Conservative and Latino

Because I am a Latino, most people automatically assume that I am either a liberal or a Democrat, or both. In fact, I am one of those rare creatures: a conservative Hispanic. The unfortunate truth is that the majority of Latinos in my hometown of San Antonio and elsewhere are Democrats, even though they may not share all of the national party's social views or vote in every election. About the only Latino group that is an exception are the Cubans.

Party identification is an inherited family trait, passed down from generation to generation.  My wife and I, however, have broken the chain, much to the dismay and even animosity of our respective families. I once told my younger sister that I was leaning more toward the Republican Party, and she responded mockingly: "Where do you get that from?" as if I had contracted a contagious disease. She was dismissive of my views despite the fact that she has a high school diploma and I have a master's in government.

But my sister, like many other Latinos, has always identified strongly with the Democratic Party, which is more of an emotional bond than an intellectual one. I remember as a kid hearing some of the older folks speaking fondly of "el viejito" Roosevelt -- old man Roosevelt -- only they pronounced his name "Rosabell." In some homes, decorative plates with the visage of JFK painted on them were proudly displayed on walls or cupboards. In other homes, a photo of the late president sat atop a home altar, next to a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. More than once I have heard a Latino declare that he or she is "a Catholic and a Democrat" -- an incongruous marrying of the sacred and the profane. The implication is that they are no more likely to change religion than party affiliation.

My late father-in-law, a blue-collar union member, was a socially conservative family man, although that didn't stop him from voting for candidate Bill Clinton. There, of course, had been questions about Clinton's veracity and questionable moral judgment -- including possible drug use, draft-dodging, and philandering -- but those things weren't as important as the fact that Clinton was a Democrat. 

Later, my father-in-law, a World War II-era veteran, complained to me that now-President Clinton wanted to allow homosexuals to serve in the military. That had been a Clinton campaign promise all along, but suddenly it was a revelation to my father-in-law. It was clear that he had not listened to what Clinton was saying during the campaign because he was going to vote for him anyway.

Many Latinos still hold to the old paradigm of Republicans as rich, old, racist white men. The ironic reality in Texas and the rest of the once-solid South is that it was the Democratic Party that was full of rich, old, racist white men. When I was a child, my dad told me about a great banquet where President Eisenhower was being feted, and when some poor and hungry people wandered into the place and began begging for food, they were heartlessly and unceremoniously thrown out. I don't know where my father heard that fable or if he believed it, but he passed it along to me.

I grew up in a working-class family on the San Antonio West Side, a solidly Democratic and Mexican-American area. Later, as a young college freshman just out of the Army and back from Vietnam, I fancied myself a socialist and was even more left-wing than most of the professors at the small liberal arts university I attended. 

At school, I got caught up in the campus culture. I went to antiwar demonstrations, voted for George McGovern in my first presidential election, and held the obligatory liberal/left animosity toward corporations, the war, the military, capitalism, conservative politics as personified by Nixon and the Republicans, and anything else to my right.

But after graduating from college and finally going to work full-time in the civilian world, cracks began to appear in my once-impenetrable left-wing thinking, mainly because I saw cracks in the liberal/left philosophy. I recall that Eldridge Cleaver, formerly of the 1960s Black Panthers, had turned into a conservative. He had been an honest guy, after all, who could face the truth about himself and what he had once believed. He had been wrong, and communism was wrong, but he had to find that out for himself. 

Those people I knew who were on the extreme left had nothing good at all to say about the United States -- not only about the government, but also the American people. In my experience, though, I knew Americans were always the most generous of any nation, sparing neither blood nor treasure when it came to helping other people in need, either at home or abroad. 

I once attended a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party. There were no real workers there, unless you count students on work-study. The speaker talked about the criminal things we were doing to the Vietnamese people. But having been to Vietnam, I knew firsthand what the truth was. Yes, there was the terrible My Lai incident, but that was an isolated event and not based on any military policy. On the other hand, it was the common practice of the Vietcong to torture and kill villagers who refused to support them or let them take their young men away to fight.

My fellow leftists, blinded by their ideology, refused to see the great contributions our country has made to world civilization, from the arts to science. Just a few years before, Americans had gone to the moon. They couldn't see how free markets had made life better for everyone, that a free enterprise system is integral to a free society.  

Without exception, every leftist I met was smug, self-righteous, and condescending. In their minds, only the unschooled and unsophisticated loved the country the way it was. They failed to see their own weaknesses, could not or would not critically examine their own ideas, and were intolerant of those who did.     

Being a Latino conservative has not been easy. I have learned to hold my opinion among family, friends, and colleagues -- otherwise, I would be constantly fighting with people I love and care about. I'm selective about the battles I feel I need to fight, and I find that I'm usually a lot more informed and knowledgeable about things than are my opponents. I have to be because I'm using facts and reason, not just emotion, in my arguments. 

At times, I'll see old high school and college classmates or people I knew while growing up. Their thinking hasn't changed at all, hasn't budged from where it was years ago. They maintain the old animosities against Republicans and conservatives without really knowing why -- mostly based on old myths and prejudices, although they claim to be the ones who are unbiased and open-minded. They have not grown up intellectually, but I think I have. And I feel I'm the better for it.  
Because I am a Latino, most people automatically assume that I am either a liberal or a Democrat, or both. In fact, I am one of those rare creatures: a conservative Hispanic. The unfortunate truth is that the majority of Latinos in my hometown of San Antonio and elsewhere are Democrats, even though they may not share all of the national party's social views or vote in every election. About the only Latino group that is an exception are the Cubans.

Party identification is an inherited family trait, passed down from generation to generation.  My wife and I, however, have broken the chain, much to the dismay and even animosity of our respective families. I once told my younger sister that I was leaning more toward the Republican Party, and she responded mockingly: "Where do you get that from?" as if I had contracted a contagious disease. She was dismissive of my views despite the fact that she has a high school diploma and I have a master's in government.

But my sister, like many other Latinos, has always identified strongly with the Democratic Party, which is more of an emotional bond than an intellectual one. I remember as a kid hearing some of the older folks speaking fondly of "el viejito" Roosevelt -- old man Roosevelt -- only they pronounced his name "Rosabell." In some homes, decorative plates with the visage of JFK painted on them were proudly displayed on walls or cupboards. In other homes, a photo of the late president sat atop a home altar, next to a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. More than once I have heard a Latino declare that he or she is "a Catholic and a Democrat" -- an incongruous marrying of the sacred and the profane. The implication is that they are no more likely to change religion than party affiliation.

My late father-in-law, a blue-collar union member, was a socially conservative family man, although that didn't stop him from voting for candidate Bill Clinton. There, of course, had been questions about Clinton's veracity and questionable moral judgment -- including possible drug use, draft-dodging, and philandering -- but those things weren't as important as the fact that Clinton was a Democrat. 

Later, my father-in-law, a World War II-era veteran, complained to me that now-President Clinton wanted to allow homosexuals to serve in the military. That had been a Clinton campaign promise all along, but suddenly it was a revelation to my father-in-law. It was clear that he had not listened to what Clinton was saying during the campaign because he was going to vote for him anyway.

Many Latinos still hold to the old paradigm of Republicans as rich, old, racist white men. The ironic reality in Texas and the rest of the once-solid South is that it was the Democratic Party that was full of rich, old, racist white men. When I was a child, my dad told me about a great banquet where President Eisenhower was being feted, and when some poor and hungry people wandered into the place and began begging for food, they were heartlessly and unceremoniously thrown out. I don't know where my father heard that fable or if he believed it, but he passed it along to me.

I grew up in a working-class family on the San Antonio West Side, a solidly Democratic and Mexican-American area. Later, as a young college freshman just out of the Army and back from Vietnam, I fancied myself a socialist and was even more left-wing than most of the professors at the small liberal arts university I attended. 

At school, I got caught up in the campus culture. I went to antiwar demonstrations, voted for George McGovern in my first presidential election, and held the obligatory liberal/left animosity toward corporations, the war, the military, capitalism, conservative politics as personified by Nixon and the Republicans, and anything else to my right.

But after graduating from college and finally going to work full-time in the civilian world, cracks began to appear in my once-impenetrable left-wing thinking, mainly because I saw cracks in the liberal/left philosophy. I recall that Eldridge Cleaver, formerly of the 1960s Black Panthers, had turned into a conservative. He had been an honest guy, after all, who could face the truth about himself and what he had once believed. He had been wrong, and communism was wrong, but he had to find that out for himself. 

Those people I knew who were on the extreme left had nothing good at all to say about the United States -- not only about the government, but also the American people. In my experience, though, I knew Americans were always the most generous of any nation, sparing neither blood nor treasure when it came to helping other people in need, either at home or abroad. 

I once attended a meeting of the Socialist Workers Party. There were no real workers there, unless you count students on work-study. The speaker talked about the criminal things we were doing to the Vietnamese people. But having been to Vietnam, I knew firsthand what the truth was. Yes, there was the terrible My Lai incident, but that was an isolated event and not based on any military policy. On the other hand, it was the common practice of the Vietcong to torture and kill villagers who refused to support them or let them take their young men away to fight.

My fellow leftists, blinded by their ideology, refused to see the great contributions our country has made to world civilization, from the arts to science. Just a few years before, Americans had gone to the moon. They couldn't see how free markets had made life better for everyone, that a free enterprise system is integral to a free society.  

Without exception, every leftist I met was smug, self-righteous, and condescending. In their minds, only the unschooled and unsophisticated loved the country the way it was. They failed to see their own weaknesses, could not or would not critically examine their own ideas, and were intolerant of those who did.     

Being a Latino conservative has not been easy. I have learned to hold my opinion among family, friends, and colleagues -- otherwise, I would be constantly fighting with people I love and care about. I'm selective about the battles I feel I need to fight, and I find that I'm usually a lot more informed and knowledgeable about things than are my opponents. I have to be because I'm using facts and reason, not just emotion, in my arguments. 

At times, I'll see old high school and college classmates or people I knew while growing up. Their thinking hasn't changed at all, hasn't budged from where it was years ago. They maintain the old animosities against Republicans and conservatives without really knowing why -- mostly based on old myths and prejudices, although they claim to be the ones who are unbiased and open-minded. They have not grown up intellectually, but I think I have. And I feel I'm the better for it.  

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