Editorials | Issues | January 2007
|Bush Speaks Latinos’ Language|
Domenico Maceri - PVNN
“Quiero sus botas” (I want your boots) said George W. Bush to a group of Latinos in the presidential election of 2000. Bush meant to say “votos” (votes) instead of “botas,” his mistake reflecting a weak knowledge of the Spanish language.
In spite of his gaffes Bush made good use of his language skills. His interest in Spanish was part of his successful efforts to reach out to Latinos. He received 44% of the Latino vote in the 2004 presidential election, a little more than double the number received by Bob Dole in 1996 when he lost to Bill Clinton.
The midterm election of 2006 saw Republicans losing the Latino vote as Democrats were favored 70% to 29%.
Bush may not speak Spanish very well but he got the message. His nomination of Mel Martinez to the post of Chair of the Republican National Committee sends a clear signal that the Latino vote is important.
The nomination of Martinez did not please the right wing of the GOP because the Florida Senator, a native of Cuba, has moderate ideas on immigration. In a way, to the GOP hard core, the nomination was further proof that Bush is weak on immigration.
In fact, it was a smart move since the Latino vote keeps increasing and their concerns are going to have a significant role in future elections, particularly the presidential election of 2008.
Issues affecting Latinos are no different than those of most Americans—economy, Iraq, health care, etc. Yet, Latino voters also have strong interests in immigration. Latino voters are already legal citizens but they remember well the issue of immigration since it affected them and now affects people they might know.
The strident GOP rhetoric against illegal immigration should not have had an impact on Latino voters, but the fact is that it inevitably spilled over to Latino citizens. The pro immigration rallies which occurred earlier this year included not only undocumented workers but many other legal immigrants as well as Latino registered voters.
The GOP extremist position on immigration became manifest through actions. In one case, Tan Nguyen, a Republican congressional candidate, sent a letter to 14,000 voters with Spanish surnames in Santa Ana, California, warning them that immigrants could go to jail if they voted in the next election.
The letter was condemned by Democratic and Republican leaders but the message offended not just Latino voters but also legal immigrants from other countries.
In addition, the loud voices of Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and his Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus were instrumental in passing the Sensenbrenner Bill in 2005. The Draconian legislation made criminals of undocumented workers and would have even penalized anyone aiding illegal immigrants in the U.S.
The passage of the Secure Fence Act which authorized the construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border was another action which gave the GOP a black eye in the minds of Latino voters.
While the right wing of the GOP moved away from Latinos, moderate Republicans managed to stay away from strident rhetoric against immigrants and succeeded in not being painted anti-Latino.
The clearest example is California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Although he made some statements in support of the Minutemen, a fringe group that wants to close the border, Schwarzenegger was very conciliatory in his latest speeches and embraced a moderate stance on immigration. He received 41% of the Latino vote in his reelection this past November, which is very good for a Republican.
The message seems to be clear. As the Latino population increases and their voter registrations also go up, politicians have to look very carefully at the needs of this group.
In his political campaigns Bush understood that the Latino vote can be crucial. His efforts of reaching Latinos through language and moderate stances on issues dear to Latinos enabled him to reap significant political results. Is it time for other GOP politicians to learn Spanish?
Domenico Maceri, PhD, UC Santa Barbara, teaches foreign languages at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, CA. He is the author of a book on Pirandello, one on Spanish grammar, and another on Italian grammar. He has also published a number of articles in newspapers and magazines around the world, some of which have won awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications.
Click HERE for more articles by Domenico Maceri.