Is It Time To Retire The Term 'The Latino Vote?'

Nov 12, 2020

In 2020, Latinos became the largest minority voting bloc in the United States. To put that into perspective, a young Latino turns 18 every 30 seconds. And as votes were tabulated last week, the power of the Latino vote was demonstrated.

It both gave President Donald Trump the numbers to win Florida and President-elect Joe Biden the numbers to flip a historically red state like Arizona.

This is because the so-called "Latino vote" is 32 million Americans with diverse political opinions and national origins.

Stephanie Rivera Berruz, who has a doctorate in philosophy, is a professor of philosophy at Marquette University, who specializes in social and political philosophy with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. She says that the word Latino is meant to be broad and covers a wide range of people.

“When we’re talking about what it means to be Latino in the United States, we’re really referring to a very complex and wide range of identities that have arrived or have been in what we refer to as the continental United States,” says Berruz.

In Milwaukee, the Latino community is mainly made up of people from Mexico and Puerto Rico, she explains, but just because two people share the same country of origin does not mean they are from the same part of that country, arrived in the United States through similar means, or share the same views about the United States.

Berruz says as a Puerto Rican, her relationship to voting may be different from that of other Latinos because despite being a territory of the United State, people living in Puerto Rico have no voting representation in the federal government. As she cast her vote that fact weighed on her as she participated in a system that people in Puerto Rico can’t access.

“These are parts of the complexities that I think this election just generally speaking, across the board really missed to see,” she says.

Because of these complexities amongst every subsect of Latino people, Berruz says to accurately understand the voting trends in the communities, it needs to be treated more how votes of white communities are tracked — through cross-sections related to markers like location, wealth, education

“These factors seem to matter when we’re thinking about something like the white vote but when we’re talking about the Latino vote or the Black vote, they’re just these conglomerates of ethnic and racial labels, but it’s not clear we have a good grasp on what they are intended to capture,” she says.

In a recent article for The Washington Post, writer and journalism professor at Arizona State University, Fernanda Santos demonstrates how political campaigns could actually correctly harness the power of voters who are Latino.

The first step is to recognize that voters are not just Latino, they are Americans as well, and not just Americans but citizens who have different parts of their identities like every other person, Santos says. She points out that voters take every one of those identities to the polls and each one has an effect on who they choose.

“For a lot of us who come from Latin America … politics is a lot about the issues, the topics, the platform that the candidates have. Are they speaking my language, so to speak?” Santos says.

By language, she doesn’t mean translating ads into Spanish but if campaigns discussing issues that matter to the individual in ways they agree with.

Santos also points to the community organizing that happened within Latino communities in her home state of Arizona, partly to push back against anti-immigrant legislation. “They fought by going to the polls and voting but then they went beyond that. They have established connections with the community, they have established relationships with voters,” she says.

Instead of just showing up a few months before each election, their work has occurred over years and even decades, Santos explains. Those relationships are what end up turning out voters in places like Arizona, Florida, and Wisconsin.

Like Berruz, Santos believes the only way to understand different Latino communities to turn the word into a single data point that helps describe but not predict any one voter.

“Forget these terms as defining of all of us, and start thing of us as individuals,” Santos says.