Whether you agree or not with the use of la chancla (the Spanish word for flip-flop sandals) as a tool for discipline, it is infamous among Latinx people. The very picture of la chancla (also sometimes a ruler, spatula, or some other fairly mundane household object) flying across the room, hitting kids on the head for the purpose of correcting unwanted, typically inappropriate, behavior, should incite change in one’s thinking.
But after this election, it is clear, US democracy deserves la chancla.
“Christopher Columbus syndrome” describes a reoccurring pattern every four years of the two mainstream political parties trying to win the Latinx vote. The term, of course, speaks to the periodic “discovery” of Latinxs in our midst who have been here all along. Another belief, Mariachi politics, suggests that the Latinx community (including Brazilians) consists entirely of Mexicans who crossed the southern border or have escaped Cuba to live in Florida. Fun fact: there are many people within the Latinx community who are not fans of Mariachi music.
Both of these popular myths perpetuate an ongoing monolithic mentality towards Latinxs. It is understandable why US politics uses latinidad, or “latino-ness,” as an attempt to establish a common identity. With 32 million Latinxs eligible to vote in this past election, accounting for 13.3 percent of all eligible voters and a significant increase from the 7.4 percent share of the US electorate in 2000, this vote was critical. Latinxs, for the first time, were not only the nation’s largest racial or ethnic minority but also the second largest voting bloc.
Except there is no Latinx—or, as it is more commonly referred to, Latino—electorate. There is no Hispanic vote. What the words “Latino” and “Hispanic” communicate is a lazy generalization at best, a poor attempt to merge those who share some commonality.
However, the message that comes across is that the Latinx community does not matter enough within US democracy to merit the effort of engaging with disparate Latinx constituents. “Latino,” which is considered more inclusive and descriptive, includes people with Latin American ancestry regardless of language spoken but excludes Spain and Portugal. “Hispanic” relates to Spain or Spanish-speaking countries, including Latin America, regardless of distinctions in vocabulary, accents, and cultural and regional colloquialisms.
Yet, although it is understood that Latino and Hispanic are not races but ethnicities, the US electorate continues to overgeneralize these ethnicities as one group despite varied geography, gender, generation, country of origin, socioeconomic status, language, and other factors. Many Latinx identify as American first, and most reject these labels altogether, instead referring to themselves by their respective country of origin. Another term, “Latinx,” is considered a gender- and LGBTQ-inclusive term, which I use here for those reasons; however, this is not to deny that it too is problematic, as polling data tell us that only about one-in-four Hispanics have heard of it, with only three percent regularly using it.
Thus, the continued practice of discerning “how the Latino electorate will vote” is a naïve and constrictive narrative reducing the Latinx community to a single amalgamation. Not to mention that this oversimplification is harmful.
Latinidad has been rejected because it expunges the race of Black, Asian, and Indigenous people. This narrative further contributes to the community’s problematic culture of upholding white supremacy and of uplifting whiteness to “mejorar la raza” (“to better the race,” typically by “marrying up” with a light-skinned person of European descent).
Political engagement has also been used as a way to be accepted in the dominant—white—culture among Latinxs, with assimilation via solidarity by voting taught as an essential means to survival. But Latinx voters have clearly shown that their differences are not easily contained with one term to describe them.