Written by Jolt Political Specialist Jen Ramos
Austin, TX – When data was released for Texas in 2020’s census, there was much to celebrate for communities of color. In spite of a statewide government that has gone out of its way to silence the voices of Texans, data indicated that Latinos experience a 2 million person increase in Texas, making those who come from Latino or Hispanic descent a significant portion of the population. Even so, Texas legislators are determined to silence the voices of our community.
A majority of seats in the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate, and U.S. Congress were drawn to favor white incumbents. They drew maps to dilute the power of Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley, which has encouraged elected officials such as Ryan Guillen to switch political parties for the selfish goal of remaining in control.
While these are all blatant signs of cowardice and the fear of a swelling electorate, this battle is far from over. Healthcare for all Texans, jobs with a liveable wage, and the way we address energy in hopes that Texans do not suffer at the hands of yet another grid failure are just some of the things that are at stake, and Latinos are rising to the occasion. That being said, the general population seems hellbent on ignoring the power of an ethnic group that should be emboldened to not only see itself reflected in leadership but actively seated at the head of the table.
Every day, our facebook feeds and Twitter timelines are poised to welcome another Latino entering the political arena. We are stepping up to run for Congress, the Texas Legislature, city council, county commissioner, and beyond. This, however, is not without a present gaping lack in diversity. For many Latino candidates, they are stepping into the uncharted waters of being the first progressive Latino in their communities to seek office and potentially the first to serve. A prime example? Statewide office. As of now, Rochelle Garza is the only Latina who has announced her candidacy to represent Texas statewide on the Democratic ticket, which is baffling considering Texas has over 11 million Latinos that were counted by the census. Certainly, conservatives will make the argument that Latinos are more sympathetic to their values but when you see champions of progressive values such as Diego Bernal, Veronica Escobar, Greg Casar, and Lina Hidalgo at the helm, it’s hard to take that as an excuse.
But how? How do we create a pipeline and a pathway for electoral success in Latinos? Colloquial knowledge shows that candidates of color do not benefit from the same political safety net. Furthermore, it could be argued that when we lack a progressive bench to recruit candidates to in the first place, we set up candidates of color to fail. Let’s not look too far. In 2020, Julian Castro was a bright unapologetic progressive voice on the presidential debate stage with experience in the Obama administration and legislative gains to tout as the former Mayor of San Antonio. Instead, he was criticized, told that he was “too aggressive” and pushed aside in the media in comparison to another Texas candidate who is now running for Governor.
Even locally, Lina Hidalgo was not considered the favorite to win her County Judge race in progressive circles, yet when she did win, she proved to be a smart, confident leader during a pandemic and various times of crises for Houston.
While it can seem easy to discount Latinos from the progressive political space, we must have tough conversations. We must stop seeing Latinos as gardeners, maids, and thugs and start seeing them as presidents, governors, and legislators. It is an intrinsic part of our identity that we walk in the halls of power not designed for us – if only because our ancestors sacrificed so much to get us here in the first place. This does not mean we should appoint someone for the color of their skin, but rather that we provide those who choose to run for office with the same support and resources as their caucasian counterparts.
For starters, we must start with talking about the elephant in the room. Collectively, organizations refuse to meet Latinos where they’re at. Latinos are greeted with lackluster efforts that typically involve stereotypical digital designs (such as papel picado on everything), messaging (if it even exists) that lean solely on immigration, and a field plan that doesn’t account for traditionally Latino neighborhoods because “Latinos don’t vote.”
So-called progressive allies in particular do a disservice by not even attempting to understand our communities. While refusing to allocate funds for outreach in historically Latino neighborhoods, they accuse Latinos of “voting against their interests” in the same breath. They call San Antonio “south Texas” and lump in Laredo with the Rio Grande Valley (none of which is remotely correct). Campaigns subcontract their Latino outreach to staffers in other states while refusing to hire community leaders on the ground who have lifetimes of understanding in the communities allies fail to reach. They send people from New Jersey to organize and are still shocked when the person they send is unceremoniously spat out.
Latinos are not a monolith. This is more true of Texas Latinos. They, like the suburban white women who still keep voting for conservatives but somehow still get a pass, are worthy of being courted as voters. Respect them. Not all is lost if we stop pandering and start playing to the strengths of our culture and the progressive movement. The DREAMer from Oak Cliff deserves as much love as the first-generation student in Abilene.
Latino voters deserve to be listened to on the issues, deserve full-hearted outreach, and not mediocre messaging from out-of-state folks who think Spanish translation (from Google) and/or shaming them into voting will suffice. While we have nothing against our siblings in the struggle from states such as Arizona, California, New Mexico, or Nevada, the fact of the matter is that Texas Latinos are a league of our own. We understand the personal intricacies of our communities better than anyone else.
It is a part of our culture, deep in our bones to overcome obstacles. Our ancestors overcame colonization, famine, disease, racism, and personal adversity for us to be here today. With every Latino that steps up to run for office, there are five more who should be asked to run. We’re done being denied representation – now is the time for us to be at the table.
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