I remember having to bubble-in my ethnicity on my first standardized test. While this portion of the test tends to be among the easiest for the majority, it was one of the most puzzling questions for me, as I sat in that fifth or sixth grade classroom trying to figure out what I was. Am I Venezuelan, since I was born in Caracas? But I am born to an Italian father and a half Swiss, half Chinese mother. In my naïve yet culturally-aware mind, I believed I was right to fill in the bubble labeled “multiracial” since I was conflicted between Hispanic/Latino, Asian, and White/Non-American.
Having moved to the United States in 1998, I assimilated to the American culture and celebrate American holidays; nonetheless, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, my Chinese family gathers for dim sum traditionally. After my middle school culture crisis, I decided I would consider myself Hispanic, despite that my mother refused to renew my Venezuelan passport after it expired before the new millennia. My second cultural crisis occurred during my freshman year of college, when my peers could not describe a single cultural difference between what they assumed to be Mexican and Venezuelan. Not everyone who bubbles-in “Hispanic/Latino” is the same. The Spanish language and culture is different between Latin countries, each having its own needs, facing its own political, social, and economic issues, and each country proud of its own signature food, its own pop culture celebrities, and entertainment channels.
At 52 million, Hispanics make up approximately 17 percent of the United States’ population, establishing themselves as the nation’s largest minority. As such a prominent and established ethnic group, the United States as a whole should take this into consideration, and apply certain sociopolitical measures that are more favorable toward the universal melting pot that is, the United States of America. The Spanish-speaking population in this country is wrongly misrepresented, from classifying all Spanish-speaking immigrants or first-generation citizens under one broad group, to establishing policies that undermine their roots.
In terms of political parties, the Hispanic demographic is not consistent throughout the populations as a whole. Latinos are politically considered to lean toward the liberal, blue-collared party, however, this is not the case per se. Cuban Americans- a very prominent part of the Latino population in Florida, New Jersey, New York, and California- generally support the conservative, Republican Party. While Cuban Americans make up about four percent of the Hispanic population, they are a key demographic in several political aspects; among them, Cuban Americans are a significant population in Florida, a battleground state, and the Cuban vote is essential to the GOP.
When the media refers to the so-called Latino Vote or a political candidate appealing to the Latino population, the basis of the argument is too broad and, thus, misleads the public into believing something that is inaccurate; generalizing leads to a skewed misconception on facts. Contrary to popular belief, the Republican Party is not losing Cuban Americans and this demographic, in fact, did not vote more in favor for President Obama than Governor Romney during the 2012 presidential elections. Despite the percentage of Republican-votes from Cuban Americans decreasing compared to past years, the GOP most likely lost Cuban American votes year because the vice president candidate Paul Ryan “called the embargo a ‘failed policy’ that ‘doesn’t work.’”
Why is it, anyways, that Cuban Americans tend to lean toward conservatism? According to Dennis Prager, “The first generation of Cuban-Americans had escaped Communist evil. People who know evil are generally conservative. Leftism and liberalism — no longer distinguishable — are rooted in large measure in naïveté and wishful thinking.” Despite the Cuban population not politically identifying with the Latino consensus in the United States due to socioeconomic backgrounds, society continues to generalize Hispanics as one group of peoples, rather than individuals with different immigration, social, economic, and political needs.
In terms of immigration, Cuban-Americans do not fall under the broad category of “Latino,” as the United States holds exceptional immigration and road to citizenship standards for Cubans. Since 1966, when John F. Kennedy enacted the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, Cuban Americans who flee the island receive immediate refugee status upon arriving on U.S. soil. On average, about 3000 refugees arrive each year, usually in self-made rafts. In 2003, there was a low of slightly over 300 incoming refuges and 2005 saw over 6300 refugees. Unlike the millions of Latinos in the United States who must undergo the same immigration process, regardless of origin, Cubans have the ability to attain permanent residency after a mere year of living in the United States. “Illegal immigration” is never a concern to Cubans, while it is for an approximate 11.1 million undocumented individuals residing in the United States. Thus, when discussing immigration, Latinos should not be categorized under one group, as the process is easier- or may not even apply- to some groups, while others face tougher hardships.
How can one expect policies that affect the overwhelming majority of a given demographic to effectively apply toward the group, when Congressional representation is inconsistent with the populations within the United States? The United States prides itself as a melting pot and land of the free, allowing for distinct cultures and people from different nations which, naturally, brings about the diversity we see in American culture. Set the Latino population aside, and minorities, nonetheless, remain underrepresented in Congress and despite the fact that “communities of color [Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, etc] are the fastest-growing groups of Americans. It’s important that we invest now in these communities as they are our nation’s future workforce.”
Out of the vast majority of Hispanics in the United States, only three Hispanic Senators currently serve in Congress; two Republicans and one Democrat. Not only are these false accounts of the vast influence of minorities in the melting pot that is, the United States, but the political parties, too, are restrictive to one group of Latinos. Senator Rubio of Florida, Menendez of New Jersey, and Cruz of Texas are Cuban-Americans, and, thus, the issues that affect their Latino community differs greatly than that of the other Latino populations. With such skewed numbers in the Senate, as the overwhelming majority are Caucasian males, minority groups will remain stagnant and politically undermined until further progressivism is reached.
Not everyone who bubbles-in “Hispanic/Latino” in polls or standardized tests has the same socioeconomic background. Not everyone who speaks Spanish is equally affected by the same policies. Not everyone with a Hispanic background is in the United States because they escaped political turmoil in their native countries. Not all Hispanic countries have corrupt political regimes. Not all Mexicans are illegal immigrants. Not all illegal immigrants made the conscious decision to come to the United States and live under such conditions. The United States does not treat all Latinos who flee their country and arrive on US soil equally, so why are we persistently regarded as one entity with the same sociopolitical and economic background? Without the proper voices speaking for us in Congress, the norms will remain stagnant, the stereotypes will continue, and the Latinos will remain repressed and unheard. This is not a Latino issue, this is not a minority issue; this is an American issue.
-Victoria Stanzione is a sophomore political science major and intercultural communications minor at Pepperdine University