By Monica Vega
When Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz first announced their presidential aspirations, many predicted that their campaigns would result in a higher number of the Latino vote going to the GOP. Both candidates seemed to reflect the image of the American Latino. Marco Rubio is the son of Cuban immigrants and fluent in Spanish, and Ted Cruz’s father was born in Cuba.
But these predictions have fallen far short of reality. Latinos are not voting for either Cruz or Rubio. This boggling situation leads to the question: Why are Latinos not celebrating the prospect of a Latino president?
Historically, Latinos in the United States have not voted Republican. In fact just four years ago, the GOP’s presidential nominee Mitt Romney amassed only 27% of the Latino vote. The GOP’s loss that election cycle led conservatives to rethink their strategy for gaining votes. Four years later, cue Cruz and Rubio.
But the presumption that Latinos would vote for a candidate based on their Latino background has been proven incorrect. In fact, Cruz and Rubio have even come under fire by some Latinos who accuse them of betraying their Latino culture. The Democratic-backed group Latino Victory Project makes no distinction between Cruz’s, Rubio’s and Donald Trump’s policies, which they consider anti-Latino. Furthermore, they urge other Latinos not to vote for them.
Dolores Huerta, a prominent civil rights activist, referred to Cruz and Rubio as sellouts and traitors. She thinks that they have turned their backs on the Latino community despite being Latinos themselves.
Still others claim that Cruz and Rubio do not represent the ideals or reflect the interests of U.S. Latinos.
This last claim rings true. A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center shows that the four main issues concerning the Latino electorate are education, the economy, healthcare, and immigration. Cruz and Rubio’s strong stance against illegal immigration and Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) have undoubtedly alienated many Latino voters from the GOP.
In addition, the fact that Mexicans, not Cubans, make up two-thirds of the Latinos in the U.S. has also contributed to the low level of support for both of these candidates, who both come from Cuban families. While the media and government tend to consider all Latino people as part of one group, Latinos often identify with their country of origin before identifying as Latino or Hispanic.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the Latino electorate’s enthusiasm for a Latino president is so low. Cruz and Rubio simply do not speak to the concerns of American Latinos.
But are Cruz and Rubio really “traitors to their culture?”
Ted Cruz was born Rafael Edward Cruz in 1970 to a Cuban father, but that is the extent of his Cuban heritage. He was born in Canada and raised in Texas. His parents never spoke Spanish at home so he never developed fluency in his father’s native tongue.
Cruz has spoken out against the claim that he does not embrace his heritage. Instead, he prefers to think that his heritage doesn’t define him. He was quoted in the Associated Press as saying that he has never run for office as “the Hispanic guy” but rather as “the strongest conservative.”
Marco Rubio takes a similar position. When asked in an interview with Mexican journalist Jorge Ramos about his decision not to run as a Hispanic candidate, Rubio responded in Spanish that “a president has to work for everyone.”
The controversy over Cruz and Rubio’s cultural identity is reminiscent of that which surrounded Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race. Obama’s authenticity as a black man came into question and some even dared to ask if he was “black enough”.
But these questions are irrelevant. Cultural identity is not something to be assigned but rather something that individuals decide for themselves. Whether Cruz and Rubio choose to identify as Latinos or not, it is their choice, and it is one others shouldn’t criticize. They may not have swept the Latino vote as forecast, but they shouldn’t have to project themselves as more Latino – as Latino enough – just to win votes.