The Latinoamericanización of U.S. Politics
Interview with Roberto Lovato.
By Elena Shore
There’s a sea change taking place in poltics today, and it’s being led by Latinos, according to Roberto Lovato, a writer and a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. He spoke with New America Media editor Elena Shore.
Where did Latino voters make a difference in Tuesday’s election?
It’s important to say the difference that Latino voters could have made.
Ex-governors and ex-senators in Colorado, in Florida, could-have-beens in Virginia and other states would probably have had the votes they needed to win, had we had a different policy on immigration.
Like it or not, the King Kong of issues for Latinos, bar none, is still immigration. And when you have President Barack Obama giving people a lot of reasons not to go out and vote – there’s 2 million deported reasons, there’s 400,000 jailed reasons, there’s thousands of children terrorized reasons why Latinos were completely disanimated and discouraged.
There was a lot of talk about what Obama’s delay in taking executive action on immigration would have on the election.
I don’t think it’s just the delay. I think it’s those 2 million deportations, and the 400,000 jailings, and all the terror and destruction of immigrant lives that Obama has caused in a community where 56 percent of us that voted in exit polls have a friend or relative who’s an undocumented immigrant. If you want to lose Latino votes, do what Obama and the Democrats did. It’s a sure-fire way. But the Republicans haven’t made any, and I do mean any, major inroads. And they won’t.
So what we’re dealing with is a debate that has degenerated to a point where people are reporting on the unicorn vs. La Siguanaba, non-existent fictional entities that are constructed by the media. It’s not the actual community that’s speaking in the headlines or the discussions about the Latino vote. It’s this imaginary being that they’ve made up.
What do you think they’re missing?
What’s missing is real deep, serious reporting. When you cover immigration solely within the border of the United States, when you start there, it unleashes a dynamic that defines immigration as primarily an electoral issue – when there are economic, political, foreign policy, Drug War and other issues at play.
I wrote in an article today that our elections look more like The Walking Dead than ever – zombie politics. Zombie, as in they’re really heartless, lifeless policies and politicians that move by the momentum of their deadness. That’s extremely dangerous.
Today’s Latino Decisions poll found that if Obama were to act before the end of the year, Latino voters’ enthusiasm for Democrats would go way up, and if Republicans were to block it, they would be much more anti-Republican.
I think that’s one of the foundations for the next way that the Latino political game is going to be played. It’s going to be played around the axes of executive action favorable for Latinos vs. Republican blocking, which is unfavorable.
It’s a false frame for the issue. You have to look at who in the Latino community is responsible for the fact that nobody said anything about the 2 million deportations. How did we get to 2 million deportations and not have any of the major advocates … say anything for almost six years? How did the media not report on all this suffering and destruction that’s at the heart of the Democrats’ electoral law? That’s the story.
So what effect has that had on potential voters?
Right now, most Latino voters know that they don’t like what the Democrats are doing, but they don’t know why Obama is worse on deportation than all presidents in U.S. history combined. So they don’t know what to think and do in the face of it.
There’s a way that reality is curated for us so that we don’t ask real, deep questions about deportations, about Border Patrol killings of innocent people, immigrants, jailing 400,000 mostly non-criminal people a year.
You hear people say, “Well, it’s out of his control. It’s the people in the bureaucracy that are doing that, and he’s just enforcing the law” and all these magnificent and utterly false conclusions that people reach because they don’t have the information to face the stone-cold fact that their Democratic Party is no different, and even worse, on immigration than the dreaded Republican Party.
Their only fallback position is: “Wait ‘til the Republicans are in power.” That’s a degenerate imagination that says that. At a rhetoric level and at a policy proposal level, the Republicans are worse. There is no doubt about that. But at the physical level of an actual immigrant body, at the level of actual suffering of thousands upon thousands of children, at the level of real immigrant non-criminal body being jailed for specious reasons, Barack Obama and the Democrats have been worse than the worst Tea Partier.
What are some of the most interesting races you have been tracking?
I think one of the most interesting things happening right now is in Arizona. Largely unreported is what I would call the beginning of the end of SB 1070 and SB 1062, the racial profiling law and the ethnic studies ban. The politics and the politicians that brought that about are not expanding and growing; they are retreating now.
You have no better instance than the case of David García, a largely unknown PhD Army vet who ran his campaign [for Superintendent of Public Instruction] against a Tea Party candidate. The most telling thing is… he got the endorsement of the Chamber of Commerce. That’s the same Chamber of Commerce that was being boycotted by Latinos in Arizona and throughout the U.S.
So what does that mean? It means that those forces are now on the retreat. It means that the boycotts, the protests, the Move the Game campaign [launched by Roberto Lovato and Presente.org], to get the Major League game out of Arizona, all those campaigns, all those efforts on the ground worked. That previews for me what’s going to be the most exciting thing in U.S. politics, which is what I call the latinoamericanización of U.S. politics.
Can you describe what the latinoamericanización of American politics might look like?
It’s a style of politics where street action, continued organizing in different communities and different sectors, and bold actions and campaigns are intimately linked to electoral processes.
Which is very different from the way “politics” is defined in the U.S. The U.S. is bordered off from Latin America, so our ideas about politics are bordered off in the imagination: Politics mean elections. Punto.
Well, if you have the Arizona Chamber of Commerce endorsing a pro-immigrant candidate, and calling on the Republican Party to tone down and change course, which they’re doing — regardless of who won these elections in Arizona, because you still have about 150,00 votes that are not counted as of right now – that’s a sea change in politics, and a sea change that’s being led by Latinos.
Why do you use the term latinoamericanización of U.S. politics?
People in the U.S. only get political when it’s elections time. In Latin America, that’s not how politics are thought of, conceived of or practiced. It’s more organic and from the ground up, and opens up possibilities that we absolutely have to have now here in the U.S.
If you look at the Latino Decisions poll and other polling, people don’t have confidence in the political process. Our political process itself may be dead because of the Citizens United decision. In the face of such a dictatorship of corporations, we have really no choice at this point but to fight and organize outside of the two-party system that’s controlled by those corporations.
We have before us a dictatorship. So if we have a dictatorship – it’s not just military, but corporations that are in cahoots with the military, and that profit from military funding – then we have to go to those who know about how to fight military dictatorship, like the ones that the U.S. created in Latin America. We have to go to Latin American-style politics, from below.
Roberto Lovato is a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. He was a founding member of Presente.org and longtime contributor with New America Media. Prior to becoming a writer, he was the executive director of the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). You can follow Roberto on Twitter @robvato.