Ding, ding, ding. The Republican debates recorded their first Hispanic moment during the Saturday rumble in South Carolina. It took six debates to get to this point in a campaign making history for including two Latino candidates, both of them Cuban-American.
Florida’s Marco Rubio and Texas’ Ted Cruz went at it during, frankly, a stomach-turning bid to outdo each other on who’s the toughest on illegal immigration, which is mostly Latino. They upped the stakes when Cruz accused Rubio of being Hispanic – yes, you read right.
“Marco went on Univision, in Spanish…,” accused Cruz. Dios mío. Rubio dared to speak S-p-a-n-i-s-h, of all things. Tsk tsk.
Then Rubio, who grinned as Cruz made his accusation, gamely countered, “I don’t know how he knows what I said on Univision. He doesn’t speak Spanish.”
As we Latinos like to say, “Pa’ qué fue eso?” What was that for? The raucous crowd whooped it up.
Cruz, clearly hit, blanched and took a moment to gain some bearing. He then said in not-very-smooth Spanish, “Marco si quiere dícelo ahora. ¡Ahora mismo! ¡Dícelo ahora! Habla español si quiere.” Cruz said, demanding – in S-p-a-n-i-s-h – that Rubio “say it now. Say it right now! Speak Spanish if you want.”
Because speaking Spanish is … a bad thing? Rubio didn’t return the fire in this Hispanic-American war, moving on to other points.
For non Hispanics, here’s the subtext.
To Cruz’s point, to appear on Univision is to acknowledge that:
- There are Latinos in the United States – 55 million-plus last time I checked, only a small proportion of whom are undocumented.
- Latinos need to be addressed, like all voters, because they have opinions and may actually give you a hard time or vote against you.
What’s more, to speak Spanish is to remind voters that you’re …. Hispanic!!! Which neither Cruz or Rubio really wants to do, unless they’re pulling the biography-as-presidential-qualification string.
More seriously, the Republican Party has been accused prior to this of saying one thing about immigration to English-speaking audiences while feeding Hispanics a lighter, more gentler Spanish-language version of immigration reform.
As for Rubio, his counterpunch questioned whether Cruz is Hispanic – and it was meant for us Hispanics. Because. Cruz. Doesn’t. Speak. Spanish. Cruz himself has said this on occasion.
Latinos know that speaking Spanish is part of a litmus test to determine the depth of Hispanic roots. Latinos who don’t speak Spanish often are looked down upon.
Now that Cruz and Rubio have snapped, there may be other “squirmishes” in the Hispanic-American war, perhaps during the next debate later this week.
˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor