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The Meaningless of the Term “Latino”

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Jamelle Bouie has an excellent article arguing that progressives’ dreams of a demographic majority with the rise of the Latino population is a chimera. Progressives have a vision that endless Republican racism will combine with the growth of people from Latin America to propel a rejuvenated Democratic Party into a period of dominance. That’s pretty problematic, as Jamelle shows. There’s no question that the majority of peoples from Latin America will remain Democrats for the time being, but the future is murky. First, there are plenty of Latinos who are already Republican or who might be if the current iteration of the Republican Party wasn’t dominated by mouth-breathing white supremacists. Second, there’s no guarantee that Republicans will continue to be the white man’s party three and four decades down the line, although this is possible. The most likely possibility is that certain sections of the Latino population will simply become white and accepted into the a modified Republican narrative about race, class, and America.

This has profound implications. If whites are the “mainstream” of American life, with overwhelming representation in politics, business, and culture, then intermarriage with Latinos and Asians has the potential to bring those groups into the mainstream as well. Put another way, the wildly popular comedian Louis C.K. is understood to be white, even though his father and grandfather are Mexican and his first language is Spanish. More important, his children will be perceived as white, despite their Latino heritage. In effect, C.K. and others like him are expanding the definition of “white.”

To Pantoja, this bears a strong resemblance to the pattern of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the U.S. saw massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. “Latinos seem to be on a similar trajectory as Italians,” he says. “At the turn of the century, the Italians were seen as a stigmatized minority group that could not be assimilated into the American mainstream.” It was common to describe Italians as “dark,” “swarthy,” and—in language that also has characterized African Americans—prone to crime and poverty. But as Italians rose out of working-class professions and joined a burgeoning middle class, they and other “nonwhite” immigrants assimilated. Eventually, the New Deal, along with unions, service in World War II, and the G.I. Bill, brought Italians fully into American life.

The politics of Italian Americans changed with their shifting status. As the party most identified with immigrants, Democrats gained an early lead with Italian Americans; they formed a key part in Franklin Roosevelt’s victorious coalition and proved crucial to Democratic successes through the 1960s. But as Italians became fully assimilated, and Democrats championed the rights of racial minorities and women’s rights, the balance shifted. By the 1980s, Italians would join most white Americans in voting Republican.

A similar path might emerge for Latinos. Initially outsiders, they form a bond with the political party that most identifies with their concerns. As they move into the mainstream, those concerns become less salient, and their political preferences become identical to those of whites’—less dependent on their racial or ethnic traits than on factors like education, wealth, and geography.

Yes indeed. Many ethnic groups have become “white” over the centuries–Irish, Italians, Poles, Jews, etc. Each of these groups was seen as suspicious upon their arrival to the U.S. and found shelter within a more welcoming Democratic Party. Eventually, each became broadly seen as white and at that point, various other factors helped drive them to a greater or lesser extent into the two political parties. There is no reason this won’t happen for broad sections of the Latino population.

And that gets to another issue: that the term “Latino” has almost no value. What do Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans have in common? For that matter, one can ask what Spanish-speaking Mexicans from Durango have in common with Mixtec or Zapotec-speaking Mexicans from Oaxacans, a group that makes a up a major chunk of Mexican migration in some areas of the United States? Not a whole lot, sometimes not even language. It’s really rather insulting; it’s like saying that all the immigrants from eastern and southern Europe in the 1910s were the same thing. And maybe a lot of Americans saw them that way, but we know now that was pretty racist.

Terminology around race is tricky. My understanding of Latino is that it came out of immigrant political activism in the 80s and 90s as a way to get around the more offensive “Hispanic,” although I could be wrong about some of the details. But as the Latin American population has grown, the term has served as an easy way for “whites” to talk about this growing group of immigrants without paying much attention to the particulars. It has covered up the incredible diversity of peoples entering the United States from the south and blocked understanding of how immigration is changing the United States. We’d be better off getting rid of it and instead start talking about Mexican voters and Guatemalan voters and Colombian voters. They aren’t the same now and they certainly won’t be the same when some of them start becoming white and others don’t.

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  • joe from Lowell

    First, there are plenty of Latinos who are already Republican or who might be if the current iteration of the Republican Party wasn’t dominated by mouth-breathing white supremacists. Second, there’s no guarantee that Republicans will continue to be the white man’s party three and four decades down the line, although this is possible.

    Three and four decades down the line.

    To Pantoja, this bears a strong resemblance to the pattern of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the U.S. saw massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. “Latinos seem to be on a similar trajectory as Italians,” he says. “At the turn of the century, the Italians were seen as a stigmatized minority group that could not be assimilated into the American mainstream.” It was common to describe Italians as “dark,” “swarthy,” and—in language that also has characterized African Americans—prone to crime and poverty….By the 1980s, Italians would join most white Americans in voting Republican.

    A 60-80 year time frame.

    An article that dismisses a strong political alignment as a “chimera” on the grounds that it might “only” last for two or three generations doesn’t sound particularly excellent to me.

    Would Bouie dismiss the New Deal coalition as a “chimera?” After all, it only held up for “three or four decades,” too.

    • If you really think Latinos are going to be the center of a new Democratic majority for 60-80 years, I have some oceanfront land I’d love to sell you. It’s somewhere between Winnemucca and Elko.

      • joe from Lowell

        If you really think Latinos are going to be the center of a new Democratic majority for 60-80 years

        I would have said so. Knocking down a hole in your argument does not commit me to one I haven’t made.

        No matter how strained your sneering.

        Seriously, how did you manage to read my argument about the uselessness of projecting several decades into the future, and decide that I was making an argument based upon projecting several decades into the future?

        • Did someone wake up extra cranky this morning? Do you need a nap? Or your juice?

          • joe from Lowell

            You really don’t get to insult somebody and then complain that they act insulted.

            Even if you did just realize that you whiffed very badly in your argument.

            Oh, that’s right, your argument. Were you, at some point, going to address the large hole in it that I pointed out?

            • Dude, I’m not complaining. I’m just worried that you didn’t get your juice this morning.

              • joe from Lowell

                This is the sort of thing someone writes when they have no argument, and think their best move is to try to turn the discussion into a slap fight.

                Juvenile behavior aside, calling an argument which is based around the notion that an electoral alignment that “only” lasts a couple of generation is a “chimera” shows a profound lack of knowledge about politics.

                • shocking

                  dbag is douchey

                • joe from Lowell

                  And he wouldn’t address the point, either.

              • Corey

                Award winning blogger strikes again.

        • jeer9

          I’m sadder about Henry Hill’s death than I am about the ambiguity of “latino.” Maybe I need some more sugar on my Cap’n Crunch.

    • timb

      Joe is dead on right. Yes, America will assimilate Latinos. It’s what we do and it’s why we’re still here. Organizing a governing coalition which lasts for 30 years is not a mistake.

      My wife’s father was an illegal immigrant who married a white lady from work. they divorced when my wife was 2 and he moved away. She grew up in rural Ohio, as cracker as cracker can be, yet the Republican treatment of Latinos and women is why she votes and donates to Democrats.

      The idea that some other people view her as white does not stop her from identifying with Latinos, BECAUSE the Republican is run by mouth breathers and will not stop being run like the CCC until they have several bruising election defeats.

      Seems to me the only way to bruise them is to create a coalition around Latinos, African-Americans, union workers and professionals. If that coalition helps integrate Latinos into the mainstream of America and makes them rich and vibrant and successful enough to be selfish whiners, then it sounds like a damn good deal for them and me and the country

      • joe from Lowell

        It’s what we do and it’s why we’re still here.

        Whenever I talk to someone who is complaining about immigrants not assimilating, I tell them “Don’t worry. When their kids are 15, they’re going to know all the lyrics to the 50 Cent songs, whether their parents like it or not.”

        But for some reason, that doesn’t seem to improve the mood of the people doing the complaining. Oh, well.

        • timb

          I told the Chinese owner of a restaurant I ate at that his children would grow up and expect to work 5 day weeks and he was horrified.

  • joe from Lowell

    This comparison has its limits. Unlike “Italian,” “Latino” has no singular identity. Guatemalans, Argentineans, Chileans, and Dominicans are all counted as Latino, along with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans.

    This writer does not seem to be terribly familiar with the history of Italian identity. Neopolitans, Sicilians – they were all one big, happy Italian-American family in 1923.

    • Bill Murray

      But there was an Italian state in 1923 that included Naples and Sicily, whether those that had left thought anything about it. There hadn’t been a country or state of Hispania since the Roman Empire.

      Many of the people of the US did not consider themselves Americans until after the Civil War, that does not mean they could not have been described as Americans

      • joe from Lowell

        But there was an Italian state in 1923 that included Naples and Sicily

        And there was a British state in 1900 that included London and Dublin. Showing me a state doesn’t show me a sense of common identity. I assure you, people from different parts of Italy did not conceive of themselves as being “from Italy” during that time, nor consider people from different parts of Italy to be their countrymen – especially among Sicilians and people from the north.

        There hadn’t been a country or state of Hispania since the Roman Empire.

        There had, however, been a state called “Spain” for several centuries. I’m not sure what you’re point is here. The unifying factor behind the word “Hispanic” was, as I said, is a linguistic one.

        that does not mean they could not have been described as Americans

        “Be described as” by whom? Sure, you can posit a common American identity in 1859, but the distinctions that prevented those “Americans” from seeing themselves as part of a unified culture of polity turned out to have some real meaning to them.

        • Ian

          I assure you, people from different parts of Italy did not conceive of themselves as being “from Italy” during that time.

          It’s arguable that Italians still don’t consider themselves Italians first. (Ditto Spain, for that matter.)

          • joe from Lowell

            But, more relevant to the topic here, Italian-Americans (regardless of what part of Italy their ancestors are from) do consider themselves to be part of a cohesive, meaningful group.

    • homunq

      Also, Mexicans and Guatemalans have as much in common as Americans and Canadians; that is, a lot more than either side would like to admit, except for some native linguistic minorities. And Puerto Ricans and Cubans as much in common as West and East Germans. And though classing an MP3 file as the genre “Latin” is fucking evil, it’s still true that all four groups have probably heard of Los Tigres del Norte, Ricardo Arjona, Orishas, and Calle 13.

  • rea

    I thought the reason for “Latino” and the related term, “Latin-America” was so we could lump Brazilians together with the rest.

    • joe from Lowell

      And to distinguish western-hemisphere populations, which include large amounts of Native American and, often, African ancestry, from Spanish people. The term “Latino” was an effort to reduce the unwarranted lumping-together of Spanish-speaking people under the term “Hispanic.”

      • rea

        Except that it’s not like those Native Americans and Africans spoke Latin . . .

        • joe from Lowell

          The reference is to those areas of the Americans colonized by people who spoke Latinate languages, as opposed to those areas colonized by people who spoke Germanic languages.

  • It’s even more complex than that. I grew up in an area predominantly Mexican-American, and the complex racial dynamics of Mexico has imbued the area, setting up ethnic distinctions between darker and lighter skinned Mexican-Americans. And yes, once you read as “white” to the naked eye, that’s what you are.

    • Medrawt

      Indeed, I thought it was weird that a piece about the assimilation of Latinos into the white race didn’t really address … race. That, after all, is why Louis CK* (and Cameron Diaz, and…) register as “white”: because they’re white, and if their Spanish-speaking parents had come from Spain instead of Mexico/Cuba, there’d be no question of their whiteness. I’m sure the same process of mainstreaming Asian Americans will indeed happen both to white Latinos and some mixed-race Latinos, but it would certainly be really fascinating if it happened to dark-skinned Latinos who appeared to be of primarily African or Indian descent. (If anything, as an NBA fan, it certainly seems like dark-skinned players of Carribean origin get co-opted into black culture, like Carmelo Anthony and Al Horford. Of course, the NBA co-opts everyone – Yao Ming, Brad Miller – into black American culture.)

      *CK’s real last name is Szekely, because his Mexican dad was of Hungarian ethnicity, which is another wrinkle – immigrants go to other places than the US! I know some Mexicans with the last name Blizzard, whose grandpa was Danish.

      • burritoboy

        It’s actually fairly notable that, even though the Republicans have not spent nearly as much effort attacking Asian-Americans, most Asian-American ethnic groups lean Democratic, with some being among the most Democratic ethnic groups period (Japanese-Americans, for instance).

        • Maybe Manju should explain to them about FDR and the internment camps.

    • Pith Helmet

      I once worked with a gentleman who spent a whole lunch break and several later discussions explaining why he was not a latino, mexican, hispanic or whatever. He was of aztec descent (he had another name, which I can’t recall, for his preferred race), and wanted nothing to do with being associated with those other names. He was pretty adamant about it. I can see the same thing being relevant for other groups from different Central and South American countries.

      • Just Dropping By

        He was of aztec descent (he had another name, which I can’t recall, for his preferred race)

        Probably Mexica (the major ethnic group of central Mexico at the time of the European conquest, which included the Aztecs, but also the inhabitants of other nearby city-states and territories) or Nahua (an ethno-linguistic group ranging at the time of the European conquest from what is now the American South-West to Central America).

      • B

        True, but in the eyes of the (for now) majority culture, he’s the same as any other darker-skinned spanish speaker from south of the border (or from within the USA, even for generations).

        • Barry

          (B who is Barry)

    • homunq

      Naked eye _and_ear_, but otherwise, yes.

  • JRoth

    A major issue here is the agency of the GOP. Game theory (and what have you) suggests that, in order to stay competitive, the GOP will modify its messaging, policies, and appeals to peel off chunks of the pseudo-monolithic Latino vote, so as to stay viable.

    The trouble is that this sort of thing doesn’t just happen through some sort of natural process. It will require actual Republicans to convince other Republicans to do this. And as long as the GOP self-identifies as the party of people who think that Barack Obama stole this country from them, I don’t see how they square that circle.

    And here’s the key reason they can’t just do it through a shift in emphasis: as long as Latin America exists and is poorer than the US, there will be immigrants – documented and otherwise – coming to the States and speaking Spanish. And as long as that’s happening, the existing GOP base will be saying and doing things that offend even assimilated Latinos. Hell, things are so xenophobic in the GOP right now that even Cuban-Americans – a group that makes the Chamber of Commerce look suspiciously leftist – are starting to complain.

    Italian-Americans were able to join the GOP because the GOP wasn’t the party of anti-Italian prejudice anymore. I have trouble foreseeing a time when the Republican Party ceases to the be home of anti-(Latino) immigrant fervor in this country. You can posit some sort of larger realignment, but anything short of that is just hand-waving.

    • JRoth

      Just to guard against straw-mannery: I don’t think that changing demographics will be a magic bullet for Dem dominance, because we’re in a two party, zero-sum system, and not even the national disaster that was the Bush Presidency can keep Americans for voting for the GOP en masse when times are bad and the Dems are incumbent. There may be periods when the Dems have a “natural” demographic majority and dominate government for awhile, but they’ll always be interrupted by backlash periods.

      • Dirk Gently

        But the backlash still mostly rides on (1) base turnout and (2) “swing” voters’ basic denial/inability to understand that our two-party “duopoly” no longer consists of two equally “adult” actors who vie for moderately different means of steering the ship–where instead, one party is willing to crash the ship into the reef just to prove the hull is titanium and/or there are no such things as reefs. If/when that sinks in, I wonder whether the GOP can possibly survive in its current manifestation.

        • Barry

          “If/when that sinks in, I wonder whether the GOP can possibly survive in its current manifestation.”

          Which will never happen, because one chunk will never accept the idea, and one chunk *likes* the idea.

  • joe from Lowell

    Another problem with this piece is the assumption that voters change their party identity in real time, as the stances taken by the party changes. In reality, Latinos who came to identify strongly as Democrats, and strongly against the Republican Party, in the 2006-2020 period will most likely retain that orientation for decades to come, even if the GOP went back to a Bush/Rove stance in 2021.

    • timb

      Right. Political allegiances are generally set when one is young, which is why it took the GOP 25 years to finally win the South

    • Barry

      And returning to a Bush-Rove stance would involve curb-stomping half of the GOP base and probably half of the GOP politicians.

      It’d have to be a highly successful counter-revolution, and I don’t see that part of the GOP having clout (except in terms of bailouts and crony capitalism).

  • joe from Lowell

    Let’s try this again, see if any of the sharper political thinkers care to take a crack at it:

    First, there are plenty of Latinos who are already Republican or who might be if the current iteration of the Republican Party wasn’t dominated by mouth-breathing white supremacists. Second, there’s no guarantee that Republicans will continue to be the white man’s party three and four decades down the line, although this is possible.

    Three and four decades down the line.

    To Pantoja, this bears a strong resemblance to the pattern of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the U.S. saw massive immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. “Latinos seem to be on a similar trajectory as Italians,” he says. “At the turn of the century, the Italians were seen as a stigmatized minority group that could not be assimilated into the American mainstream.” It was common to describe Italians as “dark,” “swarthy,” and—in language that also has characterized African Americans—prone to crime and poverty….By the 1980s, Italians would join most white Americans in voting Republican.

    A 60-80 year time frame.

    An article that dismisses a strong political alignment as a “chimera” on the grounds that it might “only” last for two or three generations doesn’t sound particularly excellent to me.

    Would Bouie dismiss the New Deal coalition as a “chimera?” After all, it only held up for “three or four decades,” too.

    • tt

      The problem is that Republicans are gaining among whites at the same time as the Latino population is increasing. So that gives the Republicans some time before they need to start attracting more non-white voters.

      • joe from Lowell

        Republicans are gaining among whites

        Is this true? Is their support actually rising among whites?

        I was under the impression that they’d more-or-less topped out at this point.

        • Dirk Gently

          Yeah, I don’t think that’s right, once you account for age. Younger whites are nowhere near as likely to be Republican as older ones. Citations, plz.

          • Barry

            However, once you take voter suppression into account ….. :)

    • firefall

      I have to admit I’d settle happily for just a 20 year period of Democratic dominance, at this point.

  • Hob

    It’s obviously true that US politicians should be more aware of the differences between western hemisphere countries than they are… but I don’t know how you get from that to the sweeping declaration that “we” should stop using the word Latino. Who’s “we”? US Democrats of non-Hispanic origin? If so, “we” did not invent that word, nor did it come out of nowhere in the 1980s; “latinoamericano” has been used for more than 100 years in Central and South America, in an attempt to reflect the pretty obvious fact that people in that region share some major historical and cultural influences while de-emphasizing the specific national importance of Spain. It’s still used all the time by– “them”, I guess– when the subject is that (partly, but significantly) shared heritage, as opposed to specific national identities; “they” are still perfectly capable of talking about the latter when that’s the subject.

    Shorter me: It’s unproductive to tell people that they shouldn’t pay attention to cultural common ground, or form coalitions based on commonalities of experience, just because they aren’t 100% indistinguishable or aren’t in exactly the same political place they were 30 years ago.

    (See also: LGBTQ– a catch-all term based on several categories that are of problematic etymology, too specific for some people, not specific enough for others, and often not 100% aligned in interests. Clearly “we” should tell everyone to stop using it and re-Balkanize.)

  • What do Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans have in common? For that matter, one can ask what Spanish-speaking Mexicans from Durango have in common with Mixtec or Zapotec-speaking Mexicans from Oaxacans, a group that makes a up a major chunk of Mexican migration in some areas of the United States?

    Drop Cubans from the list, and the answer is simple: right-wingers have taught a lot of white people to hate them all.

    Louis C.K. has red hair and a red beard. He’s passing. People who can’t (or aren’t trying to) are still lumped together.

    • Barry

      I could rephrase the original question as:

      ‘In 1880-1920, what did Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Turks, Hungarians, Albanians, Poles, Czechs, ……. have in common? They were all considered to be inferior *races*, and not really ‘white”.

    • chris

      I’m not sure you have to drop Cubans first. Most of the haters probably can’t tell the difference, don’t really care to be able to, and aren’t entirely sure there *is* a difference between Cubans and all the other [insert ethnic slur]s.

  • burritoboy

    I think our friend from Lowell wins this argument.

    Talking about things that might happen 30-80 years from now is probably not very productive in general. And 30 years is probably too soon – it took Italian-Americans 40-60 years after the Republicans stopped openly hating them for some portions of the Italian-American community to become more attracted to the Republican party.

    Remember, how various ethnic groups now considered “white” moved into the Republican party had massively to do with a very particular history. There’s no reason, for example, to expect that the way urban flight played out in 1945-1980, would be repeated in the same way for Hispanic communities in 2020-2060.

    Beyond that, it’s probably reasonably important to mention that, in fact, plenty of the above mentioned ethnic “Euro-American” groups still are voting significantly more Democratic even today, 80 or more years after the Republicans toned down their rhetoric against them.

    Let’s look at those states with more than 10% of the population being Italian-American: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Except for Pennsylvania, these are very liberal states indeed (at least, within the US context), with the Republican party barely even existing in a few of them.

  • Anonymous

    The fact that there are problems with usage of the term Latino and Hispanic doesn’t mean that the terms have no value. There are problems with a lot of words that can be too inclusive or too exclusive. How about “whites” for one? We need a word to describe persons who come from a Spanish speaking culture. Neither Latino nor Hispanic are perfect (and there is a lot of debate among such people about which word to use) but that doesn’t mean we cant use such a term because there are differences between Mexicans and Guatemalans.

    Politics is always about the short term and the long term. Since the trend is for Latinos (or whatever term you choose) to support the Democrats over the next thirty years, a long time in political terms, it obviously makes tremdous sense to invest time and capital in solidifying that vote (and making sure that this group goes to the polls). It just doesn’t matter at all that eventually that trend will dissipate as the population merges more with the mainstream culture and the advantage is lost. Look at the Jewish vote. Slowly over time, the Jewish vote has gotten less solidly Democrat but its been a hundred years now and the Dems still maintain a solid majority.

    And Erik’s post is somewhat insultingly aimed at how us “whites” should refer to the people from Spanish speaking cultures. I’m married to a woman who was born in Mexico and considers herself Mexican, not Mexican-American despite the fact that she is now a US citizen. Despite this heritage, she has no trouble in using the term Latino and feels a great degree of comraderie with people from El Salvador, Columbia, Guatemala, etc.

    • Richard

      The Anonymous above was me

      • burritoboy

        The Jewish-American vote has actually become more Democratic over the past 20 years than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The Jewish-American vote over the past 20 years is more Democratic leaning than it was in the 1920s, for another example.

        • Lee

          Wilson was the first American president to get over 50% of the Jewish vote. Before Wilson, Jewish-Americans of Central European backgrounds tended to vote Republican because it was seen as more respectable. Only when Eastern European Jews became the dominate element did Jews become associated with the Democratic Party.

          • Richard

            And since Wilson was elected in 1912, thats one hundred years of Jews voting for the Dems, the point I was making. Despite Jews having entered the mainstream, they have continued, for a variety of reasons, to vote Democratic. (My grandparents came here from Russia in 1915 and were initially socialists. Their life revolved around the Arbeiter Ring – the Workmen’s Circle – a secular, socialist (very anti-communist) social organization. My grandfather handed out leaflets for Norman Thomas in 1932 but then, along with all of his group, became converts to Roosevelt and the New Deal. He was a fiercely loyal Democrat until the day he died.

            • burritoboy

              Yes, but the Jewish-American vote for the Democratic ticket has actually increased as time went on, not decreased or just maintained. In terms of voting, Jewish-Americans have not assimilated, if you view assimilation as becoming Republican (which I don’t, but Republicans do).

        • Barry

          “The Jewish-American vote has actually become more Democratic over the past 20 years than it was in the 1970s and 1980s. The Jewish-American vote over the past 20 years is more Democratic leaning than it was in the 1920s, for another example.”

          Of course, during that time we saw the Great Realignment. Back in The Day, people might vote Republican because they were against (the more extreme) racism.

    • Medrawt

      Anecdata!

      I’m part Puerto Rican, and have always rejected the terms Latino/Hispanic for myself because I always found there was something insulting in lumping all those Spanish-speaking folks together. However, I do recognize that the terms have had significant personal and political utility for many people, and I have no interest in taking it away from them.

      All that being said, I think it’s worth remembering that “Latino” can be an oversimplification when talking about political sympathies. Republican Cubans in Miami is the obvious example, but it’s not hard to imagine that political concerns could arise which would cause a schism in the voting behavior of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans in the Bos-DC corridor on the one hand and Mexicans in the Southwest on the other (and, say, Nicaraguans and Guatemalans in SF and Seattle and whatnot on the third, and, and, etc.)

      • burritoboy

        Precisely. In the comparatively tiny Jewish-American community in the United States, over the course of history there have been numerous sub-groups: the original community were Sephardim, with another wave of immigration in the 1840s and 1850s of German Jews, another wave of immigration of Eastern European Jews in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries, and another wave of immigration from the USSR in the 1970s through the 1990s. All of these groups had quite disparate backgrounds and politics (including not actually sharing common languages at various points). Yet, it’s perfectly reasonable to speak of a Jewish-American community.

        • OK, but Jews were identified by their religious minority status for centuries wherever they were, which is a very different thing than saying that Argentines and Guatemalans are effectively the same thing when they come to the US.

          • burritoboy

            Certainly, but it’s worth noting that the German Jews were primarily Reform, while the Eastern European Jews were primarily Orthodox – a difference which is pretty significant in the Jewish community. Further, we can note that the German Jewish community had a strong connection with the nineteenth century Republican party, to the point where many of the German-Jewish community’s leaders were simultaneously notable figures in the Republican party. This was not true, however, of the Jews from the Pale.

          • Ian

            Who’s saying that? And, demographically, who cares about Argentine-Americans? There aren’t even 200,000 in the entire country.

            Except in Florida and NYC, “Latinos” are mostly Mexican-American. That’s the dominant population, and that’s the huge demographic shift that’s changing American politics. The question of whether or not Argentines are “really” Latino is entirely immaterial.

        • Dirk Gently

          I’m trying to imagine a scenario in which Australians, Kiwis, Americans, Irish, British, Nigerians, Indians, and Pakistanis are all living in, say, Kazakhstan. Let’s say the vast majority are light-skinned, but not all of them. Would we/they be offended by a term like Anglophone, which ignores the particulars of further national/ethnic identity? I think the answer depends entirely on context and ease of use in every day life.

      • Hob

        Well, pretty much every term that’s ever been used to describe any group of people “can be an oversimplification when talking about political sympathies”.

        Another such term: “Labor.” Yet I’m pretty sure Erik knows better than to argue that Democrats should stop using that term because it’s from another era, and it’s unspecific, and it glosses over the fact that nurses and truck drivers and teachers don’t do exactly the same work or have exactly the same interests, etc…

        • joe from Lowell

          Another such term: “Labor.”

          Yet another: white.

      • Barry

        That’s true. However, let’s just suppose that one party acted as if (a) they were all the same and (b) that ‘same’ was the enemy.

        • Barry

          (replying to Medrawt)

    • Bill Murray

      If she uses Columbia instead of Colombia, she will not be well received there.

      • Richard

        My misspelling, not hers.

  • Ian

    I can think of three objections to this post and the cited article. First, the comparison to Irish or Italian immigration overlooks the fact that it was a historical anomaly: massive influx in a short period of time that then mostly disappeared. Much easier to dissociate yourself from immigration when it’s no longer coming from your motherland. (Actually, in that regard, note how Irish Americans are still invested in current, small-scale Irish immigration, whatever they may think of immigration as a whole.) Of course, it’s possible, even likely, that at some point the countries of Central America and the Caribbean will become wealthy enough that immigration will stop again, but it won’t happen soon.

    Second, anyone who thinks “Latino” doesn’t mean anything because it’s too capacious doesn’t live in a part of the country with a large Latino population. In Southern California, where I live, the term refers to a group that is dominantly but not exclusively Mexican and Chicano that shares similar cultures, similar economic status, and similar political outlooks–especially in relation to ongoing immigration. (Relatedly, the point about intermarriage should be applied more directly to intermarriage within the Latino community, which I would wager is much more common. What does a child of Mexican and Salvadoran parents call herself?)

    Third, as some people have already suggested, the GOP can’t really moderate its position on immigration until its current base of old angry white guys dies off. In this regard, see the fate of the California Republican party, which is likely to be reduced to a minor distraction in November.

    • Irish immigration was consistent for a solid century.

      • Ian

        Fair enough. When did the Irish start voting Republican in large numbers?

        • burritoboy

          I don’t think that Irish-Americans majority vote for Republicans even today. It took something on the order of 60 years between the end of large amounts of Irish immigration to the time when significant numbers of Irish-Americans voted Republican.

        • rea

          Abraham Lincoln?

    • Pith Helmet

      What does a child of Mexican and Salvadoran parents call herself?

      Mexidoran? Salvadorican?

      • Ian

        That’s the problem with rhetorical questions. She, of course, should call herself whatever she wants. But it’s not a stretch to imagine she would principally identify with “Latino.” I certainly know people who do.

      • James E Powell

        The only one I ever met told me her name was Zuelly and she called herself an American.

        • “I’m American on both sides except for my father and mother. They’re Irish.”

  • Dirk Gently

    I for one reject the entire premise of discarding the term “Latino”! How else will we know who TOOK OUR JERBS!

  • Gepap

    As a first generation immigrant from Panama, I usually use “hispanic’ and not “latino” because in theory it is a common Spanish heritage that supposedly ‘joins’ these communities together and it has never been properly explained to me why i should consider the term insulting.

    As for politics, there is a significant CLASS divide in Latin America, which tends to mix with race there as well, and it has been my experience that this divide travels with immigrants – people just don’t leave behind their politics when they travel. Most immigrants from Latin America were economic migrants, generally from the ‘lower’ classes and thus more open to ideas of the need for a strong safety net – the Cuban community was the exception because at first they were mostly political immigrants from the upper classes, believers in much of the Republican agenda in the first place – now that more poor cubans have come, its become harder for the upper class cubans to make their community regularly Republican. Conversely, upper class latino immigrants are as likely to be Republicans as Democrats. Within my own extended family, which is “middle class” in Panama (that means your apartment in the City has a maid’s room and you might take the help along to the beach house), the ones to emmigrate to the US have kept their politics (and views of race, which are no more advanced than those in the US), and thus the liberal ones are now Dems and the conservative ones vote Republican.

  • James E Powell

    And another thing. “Asians.” Was this term put into use because Euro, Af/Am, etc. cannot tell whether a person is from Japan, Korea, China, etc?

    The term is not applied to everyone from Asia, right?

    I know from experience in political campaigns and in teaching in Los Angeles schools that people who speak Spanish or whose families speaks Spanish sometimes bristle at “Latino” or “Hispanic” and sometimes do not. I do not know how people from Korea, Japan, China, etc. feel about “Asian.” But I’m curious.

    • Back in about 1995, I was at a Chinese restaurant with my family. Evidently some other people didn’t like their order. The customer started yelling, talking about revenge for Pearl Harbor, the atomic bomb, etc. Because they are all the same.

  • Murc

    What do Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans have in common?

    Catholicism.

    Often a particular virulent and conservative Catholicism, too. The area in which people from Central and South America who come from otherwise disparate nations and cultures most often find common ground (besides being pissed off at the way Republicans talk about them) is through the Church. I’m not sure how that devotion holds up among second and third generations born here in the states, tho.

    I’m sure many people here are familiar with the argument that, due to religiously-inspired social conservatism, the Republican Party could make enormous inroads among the Latino community if it stopped being so enormously racist. That seems relevant to this discussion.

    • Not so much. Guatemala may be majority Protestant at this point and Mexico is converting to various strains of evangelicalism with great speed, particularly in the southern part of the country.

      • Murc

        I usually dislike being wrong, but as a lapsed/recovering Catholic, this heartens me.

        ‘Course, it means the exchange of centralized religious craziness for more decentralized religious craziness, but, still. Baby steps.

  • jefft452

    “The most likely possibility is that certain sections of the Latino population will simply become white and accepted into the a modified Republican narrative about race, class, and America”

    Maybe, even probably a hundred years from now
    But getting from here to there aint that simple
    Hypothetical voting population –
    Collation A: 25% who base their identity on David Duke style defenses of white privilege,
    10% support the economic policies of the wealthy,
    10% vote “A” because it’s the default in their family

    10% low info swing voters

    Collation B: 25% “Minorities”,
    10% support the economic policies of labor,
    10% vote “A” because it’s the default in their family

    Collation A could make inroads, into any of B’s 25% “Minorities” who don’t base their identity on having a uterus or being brown or black, by giving up support of vaginal ultrasounds, being pulled over for driving while black, or having to produce a notarized copy of their birth certificate because their license has a Spanish sounding last name on it
    But doing so kills them with the David Dukes, and without that 25% of the vote they are doomed

    • Barry

      “Collation A could make inroads, into any of B’s 25% “Minorities” who don’t base their identity on having a uterus or being brown or black, by giving up support of vaginal ultrasounds, being pulled over for driving while black, or having to produce a notarized copy of their birth certificate because their license has a Spanish sounding last name on it”

      This brings up a point relevant to the original topic. For example, a woman might not ‘base her identity on having a uterus’, until a faction wants the government to, ah, get up there into it. Then that faction is sort of forcing an identity on her.

      Same for ‘driving while brown’, etc.

      Just because one doesn’t originally hold strongly to an identity doesn’t mean that much if a faction inflicts that identity upon them.

      • jefft452

        yes

  • Barry

    An additional problem I have with this article is that Jamelle doesn’t really understand the Tea Party and the violent swing against Hispanics (and other minorities) that we’ve seen in the GOP base for the past four years.

    He says ‘Bush won 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004,…’, but that was before the base sent a strong, open and powerful ‘f*ck you’ to Hispanics.
    And this is far from over; it’d be surprising if the base stopped openly and powerfully f*cking over Hispanics anytime before 2020. Another way to put it is that the GOP base defined ‘white’ again, to make sure that (with a few exceptions) Hispanics are not white.

    IIRC, it’s been shown that people’s political orientation is set before age 30; this means that a generation of Hispanics have been pushed strongly back into the Democratic Party.

    Now, when writing a political history of the 21st century in the USA in 2112, this is a minor deal. But it’ll probably make the difference between Hispanics being evenly split between the parties in 2020 vs. 2040.

  • EJ

    What do Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans have in common? For that matter, one can ask what Spanish-speaking Mexicans from Durango have in common with Mixtec or Zapotec-speaking Mexicans from Oaxacans, a group that makes a up a major chunk of Mexican migration in some areas of the United States?

    Well, one thing they have in common is to a large chunk of the republican base they’re all a bunch of greasy spics coming here to get on welfare and make everyone press “1” for English. I mean, sure, that could change – but that’s not the current trend.

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  • rosmar

    The claim that if one looks white one is white would mean that passing would be an impossibility. It would mean as well that race was purely biological, which we well know isn’t the case.

    Some advantages of whiteness are based on appearance, but not all of them, and not always.

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