The May 1 demonstrations, which capped a year of unprecedented self-assertiveness by America’s heretofore reticent Latino population, mark an important change in Hispanic attitudes and, therefore, in American politics.
The emerging group-identity consciousness among the Latino population is creating a political reality before our eyes that can only trigger memories of the emergence of African-American political awareness during the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Until the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the black community a political voice, it was both inarticulate and unconscious of its political power. But in the crucible of the civil rights era and the legislation of 1964 and 1965 there developed a group voting identity that has structured the African-American vote for the next 40 years — and counting.
The quiescence of the Hispanic vote parallels the failure of blacks to speak out before the civil rights era, and its emergence this year evokes similarities to the civil rights era of the early 1960s. The result is likely to be the same — a massive consensus spread throughout the community, cutting across lines of ethnic origin, age, gender or religion on who is their friend and who is their enemy.
This ethnic group, by far the fastest growing in our nation, will likely tip one way or the other as a result of what happens in Washington this year and next. With the Hispanic vote expected to top 20 percent by 2020, the resulting collective decision of the Latino community could be the most important factor in the future of America’s political parties.
Some Republicans feel squeezed between the demands of their right-wing base and their desire to appeal to Hispanic voters. But they need not make a choice. They can have their cake and eat it too.
Polls show that the GOP base wants, above all else, enforceable borders. That means a wall, possibly militarization of the border and an effective deportation policy. The survey research indicates that while Latino voters in the United States are not in favor or the wall they are not deeply opposed either. What they want is for the wall to have a gate that can swing open to admit guest workers and legal immigrants in larger numbers.
By contrast, the right-wingers want the wall more than they dislike programs for guest workers and the like. While the more dogmatic among them are turned off by “rewarding” those who came here illegally, they are likely to back any program that has a tough border policy, even if it allows for guest workers.