"Very Few Political Candidates Understand "The Latino Vote."Hollywood’s Esai Morales, Dennis Leoni, Julia Vera, Richard Yñiguez, and Julie Carmen Decipher the Great American Conundrum.
The 2012 Presidential Elections has got the entire nation engaging in debates like I’ve never witnessed before. The current flock of Hollywood Latino celebrities and talent are actively participating “up front and personal” in larger unprecedented numbers. It’s as if the guard is changing and veteran actor/activists like Martin Sheen and Edward James Olmos are no longer alone. Today, more Latino celebrities like Eva Longoria and Jessica Alba have forged to the forefront of the re-election of President Barack Obama’s campaign.
Recently, I asked "activists" (actor/activists) Esai Morales, Julia Vera, Richard Yñiguez and producer/director Dennis Leoni, and actor/yoga guru Julie Carmen if they could explain why Cubans primarily vote GOP and Mexicans and other Latinos tend to favor the Democrats. It turned into one of the most fascinating Facebook conversation panel thread’s I’ve ever participated in. But I’m still not sure the question was fully answered. Maybe it can’t be. Also participating in this was Henry Puente (Assistant Professor of Communications at California State University, Fullerton.) He has extensive entertainment industry experience and is a former film distribution executive.
We reached out to several high profile Cuban influentials to participate but for whatever the reason, they didn’t respond as we had hoped. However, hearing Cuban-American TV personality and former host Cristina Saralegui’s speech at the DNC convention was inspiring and it touched upon the very topic we are discussing here. Cristina’s support for Obama and the Democrats is something she is very proud of and she clearly does not align herself with Cuban elected officials like Senator Marco Rubio and other Florida Cubans who tend to vote Republican. Source: Being Latino
When I Googled the Cuban/Mexican question, the answers were varied and made it impossible to pin down a credible explanation. Most commentary posted is racist and full of misunderstandings of cultural and economic differences. In a recent Fox News Latino article, a distinction was drawn between Senator Marco Rubio and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro based on their separate nationalities and the politics perceived to originate in those nationalities.
So it is a widely held but misconceived belief that Cuban Americans all come from wealth and vote Republican, and that Mexican Americans all come from poverty and vote Democratic. New Mexico retired Mexican-American educator, Moises Venegas, believes the same:
The Cubans have never been one of us. They didn’t come from Chihuahua or Sonora in Mexico and from poor backgrounds. They came from affluent backgrounds and have a different perspective. The Republican Party also has opened doors just for them.
I’m not sure if this editorial will create a Hollywood storm that permeates through diverse Latino communities or not, but here is our best attempt at shedding light on a question that’s been brewing on many Latino minds. Recently, while watching the GOP convention with my niece, she asked an interesting question, based on the rhetoric she was listening to on TV:
Are Cuban-Americans Latinos?
Everyone said, “Yes, of course, Cubans are Latinos.”
Dennis Leoni: Their political belief doesn't define who they are ethnically.
Esai Morales: However, I think Cuban Americans are a unique subset.
Henry Puente: I don't think that political ideology should determine whether or not a person is Latino.
Esai Morales: Not easy to answer. With the exception of the Marielito 'boat people,' the early Cuban arrivals exhibit a tremendous sense of self-esteem and gumption in general. In my opinion, the 'boat people' may share the colonized mind-set usually associated with oppressed immigrants and other Latinos. The ones who came here first after the revolution were political refugees. Many were among the captains of industry in Cuba; the "haves" if you will. These Cuban-Americans were and still are from the most educated and or monied families who 'ran things on the island.' This group had a lot more business acumen that accompanied them to their new home.
Richard Yñiguez: Being part of a party is ideology, self interest, and in some cases peer pressure. Cuban-Americans are a very committed block of voters and believe that the Republican platform serves them. You can also look within the ranks of the military, the Law enforcement community and can't help but come away scratching your head with the amount of Republican supporters.
Henry Puente: I don't believe that a Republican Latino is an oxymoron. I also don't believe that a Democrat Cuban is an oxymoron. I personally feel that neither party has really done much to win support from Latinos in general. Republicans assume that they will not vote for them, so they incorporate policies that do not benefit Latinos. In contrast, Democrats assume that we will vote for them, so they don't incorporate policies that will benefit Latinos. At the end of the day, I always find myself voting for the lesser of two evils.
Q: Party choice is based on historical background... class distinction?
Esai Morales: Unfortunately, Latin America has a history of corrupt governments that have oppressed their poor to such a point that many risk their lives to come to the U.S. These poorer immigrants don't have the same sense of ownership and industriousness that Cubans left their country with. In the States, as a refugee population, Cubans developed a stronger sense of community ownership and personal identity.
Esai Morales: The fact is Cuban immigrants have felt more welcomed and accepted into our society, even if they were penniless when they got here, compared to their agrarian counterparts from the other Latin American countries. With their greater education, self-esteem, and business prowess, Cubans transformed Miami into an internationally renowned Latin American capital in the U.S.
Many are of the opinion that American Cubans haven't gotten over the fact that their side lost the conflict with Castro. Not unlike Southerners who still call the Civil War, "The War of Northern Aggression."
Q: In the U.S., Cubans are powerful even though they are the smallest percentage of the Latino demographic pie. Why?
Esai Morales: Cubanos have an impressive ability to organize and mobilize quickly and efficiently around their political and social interests. They are not afraid to voice their opinion. Unlike the progeny of displaced farmers or of those from humble origins who tend to take more systemic abuse--Cubans will let you know how they feel...in no uncertain terms. They are a powerful minority w/in the Latino community. Not unlike the Jewish minority which wields considerable power and influence here in the U.S. despite being so few in numbers. Perhaps the two group's cultural cohesion is due to the shared sense of pride and persecution. Outside threats, real or perceived, are not taken lightly in either camp. Their responses are swift and loud. Regarding Latins and the GOP it would be wise to note that not all Latino Republicans are Cuban.
Q: Among Latinos, family and moral values are important but even though the GOP is the most conservative in this area, why do the majority of Latino votes go to the Dems?
Esai Morales: The fact is traditional values that place family first are Latino values. Whether Republican policies actually support families or not; their rhetoric appeals to a growing segment of the loyal, conservative, and independent-minded Americans of Latino descent. The fact is that our [Latinos] people often appear to be taken for granted by the Democratic Party. This drives many disillusioned Hispanics towards the self-reliance message of traditional Republican ideals. Think about it, many immigrants come here to start businesses and become citizens because of the political corruption in their home countries. They don't want welfare, they simply want to fare well. Too often it seems that liberal minded people only offer a hand out, dependence; not a helping hand up, IN-dependence. Hand outs are offensive when people just want to earn an honest living.
Q: When it comes to undocumented Latinos, they suffer a double standard versus how newly arrived Cuban refugees are thought of... why?
Richard Yñiguez: Also, the Cuban community has a negative view of the undocumented issue that is very much a South Western issue and they can't relate or look the other way.
Q: Who is more organized at attracting Latinos with targeted voter registration drives, the GOP or Dems? Cubans or all other Latinos?
Richard Yñiguez: [I would ask] what is either party doing to entice our vote or participation in the process? The Cuban community has an intelligent support system in place for the conservative party. They vote which is more than I can say about the rest of us. We need a good voter registration campaign to overcome the GOP's drive to suppress!
Q: It comes as a surprise that most Cuban-Americans are against the DREAM Act. Is it because this legislation mainly benefits Mexicans and other Latin Americans?
Esai Morales: Obama's recent (temporarily enacted) DREAM Act is a step in the right direction because it gives young immigrants an opportunity to contribute to our society more meaningfully. The timing and lack of permanence however may seem suspect right before the coming election. Almost too little too late and too temporary to gain long-term traction and loyalty for the Democrats.
Q: President Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs have anything to do with Cubans leaning more toward GOP?
Esai Morales: With regards to Cubans specifically and the GOP, ever since the Bay of Pigs invasion there appears to be a close connection between the exile community and the American Intelligence apparatus. In the early sixties those exiles who tried to retake Cuba by force worked closely with the Republican wing of the the CIA. This relationship cemented the Cuban connection to the Republican Party. I think this relationship has helped establish the political preeminence of Cubans and their cause amongst U.S. Latinos.
Richard Yñiguez: In some cases the Miami Cuban community is still punishing the Democratic party because of the Kennedy fiasco at the Bay of Pigs. On the other hand they are a very committed block of voters and believe that the Republican platform serves them. You can also look within the ranks of the military, the Law enforcement community and can't help but come away scratching your head with the amount of Republican supporters.
Q: It must be incredibly difficult for political non-Latinos to understand the true essence of who their Latino constituency really is.
Esai Morales: Let's not forget the Latino 'community' is incredibly diverse. Obviously, not all Latinos are immigrants, yet you wouldn't know that by watching the media. There are many fifth, sixth and even seventh generation Americans of Latin descent who don't identify with the general minority status. Some of these families were here long before these states were united. They are fully assimilated; Latino in name only (LINOs)--for example, Cameron Diaz/Charlie Sheen (Estevez), etc... This group is practically invisible as 'Latinos' in the mainstream marketplace of images and ideas they don't necessarily relate as Latinos.
Dennis Leoni: Like the Stones sing, ‘You can't always get what you want...’ Or should that be everything we want? Do the Dems offer Latinos everything we want? No, but they are much closer than what the Republicans are offering, particularly when it comes to issues like immigration, unions, health, and education. Labor has traditionally been liberal and business (management) has traditionally been conservative. In this country, whether we like it or not, Latinos are predominantly the labor class. On issues like abortion, I get it. We have a lot of Catholics. But unless you're rich, it makes no sense to me to be a Republican. And not that there aren't a lot of racist Dems, but the Republicans have them overwhelmingly beat there, too. I am, of course, speaking in general terms. That's all I'm saying when I say I find it hard to believe that there are conservative Latinos.
Q: I have immigrant friends who became U.S. citizens (Mexicans, Guatemalan, El Salvadoran) who immediately signed up with the Republican party because they saw it as the higher class party. They were tired of being poor and lower class in their countries of origin. What do you think?
Dennis Leoni: That's why a lot of "Latinos" don't want to be called "Latino" because they feel it's a misnomer. To me, Latinos are anyone who is descendant from Spanish speakers from the western hemisphere, predominantly from below el Rio del Norte. I know that excludes the Spaniards, but they are, after all, Spaniards. Okay, maybe we include them, too.
Julia Vera: Where is El Rio Del Norte? El Rio Grande divides Texas and Mexico. It also sometime back was called El Rio Bravo.
Dennis Leoni: Not way, way back... The Mexicans called it that... I believe the Conquistadores called it del Norte. I read that somewhere... of course it could be B.S. It appears, Julia, that you are correct and I'm partially correct... El Rio Bravo del Norte is the full name the Mexicans gave to El Rio Grande.
Q: Cubans share a kindred spirit with the GOP for reasons of....
Esai Morales: Similar European heritage, a shared mortal enemy in Castro and a mutual admiration for the entrepreneurial spirit may explain why Cubans identify more with the Anglo frame of mind than their less celebrated Latino brethren.
In conclusion, there is so much more that can be said about Cubans, Latinos, and America, but two thing are for sure. One, Cuban politics in America are a touchy 'third rail' subject. Secondly, I should probably spend less time studying history, worrying about my community--its collective public image and more time acting and making a living....but, oh well.....hope you enjoyed my thoughts.
|Actor/Yoga Guru Julie Carmen|
Esai Morales: I've also heard Cubans describe themselves as "Spaniards (or their descendants) of the Caribbean."
Like online site Being Latino said, ‘It’s great to see a Cuban-American from the island stand in favor of progressive values. The myth about Florida Cubans being a synch for the Republican Party is just that-- a myth.’
Gloria Estefan was also in attendance at the DNC supporting the president. The tide does seem like it is slowly changing in the area of ideologies for Cuban-Americans.
This is an incredibly delicate topic and Latin Heat thanks all of the participants who shared their thoughts, beliefs and historical knowledge with us. What we do know is that Latinos in the U.S. are more unique and dynamic than any experts or Hispanic reports or stats report.
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Edited by: Casandra Moreno Lombera