By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
A plainly chagrined NAACP chairman Julian Bond lashed out at Mexican President Vicente Fox for flatly turning down the NAACP’s invite to address its annual convention that opened this week. Fox begged off with the standard politician’s duck and dodge excuse of a scheduling conflict. That may well have been the case. But schedules can always be juggled, and rearranged if a politician feels that the event or the cause is important enough.
Fox didn’t bother. His no show at the convention could be chalked up in part to ethnic callousness, and perhaps in bigger part to a belief that now that Hispanics have become a growing economic and political force in the United States, there is no need to engage in dialogue with Black organizations. If that’s the case, Fox is wrong, dead wrong. His blunder in dragging Blacks into the debate on illegal immigration, his passionate defense of a Mexican racist commemorative stamp, his arrogant knock at Black activists for protesting the stamp, and the tense and in some cases violent clashes between Blacks and Latinos in some American cities, are urgent reasons to engage in that dialogue.
Yet it is true that the political and economic landscape has radically changed in recent years between Blacks and Latinos. In the past decade, the Latino population has skyrocketed sixty percent nationally, and by nearly forty percent in some of America’s major cities. In Los Angeles, Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Antonio and dozens of other cities in the South and West there are legions of Spanish language ads on billboards, buses, and in newspapers.
There are street signs, TV and radio broadcasts, and school texts in Spanish. Many employers are learning Spanish to better communicate with their Latino workers. There are now entire neighborhoods in some major cities where Spanish is the only language that many newly arrived immigrants can or feel they need to speak. Even President Bush has spoken a few halting Spanish words in his radio broadcasts, and the Democrats have done the same in broadcasts. Banks and corporations now allocate big chunks of their ad dollars to wooing Latino customers. Credit card, shipping, and communications companies, trade and tourist associations, hotels, airlines, and sports franchises now feverishly market products to snatch a bigger share of their dollars.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush upped the ante in the stampede for Latino votes. GOP campaign officials with much public fanfare dumped millions into ads on Spanish-language networks Univision and Telemundo. The money Bush and the Democrats spent in 2004 on the TV ads far exceeded the money they spent in past elections. The titanic and swift shift in the nation’s Latino numbers and clout rudely shattered the myth that while Latinos now convincingly outrank African Americans as the nation’s biggest minority group, they are still light years behind Blacks politically.
Latinos make up about eight percent of the vote nationally. In 2004, their vote total surpassed eight million and that will continue to get bigger. Three of America’s biggest cities, San Antonio and Miami, and Los Angeles have Latino mayors. Two Latinos were elected to the Senate in 2004, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus hit a historic high with more than two-dozen members after last year’s elections. Nationally, there are nearly 5,000 Latino elected officials.
It isn’t the numbers alone that excite Bush and the Democrats but it’s where those voters are concentrated and their political significance. The biggest number of Latino voters is in California, Florida, Texas, and New York. These are the key electoral states that virtually determine who will sit in the White House. The National Survey of Latinos: The Latino Electorate, conducted in 2002 by the Pew Hispanic Center, found that one-fifth of Latinos is Republicans. Republicans bank that even more Latino voters will stampede to the GOP in 2008 mostly because of Bush. He did more than any other Republican politician in recent years to court and win Latino voters in Texas, and in other states. In the either or world of politics, there are always winners and losers, sometimes big winners and losers, and that is just as true in the world of ethnic politics. The rush by Republicans and Democrats to corral Latino voters has touched off nervous jitters among some Black politicians and leaders. If Latinos are now the favored minority of record, and also the favored political minority political group of record, the fear is that Blacks will be shoved even further to the fringe of American politics.
Fox’s appearance as a featured guest at the annual convention of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization would have sent the strong message that the top official of America’s colossal neighbor to the South believes strongly in racial fairness, and will do his part to improve the always touchy Black and Latino relations. By ducking the NAACP, Fox blew it badly.