Historian: Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc — and politicians need to realize that

Historian: Latinos aren’t a monolithic voting bloc — and politicians need to realize that

U.S. politicians often use the phrase “the Latino vote” to encompass all Hispanic voters. But history professor Geraldo L. Cadava, in an article published by The Atlantic on Valentine’s Day 2022, explains why he dislikes that term. Latino voters, Cadava stresses, are not a monolithic voting bloc in the United States — and politicians shouldn’t lump them all together.

“Latinos and their ancestors have lived in the Americas for 500 years, yet it feels like many Americans are perpetually in the act of discovering us — especially when elections are looming,” Cadava explains. “We are instrumental to the emerging Democratic majority that Blue America longs for, that Red America fears, and that never quite seems to arrive.”

Latinos, Cadava notes, aren’t necessarily liberal or progressive.

“The conventional wisdom that Latinos are reliable members of a liberal coalition of people of color has never been exactly right,” Cadava points out. “Between a quarter and a third of Latinos have voted Republican in almost every presidential election for the past half-century. Donald Trump grew his share of the Latino vote in 2020 compared with 2016, and he may be growing his share still.”

Cadava goes on to say that although he didn’t vote for Trump in 2020, the reasons why some Latinos did are complex.

“When we vote, we aren’t just casting ballots about health care or education policy,” Cadava observes. “We are expressing political identities that have evolved over centuries — for and against expanding empires and nation-states; for and against more radical forms of egalitarianism — in ways that don’t always fit neatly into the rhetoric of the left-right divide. This is why many Latinos support tougher border controls to limit the influx of undocumented immigrants, whom they may see as threatening their own privileges or sense of belonging as U.S. citizens.”

The term “the Latino vote” downplays the complexity of Latino voters just as the term “the Asian vote” downplays the fact that Asians in the U.S. are everything from Chinese to Korean to Thai to Vietnamese. Mexican-American voters in Southern California and Arizona are hardly a carbon copy of Cuban-American voters in Miami, who are by no means identical to Puerto Rican voters in the Bronx or Philadelphia.

Having a stronger grasp on history, Cadava argues, would give politicians a better understanding of how complex and diverse Latino voters are in the United States.

“Understanding this history won’t allow anyone to predict ‘the Latino vote’ with pinpoint accuracy,” Cadava writes. “But it would at least help free us from the myth that Americans vote according to ahistorical ideas of inherited guilt or innocence. And it should remind us that we are in some way bound to one another — that for better or worse, what it means to be Latino and what it means to be American are intertwined.”

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