Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Convention speakers Castro, Rubio highlight Latino divide between Mexican- and Cuban-Americans

This is what I was talking about last week.

The Hispanics with the highest profiles in this year's political conventions, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, stand as opposites in a cultural and political split that has divided millions of U.S. Latinos for decades.

Republicans chose Rubio, who is Cuban-American, to introduce Mitt Romney at the party's convention last week. Democrats, meeting this week in Charlotte, N.C., picked Castro, who is Mexican-American, as keynote speaker, the role that launched a young Barack Obama to national political prominence.

Although they often are lumped together as Hispanics, Rubio and Castro are emblematic of acute political distinctions between Mexican-Americans, who are the largest Latino group in the U.S., and Cuban-Americans, who are the most politically active. Despite their shared language, these two constituencies have different histories in the United States and are subjected to distinctions in immigration policy that go easier on Cuban immigrants.

"Historically, many Cuban-Americans for the last few decades have tended to be a little more conservative. So it's not surprising that you would see Sen. Rubio and the Republican nominee for Senate in Texas, Ted Cruz, running as Republicans," Castro told The Associated Press. "And I don't begrudge them for that. I think the policies they espouse are wrong, are not the best ones. But, you know, they're doing what they believe. And I applaud them for that."


Moises Venegas, a retired Mexican-American educator and Latino community activist in Albuquerque, N.M., said the two groups have little in common besides an historical connection to Spain, and Spanish surnames.

"The Cubans have never been one of us," Venegas said. "They didn't come from Chihuahua or Sonora in Mexico and from poor backgrounds. They came from affluent backgrounds and have a different perspective. The Republican Party also has opened doors just for them."

Pedro Roig, a Cuban-American attorney and senior researcher at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies in Miami, disputed the notion that there is significant rivalry between the groups. He attributes divisions between Cuban- and Mexican-Americans in part to geography and noted that many in the Cuban community admire Castro's selection as the Democrats' keynote speaker.

This has been precisely my own experience; Mexicanos hold more than a little simmering resentment toward Cubanos, while the Cubans don't give a damn what anybody thinks. 

Yes, there is some elitism demonstrated by Cuban-Americans. Many of them are lighter complected and thus can "pass" as Caucasian, for starters. Calle Ocho, the heart of Miami's Cuban community, is somewhat insular and distinct, whereas the places where Mexicans first settled in El Norte -- San Diego, El Paso, and Laredo come to mind -- are so blended now as to be barely considered singularly 'Mexican'. Santa Fe, NM, like so many great American cities, was a Spanish outpost with many Native American roots -- Pueblo, Navajo, Tewa. The Aztecs and Mayans are also of Mexican origin. (Did you know that the word "Anahuac" is an Aztec word for the civilized time before the Spanish arrived? I did not.)

The indigenous people of Mexico -- as in the United States -- were what we (white eyes) once called "Indians", of course.

Of the 52 million Latinos in the U.S., 33 million are of Mexican descent, followed by 4.7 million who are Puerto Rican and 1.9 million of Cuban descent, Pew Hispanic Center numbers show. The remaining 10 largest Latino groups are Salvadorans, 1.8 million; Dominicans, 1.5 million; Guatemalans, 1.1 million; Colombians, 972,000; Hondurans, 731,000; Ecuadorians, 665,000; and Peruvians, 609,000, the center reported.

In 2008, 9.7 million Latino voters cast ballots in the presidential election, and 5.2 million were Mexican-Americans, about 45 percent of eligible Mexican-American voters, according to Pew Hispanic Center data. When it comes to showing up at the polls, however, Cuban-Americans outpace Mexican-Americans — some 713,000 Cuban-Americans showed up to vote in 2008, 69 percent of eligible Cuban-American voters, the center found.

Obama won 47 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida that year, according to data from The Associated Press.

In Texas, some Republican candidates garner roughly 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, which is overwhelmingly Mexican-American, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the San Antonio-based Southwest Voter Education Project.

Go to the article to read more about one of the friction points between the subgroups: immigration. A snip more...

While some Cuban-Americans have hoped for decades for a return to a free Cuba, many Mexican-Americans recognize parts of the U.S. as historically Mexican. "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us," is a favorite refrain. Mexican immigration has fed much of the U.S. population growth in recent decades.

DeeDee Blase, founder of the Arizona-based Tequila Party, an independent political group made up largely of Mexican-Americans, said Cuban-Americans have failed to support policies important to Mexican-Americans, like immigration reform and health care, while wanting Latinos to rally around the trade embargo on Cuba. Blase is Mexican-American.

Guarione Diaz, outgoing president of Miami-based Cuban-American National Council, said resentments are disappearing as more Mexican-Americans have moved to Miami and more non-Cuban politicians are elected to offices with heavy Cuban support. Intermarriage between the groups has bridged the divides along with growing Latino unity around equal access issues, Gonzalez said.

So it will be interesting to see if the dynamic of Gilberto Hinojosa suggesting that Ted Cruz is a coconut continues to be a political tactic used to motivate (a specific origin-based subset of) Latino voters in Texas. A tactic that would backfire in Florida.

And I will ask again: is all this -- as in love, war, and the rest of politics -- fair?

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