By Maggie Stern and Andrew Martinez and Ana Ruiz
Exit polls suggest that President-Elect Biden won Latinx voters overall by a 2:1 margin this election cycle – similar to Hillary Clinton’s margin of support in 2016 – and may have won states such as Arizona due to Latinx organizing and turnout. Yet media coverage – produced by majority white newsrooms with few Latinx voices – immediately focused on places such as Miami or the Texas-Mexico border where Latinx voters did shift significantly towards Donald Trump. Both stories are important to understanding Latinx voters in the United States and point to a fundamental truth: The Latinx vote is not (and never has been) a monolith. While Democrats continue to win a substantial subsection of Latinx voters, our isolated communities, in addition to machismo culture, are two reasons why Trump attracted so many Latinx people, but specifically Latinx-American men.
The liberal trope that the “Latino vote” is reliably Democratic dates back to John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1960. Viva Kennedy Clubs focused on Mexican-American voters, who largely shared Kennedy’s Roman-Catholic faith. However, the success of this campaign did not translate into influence in the Kennedy White House, nor did it erase differences among Latinx voters. As early as 2000, news outlets have been commenting on how Texas-Latinx and California-Latinx voters are not the same. National origin, income, race, and how long one’s family has been in the U.S. all influence an individual’s voting patterns more than their Latinx identity. A first-generation Black Boricua in the Bronx is not the same as a white Cuban who lives in Miami is not the same as a Mexican-American woman with a mixed-status family in the RGV. The Latinx vote is not a monolith.
The question is then, what was it about Donald Trump that attracted a different share of Latinx voters? There are two aspects of Latinx communities in the United States that I think will ring familiar for most (Latinx) people: first, that Latinx communities, for better or worse, are often isolated. The second is that, in some Latinx communities, machismo culture (toxic manliness) and misogyny are rampant. While both of these aspects are worthy of their own conversations, there is something to be said about these two points specifically and the role that they are playing in Latinx civic engagement.
Latinx communities in the U.S. are, to this day, often segregated. Many community members are never fully exposed to what America would traditionally consider “White” or “Black” culture. Anti-blackness continues to make movements such as Black Lives Matter seem foreign and dangerous – stereotypes that Spanish-language disinformation campaigns played upon this election. And still, there exists another level of isolation and homogeneity within Latinx communities. Latinx people of different national-backgrounds are clustered in very specific locations across the country (think: Cubans in Florida, Puerto Ricans in New York, and Mexicans in Texas/California). As someone who was born and raised along the border in Texas, I can’t say that I was ever friends with someone who was Dominican or Cuban – not because I didn’t want to be, but simply because there were few to none people of those ethnicities around me. In places like the Rio Grande Valley, Latinx communities are not only isolated from White and Black America, but from other Latinx ethnic groups as well. Our communities act as echo-chambers, where the rhetoric of people like Donald Trump has the same effect that it does on rural, isolated individuals, in say, the Rust Belt. Afro-Dominican protestors in New York are the “radical left” to Mexican communities, and undocumented students in Texas are “drug dealers and criminals” to Cuban-Americans. Donald Trump’s rhetoric succeeded with winning more male and wealthy Latinx voters because it was able to divide them.
Donald Trump has carved into the American zeitgeist a renewed sense of masculinity, one that is often toxic, misogynistic, and dangerous. While this was undoubtedly a controversy for many voters, I believe it was invigorating for some Latino men. Latinx culture is unapologetically gendered, and misogyny runs rampant throughout most of Latin America. This mentality of machismo (toxic manliness) exists within the Latinx diaspora as well. When Donald Trump insults a progressive Congresswoman on Twitter for calling on the government to prioritize the environment – an already “feminine” idea – Latinx masculinity sees this as a man putting a woman in her place. Machismo craves to objectify women, and I believe that Trump’s continued dedication to that resonates well with Latino men who still abide by standard gender roles of the 20th century.
The 2020 Presidential Election has proven that the Latinx vote will define the future of politics in America, but it won’t be because everyone who is lumped into the “Latinx community” votes for Democratic candidates. Donald Trump’s success with certain Latinx voters showcases that not only does the monolith of “Latino voters” not exist, but that the Latinx identity is far more complex than anyone would like to believe. If politicians wish to win the “Latino vote,” they can no longer say how they will simply help “Latinos,” or only talk about Latinx issues in the context of immigration policy. They must instead address the issues of Mexican-Americans along the border, and Cuban-Americans in Miami. Politicians must show more investment in these communities, and take a hint from organizers in states like Arizona. In 2024, there will be no central idea that can unite 61 million people in the United States; in fact, the only trait that all Latinx people might share is the desire to not be buried alive by the same archetype that is the “Latino” voter.