A Tale of Two Conventions and Two Hispanics
The Hispanics with the highest profiles in this year’s political conventions, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, stand as opposites in a cultural and political split that has divided millions of U.S. Latinos for decades.
Republicans chose Rubio, who is Cuban-American, to introduce Mitt Romney at the party’s convention last week. Democrats, meeting this week in Charlotte, N.C., picked Castro, who is Mexican-American, as keynote speaker, the role that launched a young Barack Obama to national political prominence.
Although they often are lumped together as Hispanics, Rubio and Castro are emblematic of acute political distinctions between Mexican-Americans, who are the largest Latino group in the U.S., and Cuban-Americans, who are the most politically active. Despite their shared language, these two constituencies have different histories in the United States and are subjected to distinctions in immigration policy that go easier on Cuban immigrants.
Of the 52 million Latinos in the U.S., 33 million are of Mexican descent, followed by 4.7 million who are Puerto Rican and 1.9 million of Cuban descent, Pew Hispanic Center numbers show. The remaining 10 largest Latino groups are Salvadorans, 1.8 million; Dominicans, 1.5 million; Guatemalans, 1.1 million; Colombians, 972,000; Hondurans, 731,000; Ecuadorians, 665,000; and Peruvians, 609,000, the center reported.
In 2008, 9.7 million Latino voters cast ballots in the presidential election, and 5.2 million were Mexican-Americans, about 45 percent of eligible Mexican-American voters, according to Pew Hispanic Center data. When it comes to showing up at the polls, however, Cuban-Americans outpace Mexican-Americans — some 713,000 Cuban-Americans showed up to vote in 2008, 69 percent of eligible Cuban-American voters, the center found.
Obama won 47 percent of the Cuban vote in Florida that year, according to data from The Associated Press.
In Texas, some Republican candidates garner roughly 30 percent of the Hispanic vote, which is overwhelmingly Mexican-American, said Antonio Gonzalez, president of the San Antonio-based Southwest Voter Education Project.
While some Cuban-Americans have hoped for decades for a return to a free Cuba, many Mexican-Americans recognize parts of the U.S. as historically Mexican. “We didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us,” is a favorite refrain. Mexican immigration has fed much of the U.S. population growth in recent decades.
DeeDee Blase, founder of the Arizona-based Tequila Party, an independent political group made up largely of Mexican-Americans, said Cuban-Americans have failed to support policies important to Mexican-Americans, like immigration reform and health care, while wanting Latinos to rally around the trade embargo on Cuba. Blase is Mexican-American.
Guarione Diaz, outgoing president of Miami-based Cuban-American National Council, said resentments are disappearing as more Mexican-Americans have moved to Miami and more non-Cuban politicians are elected to offices with heavy Cuban support. Intermarriage between the groups has bridged the divides along with growing Latino unity around equal access issues, Gonzalez said.
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Contreras reported from Albuquerque, N.M. Associated Press writer Paul Weber in San Antonio contributed to this report.
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