I was watching the most recent Republican debate in Tampa. And as one might expect, there were lots of questions specifically about Florida.
Everyone knows there’s a large Hispanic community in Florida–more than 22% of the state is Latino–and so most people would probably think it made sense to include a question on immigration. They would be wrong.
Many Democrats and Republicans, as well as some in the media, don’t seem to understand that immigration is a non-issue for Florida’s Hispanic community. As a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami, I can tell you that a candidate’s position on the DREAM Act doesn’t matter one bit in Florida politics.
The reason is simple: Florida’s Hispanic community consists overwhelmingly of Puerto Ricans and Cubans– one group that are citizens by birth and the other that can become citizens through a law passed specifically for them (the Cuban Adjustment Act).
Not all Hispanics are the same. In fact, when it comes to immigration, the differences are so great that I believe there’s a Hispanic cultural divide in America, something that many don’t realize and certainly don’t report.
I was recently interviewed by a Spanish-language radio station down in Florida. We talked about a lot of issues, including the immigration debate going on right now. I explained why I think that any immigration reform has to allow a path toward legal residency for the millions of Mexicans who, despite being undocumented, have worked here for decades, raised US-born children, have no criminal records and yes, pay taxes.
The host, Ricardo Brown, opened the phone lines and I suddenly found myself being berated by an angry, elderly Cuban woman. It’s not the first time a radio interview has gone south for me, and it’s certainly not the first time a Cuban woman has yelled at me (including my own mother). But this was different.
The woman was angry that I had spent any time on the air discussing the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Why? It was a waste of time. She had no interest in the issue. And because I’m Cuban-American, she thought I should have no interest in the issue either. What mattered to her was the push for English-only or anything pertaining to the old man with the white beard who lives 90 miles south of her home. Any other Hispanic issues were not her issues.
But what she said next was even more surprising. With neither sympathy for the plight of millions of undocumented workers nor any understanding of the economic implications of suddenly deporting them, and using the same language and logic of Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer, she started talking about “those people,” saying they were lawbreakers who should all be sent back.
“Those people” are Mexicans. Those people are Hispanic. Those people are, in fact, her people.
They are her people because regardless of whether Cubans see themselves as being different than Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Hondurans or other Hispanics, the fact is that the rest of the world–the media, politicians, businesses–tend to see us as one big homogenous group. And so whether we like it or not, these are our issues.
I am reminded of Martin Niemöller, the German theologian and pastor who opposed the Nazis, and think it is fitting to paraphrase his famous quote: “First, they came for the Mexicans, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Mexican. Then they came for the Hondurans, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Honduran. Then they came for the Colombians, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Colombian. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
We as Hispanics all need to unite and speak out before it’s too late.