A Constant in Amerika: The Democratic Party Takes Chicanos for Granted
As most people in Amerika wait for the white supremacist U.S. President, Donald Trump, to concede defeat in the recent election and vacate the White House, there remains great consternation among political pundits and media throughout the nation. Many people that should know better are asking, “what happened to the Latino vote? Why did so many Latinos vote for Trump?” Fewer pundits seem to be asking why so many white women voted for a blatant sexist like Trump.
In San Diego, our only daily newspaper(!), the San Diego Union-Tribune, published three editorials by local Chicanos on November 15, each of which responded to noise regarding the mythical Latino vote. One writer, Rafael Castellanos, appeared to get it right when he observed, “Perhaps the best way to think about the Latino vote is to stop thinking about the Latino vote, and instead think about the Mexican American vote, the Cuban American vote, the Guatemalan vote, and so forth.” This is a much more analytical and accurate perspective than the perception that all people of Latin American origin in the United States have the same historic experiences and contemporary status within Amerika’s racial and class hierarchies.
Think for example about three of the largest Latino national origin groups in the U.S. We have Chicanos, or Mexican Americans, which are concentrated in the Southwest but are actually much less a regional group than we were several decades ago. Latinos make up slightly more than forty percent of the California population, and eighty percent of Califa’s Latinos is Mexican origin. Of course, Chicanos have a younger mean age than whites so we have not yet become the largest voting block in California.
Contrary to popular perceptions, Chicanos/Mexican Americans are not an “immigrant” group. As the late social scientist John Ogbu described in his seminal scholarly work on diverse ethnic groups in the U.S., Chicanos are a “caste-like minority” that is indigenous to the Southwest. We became U.S. citizens when the U.S. stole half of Mexico’s national territory and legitimized it with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. Or as many Chicanos express it, “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.”
It was during the mid-1970’s that I first read the journal article, “The Barrio as an Internal Colony” by three Chicano social scientists, Mario Barrera, Charles Ornelas, and Carlos Muñoz. Although it has been challenged by more conservative Hispanic social scientists, these scholars’ description of Chicanos in the United States as a community essentially colonized by white people during the nineteenth century, still strikes me as largely accurate. Later, scholars such as Armando Navarro added a somewhat Marxist, social class dimension to the racial hierarchy documented by Barrera, Ornelas, and Muñoz. Understanding the intersection of these Amerikan class and racial hierarchies, along with a gender hierarchy, is essential to an accurate analysis of Chicano voting behavior in 2020.
We also have a large community of Puerto Rican origin in the U.S. Unlike Chicanos, Puerto Ricans are an immigrant community although they have been established predominantly in the Northeast for many decades. However, their immigration is different than that of other immigrant Latino groups. Due to the U.S.’ colonization of Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans, or Boricua, immigrated from a U.S. colony, euphemistically called a “commonwealth,” to the mainland. Many white Amerikans are shocked to learn that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, even those born on the island. Thus, unlike Chicanos that often have family in Mexico, immigration is generally not a major issue in the Puerto Rican community.
We also have a large community of Cuban origin, many of which are concentrated in Florida, especially Dade County. This community largely originated from the wealthy, privileged Cubans that left Cuba after the “Triunfo de la Revoluccíon Cubana,” or the Cuban Revolution, of 1959. Although they were originally an immigrant group, Cubans that reached the U.S. mainland were automatically granted U.S. citizenship since Amerika considered Cuba a hostile, “communist” country. It bears repeating that this Cuban community originated from the wealthy and powerful elite that contributed to decades of oppression of the Cuban working class on the island.
Their most critical issue remains the goal of regime change in Cuba, even though neither Fidel or Raul Castro is any longer in power. Most of those initial immigrants have aged considerably and it might be that the younger generations of Cubans, including those born of the second wave of “gusanos” that came from actions such as the “Mariel boatlifts” of the 1980’s, are not quite as conservative as previous generations. However, Cuban Americans and immigrants from Venezuela living in South Florida clearly swallowed the absurd propaganda that milktoast Joe Biden is a “socialist.”
In addition to these complex differences in historical origin as communities in the U.S., these three groups have racial differences as well. At the considerable risk of overgeneralizing, Chicanos/Mexicanos are largely indigenous with less influence from Europe and Africa, respectively. Puerto Ricans are much less indigenous and more African. The initial group of powerful Cubans that settled in South Florida are more likely to be of largely European origin. These racial differences are important as are the cultural differences that accompany them.
And the recent waves of Central American immigrants are another diverse community with their own historical contexts. Some Amerikans are surely surprised to learn that Central Americans, particularly those from El Salvador or Guatemala, have had established communities in the U.S. for decades. And they mix! During my twenty-eight years working at the racist plantation called the University of California, San Diego, I met numerous students of mixed families from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, etc.
Given this degree of diversity, how can anyone reasonably expect to describe or analyze a mythical “Latino community” or “Latino vote?” The diversity of Latinos in the U.S. is much greater than I have described here. Thus, an analysis of Latino voting in the recent presidential election needs much more nuance than it has received thus far, even from self-styled “progressive” media sources such as MSNBC.
The colonial dimension of the Chicano experience is central to understanding at least one reason why some Chicanos supported an outright anti-Mexican racist like Donald Trump. Many scholars, including Paulo Freire and Franz Fanon, have written extensively about the mentality that develops among a population such as Chicanos that have experienced colonial conditions across several generations. Friere wrote about the “fear of freedom” and the tendency to glorify the oppressor in such circumstances. I have no doubt that the inevitable internalized colonialism of some Chicanos was influential in their support for Trump.
However, at least one thing appears certain to me. There is no way that the Biden-Harris ticket would have come close to victory without Chicano voters in states such as California, Illinois, Nevada, and Arizona. Although it’s not in the Southwest, Illinois has a large community of Chicanos that dates back several decades. One of my uncles, an immigrant from central Mexico, moved from our home in Nebraska to Chicago to work in a larger meat packing industry.
As Michelle Siqueiros wrote in the SD Union-Tribune this month, Chicanos have been organizing in Arizona for decades dating back to racist state policies that attempted to end Mexican immigration and that also sought to eliminate a practice as innocuous as the teaching of Chicano Studies in Arizona. Their efforts to increase Chicano voter registration, including citizenship drives, and actual voting were surely critical to the somewhat surprising Biden-Harris victory in Arizona. Much the same could be said of Chicano organizing and voting in Nevada.
What pisses me off more than anything is the absolute, complete ignoring of the Chicano vote in California. I can’t count the number of pundits that claim the victory of Biden-Harris was achieved MAINLY because of the African American vote in states such as Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Georgia (Atlanta), Michigan (Detroit), and Wisconsin (Milwaukee). I agree that those voters were essential. But are you telling me that without the Chicano vote in California, and California’s seventy-seven electoral votes, Biden-Harris would have won anyway? How can the other states, with much fewer electoral votes, be considered more critical? I guess I’m missing something.
Even Joe Biden went on television and said that he will have the back of the Black community since they supported him. And he should, because he wouldn’t have won without the Black community’s support. However, Biden might as well have said, “F—k the Mexicans in California, Arizona, etc.” I am making a prediction: when the smoke clears and they’ve burned sage to cleanse the White House, there will not be one Chicano—MEXICAN—in the Biden cabinet. Perhaps there will be a light-skinned Cuban American that makes the whites feel comfortable, but surely not a MEXICAN. I hope I’m wrong.
One might reasonably assume that Kamala Harris, from CALIFORNIA, would ensure that Chicanos are represented, but I highly doubt it. Another prediction: even though it’s the most logical step and simply the right thing to do, California Governor Gavin Newson will not appoint a Chicano as U.S. Senator to take the place of Harris. Again, I hope I’m wrong, but the surest bet is that the Democratic Party will continue to take Chicanos for granted.
The solution? I’m not a political scientist, I’m a Chicano educator. So I’m far outside my area of expertise. I do recall that in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, Chicanos in the Southwest started an independent political party, La Raza Unida. Armando Navarro and other Chicano scholars have done a historical autopsy on La Raza Unida, which was especially active in Texas and California and had some degree of momentary success.
Perhaps the time wasn’t right, or as has been said, perhaps we should make the time right for another stab at an independent political entity that represents the interests of Chicanos much more than the two-headed pig of the Democratic and Republican parties. It could be a registered party that when strategic, could run its own candidates, and/or it could be a “PAC” that raises funds for candidates that clearly support the Chicano community.
Whatever the specifics, we desperately need a partisan entity that unabashedly organizes support for worthy candidates. In San Diego, the millionaire granddaughter of a racist, former UC San Diego professor just purchased a seat in the United States Congress. I’m frustrated and angry to say that she now represents my congressional district. Her opponent in the race was a fairly progressive Chicana, albeit one supported by the Democratic Party, that was president of the San Diego City Council. Unlike her millionaire opponent, this Chicana actually had experience in governing a public space. We need some form of organization that can at least make a viable effort to prevent wealthy racists from reaching electoral offices in which they ignore the needs of our community.
In the immediate, short run, Chicanos should righteously expect some efforts by the Biden-Harris administration to “have our back.” We should expect significant changes in immigration policy, including protection for DACA students. We should demand and expect changes in federal education policy that move away from the idiocy of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s education secretary. ICE should be defunded and dismantled or at minimum forced to be accountable to congressional oversight. The Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights should once again devote at least some degree of force to investigate white racism.
As Chicanos, we cannot rest in our advocacy for our communities. We need to continue pushing for strong candidates for the 2022 mid-term elections and beyond that, the next presidential election in 2024. We can rest assured that our adversaries, both neoliberal Democrats and racist, neofascist Republicans, will not rest.