Rubio and Cruz: Two Hispanic Outliers

Rubio on the boder
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on the Mexican border. Rubio appears to draw the most Hispanic vitriol. /photo courtesy office of Sen. Rubio

Two Latinos won big in the Iowa caucus, a first in U.S. history. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz together grabbed a little over 50 percent of the GOP vote.

Pretty impressive for two guys with Cuban-born parents. Each likely will do well in the New Hampshire primary and one may even become the Republican presidential nominee, making for another very big first.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it’s amazing that two sons of Hispanic immigrants could rise so quickly in America. In one generation.

“How is that not being celebrated as historic or at least worth a headline for a day or two?” wrote University of Southern California professor Robert Suro in the New York Times.

Ted Cruz
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is more of an outlier than Rubio. /photo courtesy office Sen. Cruz

Indeed. Contrary to MSNBC’s Chris Mathews’, folks really do want to hear two Cubans debate. It’s a great story that bears closer scrutiny because Rubio and Cruz are what statisticians call “outliers” – different from other Latinos in big and small ways. Note: Anyone who runs for president is an outlier, regardless of color, gender or ethnicity. That’s not at issue.

What matters is that Rubio and especially Cruz appear to be outside the mainstream Latino experience, criticizing immigrants, mostly Hispanics with the same aspirations as their mamá and papá many years ago. No Hispandering here.

In fact, Rubio and Cruz are counter Hispandering – running mostly as non Latinos, addressing the “angry voices” in the party upset about illegal immigration, although immigration has plummeted significantly, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. But each exploits his immigrant roots when convenient.

Disloyal to Hispanics?

Univision journalist Jorge Ramos characterized the pair as “disloyal” to Hispanics, many of whom identify with their newbie counterparts, recognizing in them something of their own family trajectory in the United States. (My parents migrated from Puerto Rico to New York in the 1940s. Although Puerto Ricans are all U.S. citizens regardless of where they are born, they behave much like immigrants once outside the island’s Hispanic cocoon.)

As the candidates move out of majority-white Iowa and New Hampshire to states like Florida – 24 percent Hispanic and counting – there will be a reckoning. In a general election, the Republican Party needs about 40 percent of Hispanic votes to get back inside the White House. George W. Bush was the last person to achieve that, in 2000 and 2004, and he was pro immigration, as is his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

On social media, where Rubio and Cruz get little Latino love, there’s already a smackdown underway.

Fellow journalist and former colleague Pilar Marrero of La Opinión newspaper in Los Angeles asked her 5,000 Facebook friends whether they supported Rubio or Cruz. About 80 responses came back, most stating “No.”

“The notion that the Latino electorate would vote for a Latino candidate based solely on ethnicity is condescending,” replied Roberto Valadez. No Hispandering here.

Miami-raised Rubio particularly draws much social-media vitriol for allegedly being a “turncoat,” probably because he is more identifiably Latino than Cruz. Rubio is not particularly liked among Puerto Ricans, whose Florida population nearly rivals that of Cubans.

Cruz, meanwhile, appears to get a pass because he doesn’t speak Spanish and didn’t grow up among Latinos, a true outlier.

The Outlier Factor

Spanish 

The census defines Hispanics as persons who speak Spanish or having Spanish-speaking ancestry. Rubio speaks Spanish; Cruz barely does. Note that 70 percent of U.S. Hispanics over age 5 speak Spanish at home and nearly 60 percent of those speak English very well.

Cuban

About two-thirds of U.S. Latinos are Mexican or Mexican Americans. Cubans are only 4 percent of the Hispanic population, tying with Salvadorans. Cubans are the oldest (median age 40 vs. 27 for all Hispanics) and most affluent Latinos, according to the census.

Republican

Most Latinos identify as Democrats, as do the majority of Hispanic elected officials, according to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO). Florida is an outlier, because most Hispanic elected officials here are Cubans who traditionally identify as Republican, although younger Cubans are changing their political orientation.

Immigration

Two-thirds of Hispanics in the U.S. were born here, as was Rubio but not Cruz, who promises to build a wall on the southern border (but not the north, from where he entered). Meanwhile, Rubio was one of the so-called Gang of Eight senators pushing for comprehensive immigration reform in 2013; he is now running away from the gang.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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