Latino Politics

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Latino Politics refers to the growing political power and intra-group political conflicts among Americans of Latin American heritage. The full weight of political power of Latinos in the U.S. has yet to be fully achieved. Ideological divisions between Latino groups, especially between Cuban-Americans and others may weaken not only their power but also force abandonment of the category altogether.

Progressives generally believe that Latinos are best represented by progressive political movements in the United States, either within the Democratic party or within other parties on the political left or within the labor movement. Progressives were surprised that 40% of Latinos reportedly voted for Bush in the November 2004 presidential election. However, this result is still a somewhat anecdotal observation of a few pundits, and serious statistical work needs to be done to accurately interpret the data. Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales as the succesor to John Ashcroft as Attorney General may suggest that the right is courting the Latino vote, on the basis of perceived cultural values of Latinos, without providing anything of substance to improve education, employment or access to health care for Latinos. As was shown by the hostility of the Republican Party base to demonstrations for immigrant rights, the conservative outreach may be no more successful than it was among African-Americans or gays. The political space of the Republican party doesn't have room for any but a few elite people of color.

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Latinos

Latino refers to persons of Latin American heritage, or of Latin American culture. In the United States, Latino generally refers to persons with Spanish American heritage, that is excluding Brazilians and Portuguese. As such the term is also conflated with Hispanic. It is generally accepted that as a term of self-reference, Latino is used much more widely than Hispanic.

In this article, we use the more generic term Latino to refer to all Spanish Americans in the United States, although under any interpretation, the term has severe limitations since we are referring to an enormously diverse group, culturally and economically. Much of what we say for Latinos is valid in both the Spanish American heritage interpretation and the Latin American heritage interpretation (including Brazilians and Portuguese).

Many Latinos (in any interpretation) may also be of non-Spanish European ancestry, Middle Eastern or even Asian ancestry. In Argentina, Chile and Uruguay for example, Italian ancestry is common. In Colombia there is a large community of Lebanese and Syrian ancestry. There are many Panamanian-born Chinese and Peruvian-born Japanese. Many of these communities date back many generations and in some instances try to preserve their ancestral cultural identity. However, when individuals from these groups become immigrants in the United States they are regarded as "Hispanic". As noted by the researchers Suárez-Orozco and Páez in the introduction of [1],

A boy from El Salvador, will,.., soon discover that what matters now is the he is a Latino, not that he is Central American or Salvadoran - because the category Salvadoran will be irrelevant to most of his teachers, peers and neighbors.

On the other hand, many Latinos in the United States, who culturally self-identify in some way as Latino, may not fluently speak Spanish.

This adds to the problem of identifying what it is to be Latino in the United States.

Latinos now constitute the largest minority group in the United States, comprising 13.4% of the population, about 40 million people in 2003. Throughout the early 2000s the Hispanic population growth was around 2.4% per annum, faster than any other ethnic group in the United States. If this growth rate continues, Hispanics in the United States will number anywhere from 80 million to over 100 million by 2050.

U. S. Census definitions

The U. S. Census [1] defines Latinos as follows

For Census 2000, American Community Survey: People who identify with the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino" are those who classify themselves in one of the specific Hispanic or Latino categories listed on the Census 2000 or ACS questionnaire—"Mexican," "Puerto Rican," or "Cuban", as well as those who indicate that they are "other Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino." Origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person's parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. People who identify their origin as Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino may be of any race.


From [2] we obtain the following breakdown:

Hispanic or Latino (of any race) 35,305,818 100%
Mexican 20,640,711 58.5
Puerto Rican 3,406,178 9.6
Cuban 1,241,685 3.5
Dominican 764,945 2.2
Central American (excludes Mexican) 1,686,937 4.8
South American 1,353,562 3.8
All other Hispanic or Latino 6,211,800 17.6

Cubans in the Latino Community. It is clear that there exists enormous diversity among Latinos. One example is the difference between Cuban Americans and other Latino groups in the United States. Common perceptions are that Cubans are generally economically better off and more conservative than other Latino groups. In terms of actual statistical evidence however, much of this is anecdotal. According to the census in terms of level of education and unemployment, Cubans do have more favorable numbers but the differences between them and other groups of Latinos (excluding Mexicans for education) are not statistically significant.

The issue of the political leanings of most Cuban-americans is in part an artificial creation of both the left and the right of the American political spectrum. The left, in particular, has refused to acknowledge that refugees from Cuba have legitimate grievances; more troubling, the left (even much of the democratic left) has enormous difficulty in coming to terms with the fact that the Castro government is not progressive (to illustrate this, just consider for example its shameless persecution of gays and many intellectuals) and the left's buying into the right-wing construct that Cuban-refugees only seek personal enrichment.

Moreover, though Cubans (especially in South Florida) are well assimilated and politically more successful than other Latino groups in other parts of the United States, they share with other Latino groups many of there strong ties to ancestral language and culture. Indeed have given many cities in South Florida have a uniquely bilingual character due to the vigor of the Cuban community. This attachment to cultural values will inevitably cause alienation between Cubans and staunch opponents of bilingualism.

Issues

Republicans have very carefully focused the political debate in ways that avoid many of the real concerns of Latino families. In this section we try to list some of these issues that should form the focus of the political debate.

Education. More educational opportunities for Latinos should be one of the central issues for framing any debate. Bush's No Child Left Behind Act has been shown to offer no remedy for improved educational opportunity, and in fact its ultimate result may be the dismantlement of the public education system. According to the U. S. Census (see references):

  • More than two in five Latinos aged 25 and older have not graduated from high school.
  • Many fewer Latinos aged 25 and older graduated from high school than non-Latino Whites (57.0 percent and 88.7 percent, respectively).
  • More than one-quarter of Latinos had less than a ninth-grade education (27.0 percent), compared with only 4.0 percent of non-Latino Whites.
  • Many fewer Latinos obtain a bachelor's degree (11.1 percent) than do non-Latino Whites (29.4 percent).

Employment. In this category as well, the statistics for Latinos are disturbing. Latinos are much more likely than non-Latino Whites to be unemployed. Again according to the U. S. Census:

  • In March 2002, 8.1 percent of Latinos over 16 in the civilian labor force were unemployed, compared with only 5.1 percent of non-Latino Whites.
  • Among Latino groups, 8.4 percent of Mexicans, 9.6 percent of Puerto Ricans, 6.8 percent of Central and South Americans, 6.1 percent of Cubans, and 8.6 percent of other Latinos were unemployed

Latino identity

Why Latinos need to form alliances with progressives

Latino "values"

References

  1. M. Suárez-Orozco and M. Páez, Latinos: Remaking America, University of California Press, 2002. A collection of articles presented at an April 200 conference at Harvard University.

External links

  • NDN's Hispanic project
  • U. S. Census Bureau publications.

Of particular relevance is the following report:

  • The Hispanic Population in the United States: March 2002
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