June 1st, 2012
Latino “Sleeping Giant” Is An Uphill Political Battle

By Victor Landa, NewsTaco

The next time you read or hear anyone write about or mention the mythical Latino “sleeping giant” you have my permission to smack them upside the head, in a figurative sense, of course. Enough of that already!

The latest sleeping giant perpetrator that came to my attention was CNN; the venerable cornerstone of the cable television 24 hour news cycle reverted to the tired stereotype in a story headline about the as-yet unfulfilled Latino political voting potential. In the body of the story they quoted yet another sleeping giant mention, this time from the American Enterprise Institute:

Hispanics have been the “sleeping giant” of American politics for decades. Each election season, we see more and more articles about how important this group of Americans is, and how their impact will be outsized and ever-growing. Yet for some reason, the “giant” never quite seems to wake up.

Mind you, all of this happened this past week – it’s not as if someone dug-up a headline from the 1940’s. Back then, 70-plus years ago, the image of a sleeping Mexican was popular kitsch and the image remained a bane to the Latino community’s existence for many decades after that – the image has since been relegated to a mere curiosity. NewsTaco recently reported on a collection of sleeping Mexican images, put together for a coffee table book – contributor Memo Nericcio brought it to our attention in his textmex galleryblog. And if you enter a simple “sleeping Mexican” search on Flickr you get almost 2,500 results. It’s not an uncommon or unknown stereotype.

Here’re three things that writers, pundits, experts, and marketers need to keep in mind about that image: it’s lazy, it’s inaccurate and it’s demeaning.

First, the sleeping Mexican image is a cliché, and as such it’s lazy writing. Second, there is no sleeping giant, Mexican or otherwise Latino. You can’t lump all Latino politics onto a single slumbering pile; such lumping is demeaning, which is the third point. The Latino population has been growing at a faster rate than it’s politics, that’s a fact. But that doesn’t mean that Latino politics is stagnant, somehow comatose, unmoved and somnolent. Granted, it hasn’t lived up to it’s potential, but neither has American politics as a whole.

There may be 50 million-plus Latinos in the United States, but it is a young population, and young Americans, as a group, are not as politically engaged as they should be. But that will change with time. Latinos are also largely immigrant, non-citizen, not as yet able to vote. That will also change with time. And Latinos have not seen themselves mirrored in the mainstream American political body, so the incentive to participate in American politics has been slow to change from patronage to inclusiveness. That is also slowly changing.

In the mean time, Latinos are voting and running for office. And yes, more of each are needed: an extra 2 million registered voters between now and November according  to the latest calculations.  But the politics that perpetuates the image of the sleeping Mexican doesn’t help. For instance, evidence from today’s headlines of efforts to supress Latino voters and Latino politcs:

  • In Florida, officials have decided to purge voter rolls of non-US citizens.They’ll be looking for Latino surnames and many eligible voters will be stricken from the lists.
  • In Texas, the Latino population growth was unprecedented, enough to acount for the addition of four Latino seats in the US Congress. Yet after this weeks Texas primary the total number of Latinos representing Texas in the US House will diminish.

That’s not a sleeping giant, it’s an uphill battle, it’s a tired notion, and it’s a caricature.

[Photo by Horia Varlan]

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