There has been significant discussion on how to gain ground with Hispanic voters and what issues resonate with the fastest growing segment of the electorate. I have opined in the past on the importance of immigration as an issue as it is a tone setter and demonstrates whether candidates identify with Latinos.
There isn’t a way around it, a candidate’s stance on immigration matters. But it also can’t be disputed that immigration is nowhere near the top issue among Hispanics.
The truth is being Latino means you’re concerned with more issues than immigration. Jobs and the economy are at the top of every American’s agenda, and that includes ones with a Spanish surname.
So, immigration may not help you a tremendous amount, but can certainly hurt if mishandled. To the degree it erects barriers making it more difficult for a candidate to talk about jobs, it is a problem.
But assuming a candidate is able to arrive at an immigration position that is palatable to Hispanics, the question becomes, outside of messaging directly on jobs and the economy, is there anything else in particular that needs to be hammered home? And the resounding response to that question is affirmative.
One, the American Dream is an incredibly powerful ethos with Hispanics because many are not far removed from an immigrant who has come to this nation with little and worked day and night to blaze a path for their children and grandchildren. That’s why having an immigration position that – at minimum – does no harm matters.
Oftentimes, without significant prompting, Latinos will offer personal anecdotes about their mother or father, aunt or uncle, not to mention friends and extended family, and how they surmounted significant odds to arrive on our shores. Many times, those stories include individuals fleeing tyrannical regimes such as Cubans escaping the Communist government in Cuba or Mexicans seeking refuge from the brutality and violence of the narco-traffickers in their homeland
They understand something that is occasionally lost upon those of us who have been privileged enough to be born or lived in the United States for some time, that we are incredibly fortunate to call the greatest nation in the history of the planet our home: this is a place where someone’s aspirations are limited only by their work ethic and intellect.
All one has to do is turn on Univision and watch segments and stories about Hispanics who have reached the very top in their industries and professions among all groups to understand how parents who may not speak English proficiently and arrived here not too long ago would look over to their son or daughter on the couch and think, this could be you.
This scene repeats itself in communities across the nation, where men and women, from across the globe, irrespective of nationality have overcome obstacles to get to our shores so they could work hard, raise their children and see their offspring call themselves Americans.
It is incredibly powerful. It is that sentiment and calling that has fueled wave after wave of immigrants over 200-plus years, and made us the social and economic melting pot of the entire world. I cannot emphasize enough the emotion associated with “el sueño americano” among Latinos.
The candidate who can master this and demonstrate they offer a pathway for more Hispanics to reach their very own version of the American Dream will also meaningfully increase their own chances of success.
Next question: how do you get there? This is easy enough to answer -- with education.
Latinos place an outsized premium on education because they view it as the number one means to achieve the American Dream. They understand if their children are to become the future leaders in our nation, it requires academic accomplishments on par with those who can trace their roots back to the pilgrims.
Oftentimes, due to socioeconomic standing, Hispanics live in areas that do not lend themselves to the best quality schools. Therefore, a candidate who articulates a very focused and committed reform agenda on the issue of education will grab the interest of anyone seeking opportunities for themselves and their families. And that quite obviously includes Latinos.
Some might state these issues – the American Dream, opportunity and education – divert time and attention away from talking about the top issue, jobs and the economy. Quite the contrary -- this is how millions of Hispanics view the economy. They ask themselves a very basic and fundamental question: how can I ensure my family, my children get good jobs and prosper?
This is at the very core of the economic message and naturally positions a candidate as looking toward the future. That’s what campaigns are about. Who has the vision to lead our nation toward greater prosperity?
For Latinos, that answer oftentimes means acknowledging the route they have taken to arrive at this point, communicating how they can continue to provide for their loved ones and climb the ladder, and reinforcing and strengthening the institutions that they rely upon to join the ranks of the middle class.
That is the playbook and it is open to both the Republican and Democratic candidate to use. Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush certainly understood this. The question is: who will do a better job – Mitt Romney or Barack Obama – in positioning themselves as the candidate representing el sueño americano?
Javier Ortiz is a strategist, a partner at Falcon Cyber Investments, and an advisor on public policy and regulations for a D.C. based law firm.