Latin citizens of the United States may or may not realize the immense power they now possess. Latinos are the largest “minority” in the United States and are now forming into a series of voting blocs with the power to decide the fates of many state legislatures, key members of the U.S. legislature and possibly the U.S. president. On Sept. 12, the current crop of Republican presidential candidates were in one of many scheduled debates for this month, when they were asked a softball question about how they would make their party appeal more to Latino voters.

Immediately, the inherent racism that’s still rife in the Tea Party and many parts of the Republican Party reared its ugly head. All of the candidates immediately spewed out the usual Republican talking points about how awful illegal immigration is. Why is this response racist? Because the question was how the candidates would make their party more desirable to Latinos. If it has not occurred to the GOP presidential hopefuls yet, it needs to be made clear that not all people of Latin descent in the United States are undocumented immigrants. And yet, that was the only issue the Republicans were willing and/or able to bring up. Grouping all Latin people into the same category as undocumented immigrants (not all of whom come from Latin American countries) is not only a racist reaction, but also politically stupid.

The reason that the GOP might want to rethink its policy toward Latin people is because, in order to win the presidency, either President Barack Obama or the Republican presidential nominee would need to carry at least 40 percent of the Latin vote. And currently, 45 percent of Latin persons in the United States say they believe that the Republican Party does not care about their concerns. Republicans cannot share the disgrace by themselves, however. While 43 percent believe that Democrats do a good job of reaching out to their community, that’s still far less than half of the population of Latinos and Latinas living in the United States. Clearly, something is wrong here.

Another key thing to remember from this debate is that, when it comes to resisting the temptation to label all Latin persons as undocumented immigrants, one must also resist the temptation to think they are part of one gigantic voting bloc. Latinos and Latinas can be divided amongst many different voting blocs and interests. For example, Cubans are actually the most likely group to vote Republican and traditionally have helped Republicans win in Florida. Their concerns are remarkably different from other Latin groups living in the United States, and the Republicans would be wise not to group their population in with others who don’t share their concerns solely based on race. And, if they are to look at the concerns that all Latin people share across the board, such as low crime rates and education, they will also find that these universal traits are also shared by every other racial group in the country.

Finally, why does all of this matter, besides for getting votes? Latin people in this country are just as American as everyone else. They deserve the newfound power they have gotten to influence the country’s electorate after years of discrimination and abuse. It would be good to see them use this power to wake up both parties to the fact that they are a part of this country and need to be represented the same as everyone else.

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