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Democrats need Latino voters. So where are the Latinos at the Democratic National Convention?

Giving Republican officials more time on the DNC stage than Latinos says to us that our support is taken for granted. It shouldn't be.
Image: Rep. Joaquin Castro And The Hispanic Caucus Visit Detention Facility In Texas To Investigate Conditions
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., addresses the media as Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, stands nearby after touring the Border Patrol Facility housing children in Clint, Texas, on July 1, 2019.Christ Chavez / Getty Images file

One minute. That's how long the Democratic National Committee agreed to listen to rising star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-N.Y., speak during the quadrennial four-day nominating (and star-making) commercial it calls a convention. She's lucky, though: Julián Castro, President Barack Obama's second secretary of housing and urban development and the only prominent Latino to make a run for the White House this cycle, didn't get a spot to speak at all.

His brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Rep. Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., who chairs its political action committee, won't be on the stage, either. The Sanchez sisters, who both represent California in Congress, won't be speaking; neither will the state's attorney general, former Rep. Xavier Becerra. Obama's first interior secretary, former Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, doesn't have a speaking role, even though he's chair of Joe Biden's Latino engagement committee; a former administration colleague, Obama's first labor secretary, Hilda Solis, who also sits on that Biden committee, also won't be heard from during prime time.

But, hey, they did let the Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, pontificate for two minutes on an empty stage, gave slots to New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and had Eva Longoria, of "Desperate Housewives" fame, emcee the opening night.

No offense, Eva, but it's not enough. Actually, it's insulting and strategically tin-eared.

What it says to Latinos is that we must wait our turn, quietly, to have more than a token presence at the party's biggest party but vote for it unconditionally in the meantime.

The convention decision — especially with all the talk about unity — is shortsighted, because, according to a recent Pew report, the 2020 election will be the first one when Latinos are the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the electorate. A record 32 million Latinos are projected to be eligible to vote in the presidential election, many of them first-time voters.

And despite what one might think, Latinos are not automatically in favor of a Biden presidency. Biden's numbers among Hispanics are soft; the most recent polls put him at 66 percent support among registered Latino voters, with 10 percent still undecided.

During this time in 2016, Hillary Clinton enjoyed 73 percent support among Latinos and ultimately picked up 66 percent of Latinos' votes in the election.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, got 28 percent of Latinos' votes in 2016 and, with better outreach, this time could pick up more. The same recent poll that puts Biden at 66 percent puts Trump at 24 percent among Latinos who are registered to vote — even with his administration doing what it has done to Latinos.

It is in that environment that the Democratic National Committee chose to minimize the Latino presence at its convention — and Latinos have noticed and are not pleased.

"The DNC, I do think, should have put more folks on the platform in the beginning, because representation does matter, and it does send a strong message about inclusion for the party," Julián Castro said in a recent CNN interview. He also warned that the Democrats risk losing Latino support if they do not make greater efforts at inclusion.

Or as Latinx Colombian journalist Gigi Gomez said to me about Ocasio Cortez's short speech: "So sure, we are going to bring in the help for 60 seconds, is that what this is?"

Yet, in the blink-and-you-missed-it slot Tuesday night, Ocasio Cortez took a machete to the political bromides and cut to the elephant in the room.

She spoke in English and Spanish and lauded the recent mass protest movement and its struggle "to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia and to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past."

She also dared say "colonialism" and "el espíritu del pueblo" — the spirit of the people — while obviously referring to Puerto Rico; it was music to the ears of this Boricua writer and many other Latinos.

Nonetheless, the party paraded speakers such as Republican former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Cindy McCain and Republican former Secretary of State Colin Powell for its Democratic audience, giving members of the opposing party more time on-screen during the first two nights than Latino speakers have the entire convention.

This is not how you court the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, which Karl Rove once told the Republican Party could be its for the taking because of social issues.

Ocasio Cortez's 96-second speech might be the talk of progressives after Tuesday, but what Biden and vice presidential running mate Kamala Harris must take away after Thursday is that Latinos cannot be ignored and must never again be relegated to the cheap seats. No such powerful voting bloc should ever ask how much the Democratic Party cares about it compared to Trump.

And while the upshot of this week and this moment is and has been that now is not the time for divisions among the left and that we should all just come together, the fact of the matter is that an important part of America has been relegated to a tertiary position, first by Trump and now seemingly by Democrats. That needs to be fixed — and if we all just paper over our differences and hope for the best now, there will be no reason for the Democratic Party to take us seriously if and when it wins later.