Likely Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush stepped into a crisis of identity after the New York Times reported he had marked “Hispanic” in a 2009 Florida registration application. The response on social media was swift, with many mocking Mr. Bush for what appears to be an honest mistake, however, the response by those who stand on the borders of identity to police who is Hispanic and who is not should reconsider the inclusivity of our Hispanic identity.
Beto O’Rourke represents the 16th Congressional District in Texas, which is about 80 percent Latino. He speaks fluent Spanish and is of Irish descent. He is what Mexicans call, a “gringo”. When Mr. O’Rourke sought admission into the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, he was originally denied. I argued then that it was wrong to deny Mr. O’Rourke inclusion into the CHC because it was wrong to exclude someone whose experience identified with other Latinos.
Monitoring cultural authenticity has important political consequences. My colleagues, Gabriel Sanchez and Sylvia Manzano, found that Latinos with strong co-ethnic attachments are inclined to vote for other Latinos even when the candidate is less qualified.
This means that if Republicans will want to make any headway into the Latino community, some sense of common experience among their candidates will be necessary. Already, Ted Cruz has been discussed as a potential Latino candidate, but the empirical research on his ability to win over Latino voters says it is highly doubtful. When Latinos were asked about different GOP candidates in 2013, Ted Cruz was reported to be relatively unknown and the least unfavorable candidate among those presented by Latino Decisions. But as Latinos got to know the candidates, Ted Cruz fared the worst, losing a net 13 percentage points on his favorability rating from July 2013 to November 2014.
While the Bush family was right to respond with a healthy dose of self-deprecation by posting on Twitter that he didn’t think he was fooling anyone and a friendly jab by his son, it is a good reminder that our identities are not static, nor should we encourage them to be. We should be reminded that the term “Hispanic-American” is often misunderstood to be about exclusivity, but it is an inclusive term. It is a term that expands the American experience, rather than Balkanizes it.