Prospero Latino Blog (Opinion)
By Jose Parra
December 18, 2015
“Hispandering.” It’s a nifty and interesting little word we’ll be hearing a lot this campaign season (although Republicans seem to be more interested in Hispanicking, as we saw in last night’s debate, but that’s a topic for another post). Hispandering is essentially saying things de dientes pa’ fuera, in other words paying lip service, in this case, to Latino voters. In fact, Shereen Marisol Meraji of NPR's All Things Considered did a great job last week explaining its meaning and its etymology.
As with any emerging new term, surely linguists and political scientists will write dissertations about Hispandering. It does beg several questions. For example, does the term cover more the delivery than the intention? Or, can a Hispanic engage in Hispandering? During an interview for the above-mentioned NPR piece, I shared with Shereen my definition of what Hispandering isn’t: Reaching out early, reaching out consistently, and ensuring that future actions match words.
Senators Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio provide a telling example of this interesting dichotomy and the afore-mentioned ingredients. Both are Republicans and yes, one is Latino and the other is White. Rubio speaks fluent Spanish and waxes nostalgia about his parents’ refugee— or rather, immigrant— experience. Senator Graham is an orphan from South Carolina’s piedmont and a U.S. Navy veteran who has a distinct Southern drawl and is monolingual.
Both men were part of the Gang of Eight that wrote the Senate’s 2013 Immigration Reform bill. And in my opinion it’s actually Senator Graham who meets the criteria of NOT committing Hispandering. And Senator Rubio? Well, he does speaks Spanish, but more on him later.
Before 2013, Senator Graham was the only Republican engaged in immigration talks with Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Then, last year he drew a primary challenger— every sitting Republican’s worst nightmare—in deep red South Carolina. His support of immigration reform became a main line of attack. Yet Senator Graham stood by the bill he helped write.
When questioned about it, he continued to explain how immigration reform would boost wages for all Americans by doing away with an underground labor market and how it would make America safer by accounting for everyone who is currently here. Senator Graham won his primary and reelection. At worst, his voters gave him credit for being honest.
Senator Rubio’s immigration history is more complex. When he represented immigrant-heavy Miami-Dade County in the Florida Legislature, he was considered immigrant-friendly. He ran out the clock on a few anti-immigrant bills. Then he ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 and plunged head first into the Tea Party stew. Rubio became a protégé of Jim DeMint, current head of the Heritage Foundation, and one of the Republican right wing’s ideologues. Rubio was soon talking about the militarization of the Mexican border, though I’m not sure he didn’t give Canada much thought.
Later, when Arizona passed a bill allowing police to demand proof of citizenship to anyone who looked or sounded funny, candidate Rubio gave it a public thumbs-up. Then came the Mitt Romney’s drubbing in 2012 after the self-deportation campaign, which seems so benign now compared to the language spewing from the Republican field... Shortly after, Senator Rubio rushed to become part of the Gang of Eight— which by the way, started during a call between Senator Graham and Schumer where he allegedly said, “let’s get the band back together.”
Of course having a Latino face on the Republican negotiating team who spoke Spanish seemed like a good idea. Rubio didn’t waste time milking it. He developed a habit of talking to the press, often without consulting his colleagues. At one point, he went on ALL the Sunday political shows— including Univision and Telemundo— to sell the Senate bill and claim authorship.
Given Rubio’s previous 180-degree turns on immigration, I was skeptical he’d make it to the end, but I was wrong. I had promised a reporter that if Rubio indeed stayed on board through the bill’s final passage, I’d send his office a box of Cuban pastelitos (pastries). And by golly, I had to keep my word. I had a box overnighted from Miami to ensure freshness. It actually felt good to lose that bet.
Fast-forward to today and I feel like the pastelitos were a total waste. Now Rubio has embraced the Trump stump, demanding to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Granted, his delivery is more suave. And, on top of that, he has denounced the Senate bill he helped write, saying he would not vote for it today.
In sum, these are four diametrically opposed positions on immigration in less than a decade. This is a clear sign of Hispandering in my book: actions not matching words (regardless of what language you utter them in). Even more interesting, Rubio has gone beyond Hispanics.
First he Hispandered, then he Tea-pandered. He Hispandered again some, and has now moved onto pandering to Trump voters. (No, I am not going to mash that last name with pander). Republican voters should not be asking themselves if Rubio is soft on immigration. Rather, they should be wondering which of his personalities is asking for their vote, and if come the summer he won’t be back to his Hispandering ways.
For more information, go to: www.beverlyhillsimmigrationlaw.com