You Had Me at “Hola”

We have already talked about both the importance and relevance of the minority’s vote in the upcoming election. We focused on the role of the Latino/Hispanic vote and how the Republican Party intended to attract them. Now, as promised, it’s time to have a go at the Democrats. While Republicans resorted to the use of linguistically questionable slogans, the Democrats have taken it one step further. Hillary Clinton chose a bilingual VP candidate to run alongside her in the presidential race. We are talking of course, about Senator Tim Kaine.

Among the many ways politicians have to attract important votes, presenting a candidate who literally speaks the same language as their constituency is almost definitely in the top 3. But the question is: is he really speaking the same language? We know the presidential candidate can send messages in Spanish (you can follow Hillary’s Spanish  account “Hillary en español” @Hillary_esp to have a taste of it), not all grammatically correct, but at least she (or her team) is making an effort. On the other hand, we have Senator Kaine, whose fluency in Spanish is admirable; a language he mastered while living in Honduras for a year helping Jesuit missionaries who ran a Catholic School in the city of El Progreso, but some are asking themselves, “Is he really speaking my language?”

Senator Kaine obviously saw first-hand the struggles Latin Americans go through while he lived in the developing Central American country, but is he really in-touch with what the Hispanic community goes through in the US beyond connecting with them through language? We know he is able to give an entire speech in Congress in Spanish, so his language skills are not being doubted, but many can’t help but wonder if that is the main reason he was chosen as VP running mate, hoping to connect (definitely more than the Republicans did) with the so-called Latino vote.

To further aggravate the issue, Hillary even considered two Latinos as potential running mates: Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. The issue at hand is that neither of them is as confident as Kaine in their Spanish-speaking abilities, which is one of the reasons Hillary chose Kaine in the end. However, many are arguing that speaking fluent Spanish is not a prerequisite for identifying as Latino in the U.S., but perhaps something deeper yet is, a struggle many Latinos refer to as “nideaquínideallá,” meaning “not from here, nor from there”; an identity that can be formed from growing up in certain communities, or having one or two parents who are immigrants. Latino voters want a candidate who will represent and engage with them as a whole, not just through a common language.

Considering the influence Latino culture has within the U.S., it certainly isn’t surprising that both parties are trying to engage them as voters. If this election cycle has brought about an important aspect of the social fabric of the country, it is that the Latino/Hispanic community has proven to be more influential than ever before for the future of the U.S. of A.