Conservative Republican Values and the American Hispanic Mind

A large segment of the American Hispanic community has historically shared conservative Republican values, even though today many of them vote Democrat. In fact, a close look at US history demonstrates that Hispanics have traditionally been closer to conservative Republican values than to those of the Democrat Party.

The GOP needs to establish a clear agenda to reach and mobilize these millions of American Hispanics who are not getting the conservative Republican message. Their presence in the party and their vote is critical and it is still today a swing vote up for grabs. Democrats should not assume that American Hispanics are part of their base. But Republicans should understand the need to act quickly. 

History, the Press and the American Hispanics 

In the beginning of this 21st Century, "American" is what defines us as a nation. However, in order to better understand the historical facts about American Hispanics, it is helpful to consider that states such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana or Florida, among others, were home to Hispanic peoples even before the United States gained independence from England. These and other Spanish-speaking territories were originally part of Spain, and later Mexico. Many cities in the United States were founded in the 16th and 17th centuries: St. Augustine, Santa Fe, Pensacola, Albuquerque, and others. Understanding that in some parts of the United States the Hispanic cultural roots are older than the Anglo-Saxon roots is key to contextualizing the reasons why many generations of American Hispanics have largely maintained their cultural traditions and the Spanish language. 

American Hispanics looked favorably towards the ideals of the Republican Party at the time it was founded in the middle of the 19th Century. The Spanish settlers who lived in what back then was called "Alta California" resisted being governed by a Mexican government that had won independence from Spain in 1810. The Mexican army suppressed them and those men and women called "Californios" welcomed "Yankee Gringos" as liberators who freed them from the Mexican yoke. Like other American Hispanics living on the north of the Mexican border in 1848, these "Californios" were among the first Americans to face the realities of being of Hispanic origin in a predominantly Anglo-American world.  

After the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, there were over 130 Spanish-language or bilingual newspapers published in the United States during the second half of the 19th century. Many of these bilingual newspapers printed laws and public notices bilingually or in Spanish. They embraced the ideas of freedom, moral and material progress implemented in the United States. Most of these newspapers in the Spanish language supported the magnanimous ideals of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and those of equality, democracy and civil liberties espoused in the U.S. Constitution. Out of a section in the "Los Angeles Star" (LA´s first bilingual newspaper since 1851) evolved "El Clamor Público" (The Public Outcry) in 1855, edited by Francisco P. Ramírez. As an American Hispanic, Ramírez tried to take the best from both worlds, finding his own democratic thinking was best reflected in the Republican Party ideals of the day. 

In the 1850s there were numerous articles in Spanish in "El Clamor Público" articulating the views of most of these "Californios". As a representative newspaper in Spanish of its times, we find praises to the U.S. Constitution ("Alabanza de la Constitución Americana"), to George Washington and to American history. It did not stand apart from the debates over slavery that increasingly gripped politics in the United States. In fact, its hostility to slavery propelled many American Hispanics into the Republican Party when it emerged in the 1850s with a platform of opposition to the spread of human bondage to the West. We also find opinion editorials that openly supported and even asked for the American Hispanic vote for the Republican Party and for the candidacy of John C. Fremont, the GOP´s first ever candidate for president in 1856. They openly confronted and even disqualified Democrat presidential candidates such as James Buchanan, Jr.  

In a region controlled by southern Democrats, who brought the prevailing racial attitudes of the cotton-producing region with them when they migrated to California, newspapers such as "El Clamor Público" defended the principles and ideas of the Republicans. By 1859 this newspaper advised its readers about the need to learn English, to understand that American Hispanics were under the American flag and about the importance to become Americanized all over, in language, in manners, in customs and in habits. In the 1859 election, the same newspaper publicized Republican candidates such as Leland Stanford for governor. Ramírez himself ran for the assembly on the Republican ticket. Other American Hispanic leaders such as Abel Stearns, Manuel Raquena, and José Fuentes actively supported the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln's war effort. They organized rallies and urged their fellow compatriots to vote Republican policies as a duty to which they owed to themselves.  

The Spanish-American war in 1898 created some turmoil between Spain, the Hispanic world and the United States. Throughout the 20th Century, the Democrats were able to shape the image of the GOP as the party of the anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic, the "Know Nothings"... when, in fact, that was not the case. In 1972, for example, Richard Nixon began the "Spanish-Speaking Committee," greatly expanded by other Republican presidents. In 1979, President Ronald Reagan stated the idea that American Hispanics are Republicans. Presidents such as George W. Bush recognized the importance of offering American Hispanics a voice in his administration and opened the doors wide and welcomed them to unprecedented levels of political access and participation in government.  

The GOP and the American Hispanics  

Despite the continuous attempts to present the Republican Party and the conservatives as anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic, the facts point to the reality that the percentage of American Hispanics who call themselves Democrats has declined in the last decade, even as the overall number of Hispanic voters has climbed. In California, for instance, home to the nation's largest American Hispanic population and an important center of 55 electoral votes for the next 2008 presidential election, nearly two of three American Hispanic voters were registered Democrats in the mid-1990s. According to polling and registration data, that figure dropped as low as 56 percent by 2006. Recent research by the Public Policy Institute of California found that American Hispanics in California are about equally divided among those who describe themselves as conservative, liberal and moderate. Immigrants of Hispanic origin who become citizens and register to vote become Democrats in nearly 70 percent of the cases, with Republican registration at 18 percent. It is easy to see Democrat activists outside the judicial courts waiting to register the newly pledged citizens with the Democrat Party. And yet, in the second generation, Democrat registration drops to 56 percent and GOP registration increases to 25 percent. By the third U.S.-born generation, Democrat and Republican registration among Hispanics is nearly equal.

According to a 2005 report by the Pew Hispanic Center, 77% of American Hispanics oppose abortion. Thus, the Democrat Party is anathema to the values of the American Hispanic community in terms of life issues. According to the 2005 National Latino Survey, 62% of American Hispanics oppose gay marriage and 48% of registered voters in that same community agree that lowering taxes is the best strategy for encouraging economic growth, as compared to 12% who thought raising taxes is the best strategy. It is true that American Hispanic voters are not firmly attached to either party, and they have voted in sizable numbers for GOP candidates who appeal on values that American Hispanics share. Unfortunately, and with the exception of the Reagan years and the Bush 2004 re-election campaign, the GOP has not yet figured out how to attract American Hispanic voters...not by abandoning core beliefs or by pandering to non-conservative Republican issues, but playing to their strengths.  

Yet, it is important not to let the mainstream media convince us that Republicans have abandoned the Hispanic vote. Democrats and others have long been dismissing the Republican Party's progress with Hispanic voters. Largely because of Ronald Reagan, the GOP has become a viable contender within the community. As we have seen over the last several elections, that relationship has grown stronger. While the Democrats look at the American Hispanics as victims-just as they do with American Africans-the Republicans look at the American Hispanic community as people who have contributed to the cultural fiber of the United States in many ways. As the largest minority group in the nation, many of them have followed the American Dream, an ideal that the Republican Party highly believes in and endorses. Republicans need to hammer the idea that they are the party who really want to bring our country forward, providing opportunity for all who are willing to achieve this dream. The most controversial issue deals with undocumented / illegal immigration. The GOP must propose real solutions to this particular issue and should fight against anyone who brands the Republican Party as "anti-immigrant" because it understands that strengthening our immigration system requires upholding the rule of law. 

It is also time to break with the idea that Democrats are more sensitive to Hispanic needs than Republicans. Polls show that American Hispanic voters will support any preconditions to legal immigration, including forcing undocumented immigrants to return to their native countries for a time, so long as a possible path to migrate under the right legal venues is created. It needs to be said that registered American Hispanic voters often take conservative positions on immigration issues. In 2004, 47 percent supported Proposition 200, which required proof of citizenship for government benefits. In 2006, 48 percent voted to make English the official language. 

Education is one of the top issues of concern for American Hispanics. The progressive liberal recipes provided by Democrats on this area have been failing for decades. The Republican Party should promote school choice among Hispanic families and voters. Surveys show that nearly two-thirds of Hispanics support school choice. Religion is another area to attract Hispanics to the Republican side. Christian values, particularly Catholic ones, are central to the lives of most American Hispanics whose approach to religion is based on true conservative principles. The recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI clearly showed how American Hispanics are moved by core values such as their opposition to abortion. 

Republicans can obtain substantial electoral gains by taking these issues as a direct and honest message to American Hispanic voters. They should speak clearly about their opponents' opposition to the conservative values shared by American Hispanic households. For that purpose, it is imperative for the GOP to create a real American Hispanic outreach. Republican leaders need to go into heavily Democrat voting districts and send these messages to the American Hispanic families and communities. Communication is a key area and this is why creating conservative opinion in the Spanish language is important, especially for the first generation of American Hispanics. In 2004, supporters of President Bush sponsored thousands of Spanish-language advertisements in swing states, focusing on such issues as traditional marriage, tax breaks for families and small businesses, school choice and faith-based social initiatives. In the states with targeted advertising, the share of American Hispanics voting Republican substantially increased.  

Although Hispanic Republicans have won significant offices in some states, there are still few American Hispanic Republicans holding offices across the United States, particularly in the Southwest region. They seem to be at a loss when it comes to win contested primaries against Democrat opponents who have a domesticated Hispanic lobby and who have actually done little or nothing to improve the lives of American Hispanics. 

The GOP should work aggressively to recruit Hispanic candidates who share conservative Republican values and to reach out to American Hispanic voters on issues of mutual concern. Failing to do so will not only increase the losses in Congress, but it will also mean to be blind to American history and to the conservative mind of American Hispanics.
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