Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Richardson's out -- I guess I have no one to vote for now

The Hispanic demographic in the US has been taken into consideration more and more by the media. In part because of our growing numbers, in part because of the ongoing chatter about immigration.

Now that the media is paying attention to the "Hispanic vote", I again find myself wondering, "What is the Hispanic anything?" In other words, are Hispanics a heterogeneous bunch, who all think the same way?

Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, was until recently a candidate for President under the Democratic party. He was born in the US to a Mexican mother, and he was raised in Mexico City. In the tv show Today, Matt Lauer asked Tim Russert, a journalist who hosts Meet the Press, the following:

LAUER: All right, let's talk about the other stories from Thursday. The debate
was one. The other was, on the Democratic side, Bill Richardson pulls out of the
race, the New Mexico governor, presidential candidate. He says, `Look, I'm out
of money but I don't want to be out of the game.' So what does his leaving the
race do in terms of the other candidates?

RUSSERT: It opens up the Hispanic
vote, Matt, because Richardson himself from Mexico, his family, his mom. And
where is that going to go? We know about South Carolina. Half the voters are
African-American, at this time heavily tilting to Obama. But what happens when
the race goes to other states like California, like Arizona, like New York?

Why does Russert think that Richardson's withdrawal from the race opens up the Hispanic vote? Richardson's numbers, both in polls and in primaries, were quite low. If there is any room for trends within the Hispanic community, it has been noted that we tend to vote in similar ways depending on the country we're from: for example, Cubans have been noted to lean towards Republicans, Puerto Ricans towards Democrats. The fact that both countries produce Hispanic voters does not mean they share the same general tendencies. With the booming Hispanic demographic in the US, Richardson's numbers should have been much stronger if Hispanics were to, as a unit, back him solely because of his heritage. When Richardson first announced his bid, the New York Times reported that he was not making much of a connection with his fellow Latinos.

At least when discussing the projections for African American voters in South Carolina, Russert specifies that the numbers show them to be leaning towards Barack Obama, also in the race as a Democrat. But as for Richardson, the only reason he gives is because Ricardson and his family are from Mexico.

As a journalist, I generally like Tim Russert. I don't think he actually subscribes to the "they're all the same" mentality that those who are less racially-savvy subscribe to. But it just goes to show that we have people who are otherwise very well-informed making assumptions about people just because they speak Spanish. Personally, I find it almost insulting to think that I would be expected to vote for someone just because of their ethnicity. I am happy to see a Hispanic presidential candiate, truly. But to go so far as to assume that our heritage is so similar that I would by default vote for him? Are we so blinded by the awesomeness of a Hispanic candidate that we throw our reasoning skills out the window?

I've often thought that every decade has a scapegoat. Periodically, people go from fearing one group of people to another. This time, I feel Hispanics are on the receiving end, mostly because of the immigration issue, but also because our numbers are growing every day. When you are a small minority, easily marginalized, it's easy to be overlooked. But Hispanics are not in that position anymore. Past scapegoats have organized and brought about a message to the community at large, to the point where it's no longer acceptable to openly say "they're all the same". The way I see it, when we have the media assuming that Hispanics are, indeed, all the same, it's time for us to step up and remind them that we're not. As much as I feel that Hispanics don't have a single mind, I do feel that all of us who hail from Latin America have formed our own community -- whether it be around the term Hispanic, or Latino, the things we do share bind us together, to a certain degree. But if we were all of a single mind, the community we are in the process of forming would be far less interesting, and far less capable of growth.

1 comment:

Ahuva Batya said...

Amen! I have been saying much the same (in my head) about the "women" vote or the "African American vote." We are not big blocks. Yes, at one time it may have been more reliable to estimate the general direction of vote of a particular group, but this country has moved past that. I don't think the general pundits are seeing the micro-trends within the entire country.