In selecting our new President, just not in the way most people expected. Our community proved to be as concerned about education equality and the economy as we are about immigration reform, about the life of the unborn as we are of the immigrant, and certain ones among us can’t so easily shake the American dream that brought us here in the first place.
Democrats and Republicans, let this sink in: Latinos are not single issue voters.
The Hispanic community is not monolithic. In fact, we find it offensive when the media, pollsters and academics talk about us as though we are devoid of distinct nationalities, customs, cultures and faiths. If Australians, Americans and the English all share a language but differ on accent, political history and national identity, shouldn’t we approach Guatemalans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and others with a similar level of sophistication and understanding?
Take for instance the voting patterns of Cuban Americans in Florida. Of that community, 54 percent voted for Trump, compared to only 47 percent for Romney in 2012. This is a community that fled communism and they haven’t forgotten it. The leftward trend of the Democratic party alarmed them more than Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and they were greatly disappointed when many voices on the left praised the legacy of the brutal Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, after his recent death.
Take also the changing religious composition of American Hispanics. According to Pew Research, in 2013, one-in-four Hispanics is now Protestant or Evangelical – a group that may have voted as high as 66 percent in favor of Donald Trump.
In the end, there were 4 million more Hispanic voters in 2016 than there were in 2012. This demographic shift was supposed to reinforce the “blue wall” that would not only block Donald Trump from the White House, but any tough-on-immigration conservative for the foreseeable future. However, when it was all said and done, Trump outperformed Romney by 2 percent amongst Hispanics nationwide.
Why? Let me say it again: Latinos are not single issue voters.
Hispanics identify education and employment as the primary social concerns facing Latinos in the U.S. today. These are even more pressing issues than immigration! Dropout rates of Hispanic youths generate the most concern, followed closely by unemployment (58% and 56% of Hispanics are “very concerned”).
Perhaps the most unifying characteristic among all Hispanics is that we love and prioritize our families above all else. If our schools are failing our children, we have in essence, robbed them of the futures we’ve worked - and traveled - so far to help safeguard. The Hispanic Education Status Report points out that proficiency rates among Hispanic children are 23 percent lower in reading and 22 percent lower in math than white students. These statistics are simply unacceptable to Hispanics and frankly they should horrify all Americans.
This is why my organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, doesn’t focus exclusively on immigration reform. We also - for instance - have a thriving Faith and Education Initiative that has enjoyed overwhelming support, bringing together leaders from 3,000 local churches in 44 states because we’re as focused on education equality as we are on other priorities.
That’s just one of countless examples.
In this new political era dawning in America, the takeaways for our politicians should be many. Latinos will never rubberstamp any one party but instead will hold all of our leaders equally accountable. Compared to other voting blocs (i.e. White Evangelicals, Urban Whites, Blacks, etc.) our relative independence is striking. What matters to Cubans is different than what matters to Mexican immigrants and so on. Politicians must respect our wide-ranging differences and speak to each community with distinction.
As most Hispanics are people of faith, we will fight for the rights of the immigrant, but we will also fight for the rights of the unborn child with the same fervour. As a leader in the Hispanic Christian community and as a pastor, I like to put it another way: Hispanics are longing for policies, regardless of the party, that will once and for all reconcile the righteousness of Billy Graham with the justice of Martin Luther King Jr.
So to Republicans and Democrats alike take notice, Hispanics will work with you, but we are not a cheap date.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. He has been named by CNN and Fox News as “the leader of the Hispanic Evangelical movement” and TIME Magazine nominated him among the 100 most influential leaders in America.