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.
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Democrats typically win more than 65 percent of the Latinx vote, but this vote has not been homogenous in previous elections. In this election, false Spanish news and baseless messages of “brujeria” (witchcraft) attempted to turn Latinxs against the Black Lives Matter movement and connect Joe Biden to socialism.
Regardless, Latinx voters supported Biden by a 43-point margin, ranging from highest support among the Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Dominican communities to the lowest support among the Cuban and South American communities. Trump gained about three percentage points with Latinx voters since 2016, swinging 11.5 points in Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, where Miami-Dade represents 3.1 percent of the entire U.S. Latinx vote. These stark differences extend beyond the US border, with leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean congratulating Biden while others in countries like Mexico and Brazil have remained silent.
Additionally, voting differences are more nuanced than simple historical patterns. The diploma divide shows that non-college-educated Latinxs vote more like non-college-educated white Americans living in suburbs—that is, Republican—while low-income, college-educated 20-year-old Latinxs living in urban areas vote more like rich, college-educated people, which is to say Democratic.
Some have argued that the recent race-saturated language of college-educated America (i.e., white supremacy, systemic racism, etc.) may have confused or repelled some voters as well as contributed to gender disparities, with Latinos in particular drawn to the macho appeal, the machismo, of Trump.
The monolithic mentality further contributes to the depth of Latinx underrepresentation in our voting system and in government. The problems with the electoral college have been well described, but specific to the Latinx community, two-in-three eligible voters live in five states, California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Arizona, with California alone holding roughly a quarter of the nation’s Latinx electorate (7.9 million).
In New York, Florida, Texas, and California, there is roughly one electoral vote for approximately 500,000 people, compared with those with the highest vote power in Wyoming, Vermont, and North Dakota. Wyoming, where each of its electoral votes represents 143,000 people, is 92-percent white, compared with California’s 37-percent white population.
Within government itself, the trend is improving but vastly inadequate. The US House of Representatives in the 117th Congress will comprise a historic number of women (134), racial minorities (55 African Americans, six Native Americans, and about 43 Latinxs based on the 116th Congress), and LGBTQ people (11) but is less than 10-percent Latinx. With the election of New Mexico’s Ben Ray Luján (D), there are now five Latinx senators, with only one being a woman. Lastly, the Biden-Harris administration has already named three Latinxs as part of the White House senior staff. Yet, the overall majority (78 percent) of members of Congress identify as white, representing yet another missed opportunity of reflecting the distinctive needs of all US citizens with appropriate representation of our nation’s demography.
The Latinx vote was critical in this election and will continue to be significant in future elections. Only half of the current 60 million Latinx population were eligible to vote in these elections, but young Latinxs under 18 years old are one of the nation’s fastest-growing populations, numbering 18.6 million. Thus, it will be difficult to continue blithely applying Columbus syndrome and Mariachi politics moving forward. The incoming and future leadership of our nation must want to seek a different course of authentically and transparently engaging with all Latinx constituents as distinct electorate blocs.
La chancla, while perhaps humorous, is effective toward redirecting and changing behaviors; and regardless of our commonalties, political affiliation, or voting choices, we all understand the current chancla that has flown across the states. It is a not-so-subtle appeal and opportunity to course-correct the indifferent rhetoric towards Latinxs and a much overdue (at least for some) adios to Trump.