald since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”

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