Imagen de Francisco Moreno Fernández

Hispanics and Republicans

American politics often provides for strange situations and events. One such moment was the controversy caused by Donald Trump when he expelled the leading Hispanic journalist and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos from a press conference. Ramos addressed the Republican presidential candidate in order to bring up comments that he had previously made about wanting to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, building a wall on the Mexico border, and kicking U.S.-born Hispanic children out of the country. These are Donald Trump’s proposals on the topic of immigration reform. Trump ordered Ramos to sit down several times, supposedly for speaking out of turn, and told him to “go back to Univision,” before getting a security guard to remove him from the room with a subtle and self-explanatory gesture.

Donald Trump —the son of a Scottish mother, who married a Czech woman in 1977 and a Slovenian woman in 2005— bases his entire immigration plan on the idea that Mexico sends the worst of its society north and that, as a result, the United States has to prevent the arrival of more Hispanics (by raising a wall), to demotivate potential emigrants from leaving their homelands (by denying a future to their children), and to deport all unauthorized immigrants. In this way he aspires to create more jobs for U.S. citizens, a group that paradoxically includes Jorge Ramos and the more than 17% of U.S. population included in the U.S. Census under the category of “Hispanics.” All of these proposals, if presented in writing, would merit a fierce rebuttal from the Democrats, since there are many U.S. citizens who find them feasible and even reasonable. Of course, such an attitude should not be shocking to Europeans, in light of the political reactions provoked by the mass arrival of Syrian refugees.

That said, as far as the U.S. Hispanic minority is concerned, it would be strange if any aspect of American socio-political life did not, in one way or another, touch upon the issue of language; more concretely, on the knowledge and use of English and Spanish by Hispanics. After the pressroom incident, Republican-affiliated voices did not delay in expressing their doubts that Jorge Ramos’s viewers would even be able to understand Donald Trump’s English at all, which was taken to mean that Univision’s audience does not know English, or in other words, that Hispanics who are loyal to Ramos are not bilingual. The fallacy had been served. Univision was, during 2013 and 2014, the television network with the largest audience in the United States, above ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox, so it does not follow that it would only be watched by Spanish-language monolinguals, taking into account that more than 60% of U.S. Hispanics are bilingual or primarily English speaking, and that a quarter of them do not even readily speak Spanish. On the other hand, the data show that Hispanics, on a mass level, do not just consider English to be important for their lives and for that of the country, but also that, as the generations pass, a command of both languages is becoming more evident, with a tendency towards English predominance. It does not seem, then, that Hispanic television is only watched by Spanish monolinguals nor that Hispanics are incapable of understanding Donald Trump’s English.

More harmful, from a rhetorical perspective, is the affirmation that Mexico only sends rapists, criminals and drug addicts to the U.S. Accepting that individuals of all sorts relocate during mass migrations and that Republicans certainly recognize the worth of honorable people, the image that such an assertion transmits about a group of people as broad and complex as Hispanics remains dangerous. Because this “minority,” which will constitute 26% of the U.S. population in 2050, also offers many positive aspects that really deserve to be highlighted. We should not only point out the U.S. Hispanic community’s status as the 13th largest economy in the world, but also make reference to the progress that Hispanics have made in education and human development. In 2013, the proportion of Hispanic Secondary Education graduates was 43%, which is very close to the corresponding proportion for whites (47%); in addition, the high school dropout rate has fallen from 40% in 1980 to 14% in 2013. Also, Hispanic university enrollment rates surpassed those of the black population in 2011, especially for short-term vocational programs. Yet, Hispanics continue to constitute the population sector least likely to be given opportunities for leadership or management positions, limiting the potential for work experience. What is more, the Hispanic demographic is still the group with the most difficulty finding employment opportunities and public assistance programs. The "Hispanic Map of the United States. 2015" (1) recently published by the Observatory of the Instituto Cervantes at Harvard University, provides numerous data about such topics.

The image that many Republican politicians have of Hispanics is not faithful to reality; at least not to the reality most relevant and significant from a social point of view. These discriminatory messages probably yield electoral returns from certain sectors of the population, but U.S. politics are complicated, and Hispanics are still a growing demographic. It is true that the Hispanic vote has proven to be sociologically weakened by the fact of its concentration in a few areas, like the Southwest, or in traditionally Democratic regions, something that Republicans look at without worry. It is also true that the Hispanic population is too young to count as a decisive electoral boost and that this very fact leads to a proportionally low number of Hispanic candidates for political office. Nevertheless, when the long view is taken, it becomes obvious that youth is cured with time, and as the small steps toward the long-term vision begin, it must be accepted that Hispanics already have been and currently are decisive in presidential elections. The Hispanic weight has tilted the electoral scale towards the Democratic side in states like Nevada and New Mexico; similarly, the Hispanic population in Florida, which has boosted both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, is starting to lean towards the Democrats, leaving the Republican Party behind. What will happen when that 94% of U.S.-born Hispanic children grows up, that 94% that Trump wants to kick out of the country?

Hispanics do not deserve to be treated like an upstart or arriviste population that robs Anglos of their rights. The Hispanic roots of the United States were first put down from Spain and Mexico between the 17th and 19th Centuries, and from all Spanish-speaking nations over the last 125 years. This “Hispanic” population, as it generally prefers to call itself, is made up of various generations, the younger cohorts of which do not just consider themselves “American,” but who also feel “American” (that is, from the United States). The integration of these groups, as a result, is total, including their knowledge and use of English, even though this does not signify the eradication of the Spanish language. Columbia University Professor Van C. Tran has shown that the use of Spanish at home and in school has no effect on the acquisition of English, even if it significantly promotes the retention of Spanish. And so, Republicans need not worry about whether their English-language messages are being understood. Instead, they should worry about respecting the fundamental rights of the Hispanic people.

Spanish version: please, click here

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