Painting by Miguel Cabrera,
De Mestizo y de India, Coyote — or "A mestizo and an Indian woman produce a coyote" — 1763, Mexico.
The following article in the Huffington Post surprised me. The author states:
A look at the Hispanic press reveals that far from scrutinizing the issue of race in the presidential contest, reporters and readers are, to a large extent, not paying attention to the topic. In fact, officials whose job it is to follow the Hispanic media say they can't recall reading a single article about the fracas that engulfed the campaign trail up until a few days ago.
It became more obvious when Bill and Hillary decided to bring in an additional caveat of race to the campaign. However, in the U.S. it is always there spoken or not. There is that urban legend going around that Obama's popularity is related to the death of racism (see post "The Myth of the Great White Hope," January 13, 2008).
But don't be fooled, people of Mexican descent are especially conscious of race - all the time. The history of casta paintings in Mexico left a permanent mark on its people. These were images of all the different variations of race (and mixtures) in colonial Mexico. The pictures are still around. They all have labels: black, Spaniard, mextizo, mulatto etc. etc.
Many think (consciously or unconsciously) that if they ignore racial/ethnic differences they will go away. Since Latinos, with clothes from Neiman Marcus, can usually blend in so easily (we can say we are Italian or Greek), we like to think everything is ok, the casta paintings never happened, great great grandmother was not a Chichimeca Indian, and people can change their name if they want (the 50% intermarriage rate between Latinos with anglos makes it an easy choice for women).
Of course not everybody is like this. And my apologies to those of you who would never dream of doing such a thing (passing). Even so, I think the ghost of the casta paintings stands behind most of our interactions with the rest of American culture and with each other.
With large swaths of the country's Hispanic population set to vote in presidential primaries, campaigns are waiting anxiously not only to see for whom they cast their ballots but also whether or not race plays a determining role.
Would Hispanics, after heated exchanges between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton over civil rights and Obama's youthful drug use, abandon their deep-seated allegiance to Clinton out sympathy for a fellow minority? Or would they, following historical patterns suggested by Clinton's own pollster, Sergio Bendixen, continue to view African-American candidates with a sense of skepticism?
Maybe neither. A look at the Hispanic press reveals that far from scrutinizing the issue of race in the presidential contest, reporters and readers are, to a large extent, not paying attention to the topic. In fact, officials whose job it is to follow the Hispanic media say they can't recall reading a single article about the fracas that engulfed the campaign trail up until a few days ago.
"Beyond the occasional straightforward reported piece," said Elena Shore, Editor and Latin Media Monitor at New America Media, "I can't remember seeing it mentioned."
Top officials at two of the largest circulated Hispanic newspapers confirmed as much.
Said Pedro Rojas, editor of La Opinion, a L.A.-based paper with a readership of 500,000: "We have kind of downplayed that part of the campaign. We have focused more on the more pressing issues for Latinos... The race issue is not that big for us."
Alberto Vourvoulias, executive editor of El Diario, a New York City daily that reaches 300,000 readers, added: "It is almost embarrassing how much attention the mainstream media is paying to this. What we found is that people are attracted to multiple discourses. It is silly to think that one experience would cancel or obliterate another experience. It's not as if someone decides, 'Okay, today I feel like a woman and will vote for a woman, or today I feel like an afro-Latino.' There are other things that will contribute to their support for the candidate."
Remarkably, one of the few mentions of race in El Diario's coverage of the 2008 campaign occurred on Wednesday, when the paper published a harsh editorial condemning the mainstream media for harping on inconsequential issues.
"With Super Tuesday only three weeks away, speculation on how Latino voters will cast their ballots is being framed in the English-language media around a false dichotomy - race versus gender," the editorial read. "Hispanic voters are far more complex. The Hispanic American experience in terms of both gender and race is not reducible to the flattening simplifications of campaign spin and superficial media coverage."
It is not as if the presidential race is being ignored, far from it. Between El Diario and La Opinion, the papers have six embedded campaign reporters on the trail, an unprecedented level of coverage for the Spanish-language U.S. press, according to Vourvoulias.
Most stories have focused on the issue of immigration reform, often highlighting rhetoric from leading GOP candidates. Both Vourvoulias and Rojas independently noted that much of their papers' political reporting over the past few months has centered on topics like health care, the economy, the housing market, and the war in Iraq - Hispanics make a substantial proportion of enlisted forces.
"I think the community is mostly focused on the issues really important to them. They care about immigration and the war of Iraq. And the campaigns are making efforts to reach out to them," said Vanessa Cárdenas, director of ethnic media for the Center for American Progress. "If you look at any of the large Spanish language press they really have not focused on the issue of race and former drug use."
So if the issue of race is politically neutralized for Hispanic voters casting ballots in the Democratic primary, which candidate benefits? Observers say the edge goes to Clinton, who has been more recognizable on Hispanic-related issues for longer than Obama. What seems clearer is that the GOP stands to lose much of the support it had earned from the community during the early years of George Bush's presidency.
"In terms of race, the anti-Hispanic sentiment basically being created at the hands of Republicans is simply something that has dominated the coverage," said Shore. "Latinos are, according to polls, more on the side of Clinton... with the exception of higher income, more educated Latinos who support Obama."