WORDS BY YESSENIA FUNES
Latinx voters could’ve been a force for climate action this election—if only campaigns would’ve invested in understanding these diverse voters. Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re dispelling the myth of the Latinx vote.
There is no such thing as the Latinx vote.
Every election cycle, hype around the so-called “Latinx vote” dominates headlines and feeds. For a brief moment, politicians pretend to care about the needs and desires of Latinx communities across the U.S. However, they rarely—if ever—succeed to actually understand this complex and multifaceted voter base.
The Latinx vote is an illusion, a lie the political establishment tells itself because that’s easier than facing reality. Though 66 percent of Latinx voters went with Joe Biden Tuesday, per exit poll data, those numbers look a lot more muddled when broken down by geography, age, nationality, immigration status, and socioeconomic status. Esmeralda Bermudez of the Los Angeles Times said it best on Twitter Wednesday morning.
It’s laughable that in 2020, this country still needs to be reminded, Sesame Street style, that Latinos are not a monolith & the Latino vote is a mirage. This misconception comes from how little u bother knowing us, how superficially u cover us & how absent we are in newsrooms.
— Esmeralda Bermudez (@BermudezWrites) November 4, 2020
Welcome to The Frontline, where we’re breaking down the value of this diverse community in pushing forth meaningful climate legislation. I’m Yessenia Funes, climate editor at Atmos. For this week’s final edition, I’ll be dispelling the myth of the Latinx voter.
This year, Latinxs made up the largest group of eligible voters of color. This growth should’ve bolstered the campaigns of candidates running on climate-focused platforms. It’s a shift progressives should’ve latched onto and used to their advantage to create a political atmosphere where the U.S. can finally pass climate policy.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York called this out via Twitter Tuesday night. “We’ve been sounding the alarm about Dem vulnerabilities w/ Latinos for a long, long time,” she wrote, followed by, “We have work to do.” Boy, do we. President Donald Trump gained more support from Latinx voters this time around than in 2016, especially from Latino men.
Two days since Election Day, and we’re all still here scratching our heads wondering what the future of climate action will look like. A key first step in trying to pass climate policy and elect leaders who will champion climate policy is to stop painting Latinx voters as a single group with common interests and priorities.
“They should be viewed as a mosaic, not as a monolith, and there have to be concrete efforts to mobilize that population—and not just during the election cycle.”
As a second-generation Salvadoreña in New York whose mother works in the fast-food industry, my priorities may look a lot different than a middle-aged Puerto Rican business owner in Florida whose family left the island generations ago. Yet we both fit under that umbrella term “Latinx voter.” Ignoring these differences and failing to target voters based on their specific views and lived experiences are only hurting efforts to address the ecological crises, which disproportionately affect Latinx communities.
“We’re a multidimensional population with multi concerns about society,” Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of history and Latinx studies at Pomona College, tells me. “They have to be addressed. You have to earn the trust. You can’t expect it.”
Nowhere was this disparity of politics more clear than in Arizona and Florida. Trump won Florida with more than half of the Cuban-American base voted for him. However, Biden won Arizona with 70 percent support of Latinx voters, who are largely of Mexican descent. Trump’s campaign painted Biden as a socialist and communist in Florida through Spanish-language ads, a smart move to appeal to the state’s Cubans and Venezuelans who fear communism from their own histories. In Arizona, the Mexican population was likely drawn to Biden’s working-class agenda, Tinker Salas explains. The intricacies of why who voted which way or the other are complex, but one thing is clear.
“The Latino population should not be taken for granted,” Tinker Salas says. “They should be viewed as a mosaic, not as a monolith, and there have to be concrete efforts to mobilize that population—and not just during the election cycle.”
This is especially important to the climate movement, which needs support not only at the executive level but at the legislative level if it plans to ever see proposals such as the Green New Deal (or anything remotely close) pass. Across the U.S., Latinx voters of all backgrounds have experienced the scathing impacts of a warming world in recent weeks: from wildfires in the West to hurricanes in the South.
This is an extremely “motivated” voter base, says GreenLatinos President Mark Magaña. That’s because we’re experiencing this crisis already. However, the inability to acknowledge the diversity that exists among Latinxs is hindering politicians from making Latinx voters better-informed climate voters.
“Any time you lump some group into a monolith, you always have ineffective messaging,” Magaña tells me.“We don’t eat the same food or dance to the same music. We don’t have the same traditions… There are different pushes and pulls that different communities have based on history and their country of origin, their socioeconomic status.”
Let this be a lesson learned. The Latinx U.S. population is only set to grow. Without its support, climate leaders will fail. However, they can’t expect Latinx voters to choose them—not without doing the important time-consuming work of building trust. That requires seeing us as more than simply the Latinx vote.
See us for what we actually are: an intricate tapestry of various skin colors, opinions, and needs. Show us you’ve got what it takes to save our sinking, flooding, or burning communities by getting to know us individually instead of lumping us all together. Because expecting our votes without putting in the effort just isn’t working.