Who Is And What It Takes To Be A “Hispanic Candidate”?

By Alex Gonzalez

Who is a Hispanic candidate?  It all started when Politico published  an article underscoring that there is an ongoing makeover of the Republican Party in Washington,  and it is possible that Marco Rubio “doesn’t want to be the Hispanic candidate.”  Evidently, my visceral reaction was what is a “Hispanic candidate?” Or perhaps, is it possible that there is some non-Hispanic Republicans candidates who are more suitable to be “Hispanic candidates?”

We know that politicians from both parties pander to ethnic or religious groups if they are from districts where the predominant ethnic group overwhelmingly support certain policies.  This is apparent in the sought after Cuban vote from  Florida, as those who support the Cuban embargo, and the Puerto Ricans in New York who support Puerto Rico’s effort to gain independence.  These Puerto Rican voters show their desires when they vote on it here in the US, to stay as common wealth territory to avoid paying federal taxes.  So if you are non-Hispanic candidate running in Florida you have to support the embargo to get the older “pre-Marielito” Cuban vote; or   if you want to be elected in New York you need to take a position on the “associated free-state”  of Puerto Rico, and thus, by default you have become Hispanic candidates since your role in Congress is to represent the interests of your constituency.

So what makes you a Hispanic candidate, if you are not genetically Hispanic and you to do not  have an Hispanic surname? Then you must be engaged in the issues important to particular groups you seek to represent. Or in this case represent the interests important to Hispanics such education.

Marco Rubio speaks eloquently of his Cuban roots. For example , in a Washington dinner, Marco Rubio invoked his story as the child of Cuban migrants, saying that without American social mobility, he would probably have grown up a “very opinionated bartender.”  In addition, in 2010 in his victory speech Rubio uttered the type of words only Cubans can feel emotional about.  Rubio exuded pride in his heritage when he proclaimed in his victory speech that “I will always be the son of exiles.”  In his books, Rubio also states that “I am the son of exiles.”  “I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams. This is a story that needs no embellishing.” Thus, in his political career, and idiosyncrasy, Marco Rubio is a Republican and Cuban-American Politician that embellishes his Cuban roots and finds comfort in his ethnic   identity and utilizes his post as a politician to support the Cuban Embargo. As s result, Rubio’s political views match his identity as a Cuban Republican candidate. But his views as a Cuban-American do not necessarily mean he has to be a “Hispanic candidate.”

Rubio’s political identity was shaped by an older class of pre-Marielito militant Cubans who refused to compromise on terminating the antiquated Cuban Embargo that even conservative find outdated.  When Rubio ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, Rubio sought the support of the Tea Party groups more than the younger generation of Cubans who are now moving to the Democrats side because they no longer share the views of the old Cuban class of Republican voters. In fact, there has been  among older Cubans and some Cuban-American Politicians to join the Tea Party group.  It is possible that the purpose of the allegiance is to prevent any changes to the status quo on the Embargo.

Similarly, Ted Cruz in Texas was elected running as a Tea Party anti-establishment candidate  but delicately touting his Cuban ethnic identity by selling his father’s story as a hero. However, Ted Cruz, to his credit, never made his surname part of his campaign and never claimed to be a “Hispanic candidate” and took very tough views on immigration. So we cannot expect Ted Cruz also to be the “Hispanic candidate” because he never made his Hispanic identity part of his campaign but disguised it as “my father emigrated from Cuba.”  However, his political views are also similar to Rubio because Cruz also vehemently opposes any changes to Cuban Embargo or the wet-foot dry-foot program, that grants illegal Cuban immigrants a path to citizenship and other benefits if they flee Cuba and touch US soil.

Therefore, both Rubio and Cruz are natural Cuban candidates because they embellish their parent’s past, which have shaped their unwavering political views as Cuban but not as Hispanics; and they will use their vote in Congress to protect the interests of Cuban-Americans. But this Cuban cultural worshiping does not mean they want to, or need to be, Hispanic candidates because they never campaigned on it, nor do they support many of the issues important to Hispanics outside of Florida.  Ted Cruz even had Cuban activist, Eddy Gallegos, in his camping telling Hispanics not to be Hispanic while Cruz flaunted his father’s Cuban accounts as “hero.”  Conversely, there is no other non-Hispanic that actually embraces becoming the “Hispanic candidate.”

President George W.  Bush on Tuesday came out retirement to help Republicans sell immigration reform. And there has not been another Republican politician that has touched the hearts of Latinos and Mexican-Americans more than W. Bush. More importantly, Bush has never vacillated in using emotional wording when addressing issues important to Latinos.  For example in his speech on Tuesday bush told the audience that:

Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas. They fill a critical gap in our labor market. They work hard for a chance for a better life. America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have helped build the country that we have become, and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow. Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul. Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, we’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting newly-arrived. Those whom I’ve met love their families. They see education as a bright future for their children. Some willingly defend the flag.  

It is unfathomable to think that Ted Cruz would speak with such compassion and passion in defense of Latino immigrants in Texas.  While, W. Bush, has for years, has worked to bring Mexico and the US together under a legal frame-work such as free-trade alliances and magnifying the historical and cultural contributions of Mexican-Americans to Texas.  And he did so unapologetically.  Thus, W. Bush has spoken about Mexican-American, and other Latino groups with the same deep devotion that Marco Rubio has about Cuba and His Cuban-American roots.  Additionally, President Bush developed a series of policies to promote the interests of Mexican-Americans in politics, education, and wanted to help Mexico and other Latin-American nation to achieve democracy, political, and economic reforms as the means to achieve stability. Hence, in theory and practice, W. Bush was an ideal “Hispanic candidate,” even if he was not Hispanic. As a result, every single word that W. Bush has made about Latinos has made millions of Latinos want to be Republicans and promote compassionate conservatism.

The fact that  Cruz and Rubio are Cuban-Americans is main reason why they may not want to be the “Hispanic candidates”. The same week President W. Bush gave his speech immigration, Greta Van Susteren interviewed New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. My colleague–who is a staunch and unapologetic supporter of both Martinez and W. Bush—and I watched the interviews and compared them.   Though the achievements of Susana  Martinez are clear, in cutting the deficit, and creating a surplus of  $250 million, Martinez always dodged the obvious question of  what does it mean to be a Latina Republican Governor, and instead, she opted for usual political talk, or makes little reference about her Mexican-American roots.  In other words, she does not have the same adoration or passion for Mexico as Marco Rubio has for Cuba and his Cuban-American roots.  Consequently, and unfortunately, the lack of zeal from Gov. Martinez does not arouse the same passion that W. Bush continues to capture among Latinos and Mexican-Americans.

Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry has spoken with religious passion and adoration about Latinos than Susana Martinez, even it meant going against the Tea Party. Rick Perry also tried building a greater trade region between Texas and northern Mexico by developing state-to-state relation with Mexico without so much any Washington federal bureaucratic layer to increase trade between in Texas and Mexico.  When Governor Perry was running for President, Linda Vega (Founder of Latinos Ready To Vote!) cited him as the Hispanic Candidate and the “Oasis for Latinos,” as he understood Hispanic issues better than most “Hispanic” Candidates or others in the primary for that matter.

So what is a “Hispanic candidate” you ask? It is someone who will address the issues important to Latinos.  It is someone whose political convictions emanate out of family experience, thereof, he/she develops an emotional bond with his/her community.  A “Hispanic candidate” is someone who has a desire to  help all Latinos equally–even if his/her last name is not Hispanic—with  policies aimed at creating opportunities for the future generation of Latinos.

Therefore, Rubio and Cruz are not the “Hispanic Candidates” as much as they are Cuban Candidates, and we need to give them credit for that because they will do what they have to in Congress to protect the interests of  Cuban-Americans in the U.S. While, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval, do not yet feel comfortable enough to embrace the “Hispanic Candidate” identity. The adoration for their culture and history is something that Rubio embraces but Martinez and Sandoval avoid. When Rubio uses the term Hispanic, he means in general sense to trey to connect with other Latin Group. But when he is in Florida and he calls himself “I am the son of exiles…I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams, his whole persona shakes with jubilation because in his core being he is Cubano. It would be difficult to see the Rubio or Cruz exuding such passion and adoration for the unfulfilled dream of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Thus, if Rubio or Cruz, rightfully, can reject the idea that they have to be the “Hispanic candidate,”

On the other hand, the Republican Party has “Hispanic candidates” like Perry and W, Bush who share an emotional connection with Mexican-Americans and unapologetically adore and embrace their Latino, or Mexican-American, identity.  And they do so by creating bills that help for the future of Latinos in the Texas. So in my book, Rick Perry and W. Bush are in fact the real “Hispanic GOP candidates.”  I wish we had a Mexican-American who spoke so eloquently about his/her Mexican past like Rubio does about his Cuban history, enough so that it would stir the passion of Latinos, but we don’t, yet. So Rubio does not have to be the Hispanic candidate because for now, Bush and Perry are our best non-Hispanic “Hispanic candidates.”

Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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