'Latinx' Democrats Don't Understand Latinos Because They Won't Talk About Class | Opinion

A new report released by Politico this week added to the mountain of data about the absurdity of the term "Latinx." The word, which came into fashion as a gender-neutral term to describe Latinos, is favored by activists and a growing crew of Democrats, consultants and media pundits—just not by Latinos. The new report found that just 2 percent of Hispanics use the word—while 40 percent are actually offended by it.

Of course, for those of us from the Latino community, this is not news. Latinos like other Americans care less about academic activist terminology than the economy, the pandemic, and healthcare. And Democrats who want Latino votes need to learn how to talk to Latinos where they are at.

Where they are at is often the working class—which also explains why they are offended by phrases like Latinx. Let me explain why.

My father came to the United States as an illegal immigrant, fleeing extreme poverty and a grotesque civil war in El Salvador. My mother was born and raised in a poor white working-class family that moved from place to place in Appalachia. Both came from very different cultures, ethnicities, and upbringings. Yet both gave me the same message repeatedly when I was a boy: Always work hard for everything you do. Earn it. Don't ever quit. Keep trying, even when you think you can't succeed. Be a leader, not a follower.

My immigrant, working class Latino father and my poor working class white mother told me the same story. They came from different worlds, but their economic struggle was the same. Where they lived, the jobs they applied for, the healthcare and education they did or did not receive was the same. And it was out of that hardship that they led by example and instructed me to have a better life.

Despite their different backgrounds, my parents had a shared sense of what it means to work hard for your success, whatever success looks like. And they fostered in me a true independent spirit to be autonomous in the world. What bound my white mother and Latino father together was a shared outlook born of coming from the same class. And it's this shared story that the Latinx set seems determined to ignore and even erase.

My parents are not unique. There is plenty of data about what Latinos say are their most urgent challenges, and unsurprisingly, what emerges are concerns similar to those of other working-class Americans. Polls from Unidos and the Pew Research Center found that the most important issues to Latino voters are the economy, Healthcare, and COVID19—the same top three concerns of most of U.S. adults.

Voters in Miami-Dade
Hispanic voters go to the polls for early voting at the Miami-Dade Government Center on October 21, 2004 in Miami, Florida. G. De Cardenas/Getty Images

Then there's immigration. Every four years, we hear Democrats soap-boxing at Latino voters about the human rights challenge of immigration. But immigration is no more important to Latinos than it is to other groups in the United States. According to a report released by Brookings, 2020 saw a sharp decline in Latinos ranking immigration as a crucial concern. Instead, COVID19 and the economy were the most salient issues, just like they were for the rest of the U.S.

But instead of offering Latinos things they actually care about, understanding large parts of this community as sharing the concerns of the middle and working classes to which they belong, Democratic strategists ignore the concerns of the Latino community, and then rebrand it in a language foreign to its self-conception, and even lecture struggling American Hispanics about people living in other countries.

Talk about insulting!

The impact of Democrats' ignorance when it comes to Latinos is beginning to have a political effect, with Latinos increasingly voting for the GOP, revealing the true diversity of the community. Democrats who don't want to hasten this trend need to drop the "Latinx" approach—stat. They must instead treat Latinos and their ideas with respect, instead of generalizing or making assumptions. Nor can Democrats afford to concede economic issues to a Republican Party that will prey on economic challenges with big promises and insidious hypocrisy.

Democrats need to exercise a sophisticated nuance that understands the various sub-categories in a wide-ranging ethnicity that has a lot of overlap with other members of the working class in America.

The message here is clear: Democrats don't understand Latinos because they seem disinterested in the economic challenges of working-class people.

My Latin father and white mother were racially and ethnically different, but they grew up with the same economic challenges. Restoring economic security, access to affordable and quality healthcare, and allowing for localism in various communities to determine the fortunes of their lives are what a working-class agenda that benefits all would look like. Democrats wanting to secure Latino votes should start there.

Xavier A. Bonilla is a doctor of psychology and a clinician. He is the host of Converging Dialogues podcast

The views in this article are the writer's own.