June 30, 2022 - 9:00 pm
Being Mexican American is hard work. Cast as Abraham Quintanilla, father of Tejano music singer Selena Quintanilla in the 1997 film “Selena,” Edward James Olmos explained it perfectly. “We gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are,” he said. “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans, and more American than the Americans. Both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”
Tell me about it. I could use a siesta. That’s why I’m always relieved when a white journalist or white commentator tries to explain Latino voting patterns. This lets me take a break and maybe walk my donkey.
Democrats and Republicans have a lot in common. Neither party knows the first thing about Latino voters, and why we do the things we do. And when they try to explain why they’re not attracting Latino voters, they always prefer explanations that leave themselves blameless — and paint Latino voters as defective, dimwitted or duped.
Meanwhile, now that the Republican Party has wised up and chosen Latina Republicans to be its nominees in four different congressional races — three in Texas, one in Virginia — a lot of folks in the media want to know what’s happening and why. Actually, maybe they don’t. They ask questions to which they think they already know the answers. Liberal interviewers insist that Latinos are being taken in by misinformation from the right wing, while conservatives assume that Latinos are being repulsed by the Democrats’ leftward lurch. Neither perspective is 100 percent true.
The same goes for the suggestion that Latino voters are fleeing the Democratic Party because of its support for women’s reproductive rights. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe vs. Wade and Planned Parenthood vs. Casey, I’m hearing that explanation quite a bit. It always comes from non-Latinos. They must figure that, because nearly half of Latinos are Catholic, and because the Catholic Church considers abortion a mortal sin, it adds up. Those folks should double-check their math.
Latino voters are complex. Two-thirds of us are registered Democrats, but we’re also conservative — and that makes it easy to cross over and vote for Republicans who aren’t crazy nativists. We vote for the person, not the party. We care about the same issues everyone else does — jobs, inflation, the economy. We have a soft spot for education because we love our children, and another one for health care because we cherish our seniors.
Finally, while abortion — like immigration — is an emotional issue that strikes us close to home, it doesn’t guide us in the voting booth. Let’s remember that Latinos are a young population, and young people are more likely to support abortion rights. Anyway, many of us are so-called cafeteria Catholics. We pick and choose what religious doctrines to follow. Finally, many of us are personally pro-life (within our own families) but publicly pro-choice (for everyone else’s family). I hear this everywhere, including my own family. My wife is 100 percent pro-life, but the idea that five Supreme Court justices — four of them men — could tell women what to do with their bodies makes her blood boil.
In addition to all that, perhaps because our ancestral roots can often be traced back to countries where democracies are fragile, we take freedom very seriously. So we don’t like the idea of government stripping away personal rights, including the right to an abortion. All of this shows up in public opinion polls, which indicate that Latinos are solidly pro-choice.
Voto Latino, a nonpartisan advocacy group that seeks to increase Latino voter participation, recently conducted a survey of Latino voters in seven states — Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas. The poll found that 68 percent of Latinos believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with only 10 percent saying they think abortion should be banned. When asked if they would support a national law to protect access to abortion, 65 percent of respondents said yes.
These findings are no surprise. They put Latinos right in league with the majority of Americans, who are likewise pro-choice. Latinos are good at blending in, and apparently this extends to politics. Many Latinos are drifting toward the GOP. That’s true. Democrats are bleeding Latino support. Also true.
But what does abortion have to do with all that? Not as much as some people would like to think.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.