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The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Hispanic --- Whatever That Means
By Linda Campbell, Staff Writer
April 8, 2004
Do you ever feel like you should be more Hispanic?
The question my sister asked as we packed at an El Paso Howard Johnson's last year wasn't idle or facetious; rather, it was prompted by seeing four generations of relatives for my grandfather's funeral.
I knew precisely what she meant.
Should we make opportunities to use rusty Spanish skills in order to be bilingual, like our cousins, uncles and aunts?
Should I be teaching my children the language at home instead of waiting until they can study it in school? Should we be active in Latino organizations?
By going about your personal and professional life without touting your ethnicity, are you denying it or simply letting it be one among a multitude of the elements of your makeup?
How important should it be?
What exactly does it mean to be Hispanic, Latino or whatever the term of preference?
On whether your family has been in the United States for generations or recently moved here. Whether you're young or old. Whether you trace your heritage to Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Central America, Spain or a combination. Whether you speak mostly English or Spanish or only one of them.
But if you listen to the latest national poll on Hispanic voters, you'd get the impression that there was a neat little box defining that population -- and ¡caramba! -- we've discovered it's not quite so simple.
Or simplistic, as the case may be.
The Miami Herald, which commissioned the poll of 1,000 people by Zogby International, reported that it "shows that Hispanic values and ideals are just as fluid and diverse as the many Latino communities across the United States."
As though that were a revelation.
"The Hispanic community is a dynamic, fluid section of the voting electorate," the Herald quoted pollster John Zogby as saying.
Presumably, he was well-paid for such startlingly obvious insight.
Maybe it's news to the political operatives now feverishly courting every available voting bloc that Latino voters primarily are Roman Catholics -- but many are born-again Christians. That many support the death penalty but also abortion rights. That many don't like the idea of providing publicly funded services for illegal immigrants.
Maybe it's surprising that Latino voters tend to speak English at home and to be well-educated, well-paid and politically moderate. It makes them sound not unlike the majority of the electorate.
But anyone who's been paying attention could have told the political parties that -- and has.
"There is no single, homogeneous Latino opinion," the Pew Hispanic Center reported in 2002.
Its survey of 3,000 Latinos indicated "the need for new ways of thinking about the Hispanic population in this country," the center concluded.
"It is neither monolithic nor a hodgepodge of distinct national origin groups. Rather, Latinos share a range of attitudes and experiences that set them apart from the non-Hispanic population. Yet this common culture embraces a diversity of views that is most evident in the contrasts between immigrants and the native-born," the report said.
The continuing dispute over which Democrat will run in Texas congressional District 28 -- incumbent U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio or challenger Henry Cuellar of Laredo -- should be proof enough that political diversity is alive and well, even among Latino voters in the same party.
Despite some general values shared among many Latinos, such as a belief in the importance of family and education, the idea of a "Hispanic community" that can be led like lemmings to one presidential candidate or another is as misleading as any racial or ethnic stereotype.
Will my sister the lawyer in Houston vote the same way as my brother the engineer in Virginia? Does my cousin the pharmacist in New Mexico share the political views of my cousin the mother of young children in a thriving Dallas suburb?
Are any of us on the same wavelength as Cuban-Americans in Florida or Mexican-Americans in Chicago, service workers in Los Angeles, professionals in New York or struggling families scattered across the country?
More than 3 million Latino voters are registered nationally. The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project and other groups are working to multiply that to 10 million by November and turn out 7.5 million at the polls.
That's a huge number of divergent views and voices. The candidates will have to offer far more than platitudes about immigration and vouchers or a few phrases in Spanish.