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Hillary Clinton and The 'Abuela' Factor

A Hillary Clinton campaign staffer's blog post comparing Hillary Clinton to your 'abuela' causes a Twitterstorm, but is the criticism fair?
Image: Democratic Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton Campaigns In Bettendorf, Iowa
BETTENDORF, IA - DECEMBER 22: Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to campaign volunteers at a United Steelworkers Union Hall on December 22, 2015 in Bettendorf, Iowa. Clinton spent the day campaigning in Iowa, and during her final event of the day thanked local volunteers and campaing staff for their support. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)Scott Olson / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s campaign has run into another Twitterstorm over her Latino outreach over a blog that compares her to "abuelas" (Latina grandmothers), displaying the tightrope candidates are walking as they try to woo the community.

The blog post, written by a Latina, is titled “7 Things Hillary Clinton Has in Common With Your Abuela." It drew backlash and accusations of “Hispandering" Tuesday night that continued into Wednesday. The writer listed such things as "worries about children everywhere" and "knows what's best," things that many Latinos might say about their grandmothers. But the writer also says the seven items are ways Clinton is "just like your grandmother."

The Latino Twitterati found the blog’s comparison so offensive, they started a hashtag, #NotMyAbuela, and listed ways Hillary is not like their abuela. It follows criticism over Clinton calling herself “Tu Hillary” and using Selena’s “Bidi, Bidi, Bom Bom” as a campaign song in San Antonio.

But Clinton’s also a candidate who has hired several Latino staffers, as well as a couple of Latino pollsters. She’s tacked further left on her own view of immigration and taken positions on issues that many progressive Latino groups back, such as raising the minimum wage and finding a way to bring legal status to the 11 million people in the community who are not here legally.

Traversing the Latino identity landscape is a difficult thing. Republican Jeb Bush is often lauded among Latinos for having married a Mexican woman, speaking Spanish and having a “Hispanic heart.” But Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are referred to by some as Latinos in Name Only, despite their Cuban ancestry. While Clinton enjoys heavy Hispanic support, she's regularly targeted in social media.

Democratic strategist Larry Gonzalez said the backlash was a “headscratcher” for him. He saw the blog as the musings of a writer who wanted to share her thoughts on how she feels about Hillary Clinton in relation to her own abuela.

“It’s kind of a damned if you, damned if you don’t situation,” said Gonzalez, a Raben Group lobbyist in Washington, D.C. who is not working with any of the campaigns “You have Latinos on the campaign being given an opportunity to offer their opinions and who are not just window dressing and people don’t appreciate whatever thoughts they have to offer.”

Jorge Silva, a campaign spokesman, said the writer – Paola Luisi – is part of the digital team with family roots in Uruguay. She wrote the piece wanting to show the things about Hillary that reminded her of her grandmother, he said. The blog post did not have that context.

In an emailed statement, Clinton's Latino outreach coordinator Lorella Praeli defended Clinton.

"Hillary Clinton is a proud grandmother and has spent her entire career fighting for families and children," Praeli said. "As a Latina who recently became a citizen, I know firsthand the challenges that many in this country face, including fear of deportation, and Hillary is committed to fighting against Republican attacks to tear families like mine apart."

Image: Hillary Clinton
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gets a hug from fifth-grader Hannah Tandy during a town hall meeting at Keota High School, Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2015, in Keota, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)Charlie Neibergall / AP

Norma Ruiz Guerrero, who has written about the overuse of “abuela” in Spanish language advertising, said campaigns hire people who speak Spanish or are Latino, but lack skills in marketing and reaching Latino audiences. Her view is that the blog is “Hispandering.”

“She (Clinton) has a tremendous amount of qualities, but she doesn’t resemble anyone’s grandmother except her grandmother,” said Ruiz Guerrero, a consultant on reaching Hispanic marketing.

Ruiz Guerro argued that most Latina grandmothers are not white collar workers like Hillary. Some of the tweets about the blog drew differences between their grandmothers and Clinton's wealth, mentioning their grandmother's poverty or their grandmother's work in low-paying jobs.

“I’m not saying no Hispanic grandmother is professional or has a career, but clearly, in the United States the great majority did not,”Ruiz Guerrero said.

The blog post was written only in English and was never translated to or from Spanish.

Victoria DeFrancesco Soto, a political analyst in Austin, Texas and an NBC contributor, said the post would have been pandering had it been only in Spanish.

“To me Hispandering is when you go on symbol and not substance, if she sat there and ate tamales and wore a sombrero .... When you are talking about substance, that is different," DeFrancesco de Soto said. But in English it did not seem to fit the label.

Using touchstones to speak to the community can be treacherous for candidates and may have to be avoided.

"They can provide themselves a net for themselves by coupling symbolism with substance," DeFrancesco de Soto said. "People call it Hispandering, but I like to see my own food and the cultural markers. But if you see that and there is nothing behind that" it becomes pandering.

However, "even with a net some may see it the wrong way," DeFrancesco de Soto said. "There's always going to be a tightrope (to walk) and there's nothing you can do to safeguard against it."

Democratic strategist Jose Parra said the campaign could have thought more about the nuances in the comparison, particularly because Clinton is a well defined candidate.

“You have to see whether a candidate’s persona matches the comparison you are trying to make,” Parra said. “In this case, it was a culturally relevant situation.”

Some Latinos may find similarities between their grandmothers and Clinton's toughness, her attempt to break the gender barrier at the highest level of politics, although comments like that were harder to find on Twitter.

The blog post mentioned Clinton being unafraid of respect for the community, particularly when it comes to women and her taking on Trump. But the campaign also has been more willing to show her softer side in this election than when she campaigned in 2008, when there was more concern about how that might foster gender stereotypes.

Interestingly, the backlash Clinton is experiencing has not been similarly experienced by Vice President Joe Biden, who is often referred to as Uncle Joe, Parra said.

Also, some have taken to calling Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Tío Sanders, with little outcry, Gonzalez said.

“At the end of the day what is going to matter is that the (Latino) outreach matches the deeds,” Parra said, “whatever they are telling the target audience, whether they carry through with it. Will your rhetoric match your deeds?”

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