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Can Americans Understand the Divisions in Latino Politics?

Today’s topic: Michelle Vallejo’s recent campaign ad, which draws a line in the sand between her and her Republican opponent Monica de la Cruz. They’re in a fierce contest to represent Texas District #15—which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs to the north, to the border towns of McAllen and Edinburg to the south—in the U.S. Congress. What’s striking to me about this ad is how it cleaves Latino identity—or, more precisely, Mexican American identity—in two: insiders and outsiders, those who stand with workers and those who ally themselves with the rich, those who work the land and those who exploit them. Here, watch the ad before reading on:

This is not the only example of the ethnic, racial, and class politics dividing Latinos today. We heard it in the L.A. City Council meeting, and we hear it in debates about whether Latinos are “people of color” or not, or whether we can be divided into two groups of Latinos—white Latinos and Black Latinos. Such intra-Latino tensions have been a part of our communities for more than a century. The only thing that’s different today is that they’re playing out on a national stage, for all Americans—both Latinos and non-Latinos—to see.

I’m still not convinced that all non-Latinos want to learn about these difficult-to-absorb nuances. As I’ve said before, I often think that non-Latinos only want to know whether we’ll vote for Democrats or Republicans, and then leave it at that. But in my opinion, as the Latino population grows, as we continue to play a larger role in U.S. politics, these nuances will be harder and harder to ignore. So, if you’re learning about them just now, welcome to an ongoing conversation. And buckle up, because it’s a wild roller-coaster of a ride that won’t come to a halt anytime soon.

Michelle Vallejo begins the ad by saying, “Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres.” There’s a translation at the bottom of the screen that says, “tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” It’s an old saying, the meaning of which is pretty obvious. You can tell a lot about a person based on who they associate with.

The first thing I thought of when I heard Vallejo saying this was David Gutiérrez’s classic book Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. The saying that opens her ad is the same one as the epigraph in Gutiérrez’s book, although he translates it slightly differently: “Tell me with whom you walk and I will tell you who you are.” Same meaning. (And thanks, Michelle Vallejo, for causing me to peruse this gem of a book for the first time in a couple years). But beyond the epigraph, it turns out that Walls and Mirrors is a good lens through which to view Vallejo’s ad, because it tells the long history of intra-Mexican American tensions, especially with respect to the issue of immigration.

Read entire article at Substack