NiLP Note: In the essay below, Robert Suro continues to point to new developments in the evolution of Latino politics today. Focusing on the role of Latino millennials, he argues that "They may finally explode the myth of a monolithic Latino vote. They are pressing policy demands, not easily satisfied with token appointments and the other palliatives offered to minority groups." Their protests, he explains, are "
not about language, nationality, skin color or any other kind of group identity. Instead, the fight is over the universal right of the individual to have claims fairly adjudicated by the state."
I applaud Roberto's optimism about the role of young people in creating a new, reinvigorated Latino politics. While not quite a Latino version of a Herbert Marcuse in this regard, his message is a positive one coming at a time when there is less and less positive to point to in our nation's politics. While in the past, the central agency of change was seen as the working class, the poor, technology or something else depending on one's worldview, we usually wound up realizing that things are a bit more complex than this. Roberto's focus on young people as this critical change agent for Latino politics suffers, I would argue, from this "silver bullet" approach.
He is, however, on to something in characterizing the politics of young Latinos today as essentially "non-ethnic" or "not tribal" and more concerned with fair processes. It is striking that the generational differences in Latino politic styles seem to have evolved from a militant ethnic resistance to American integration and its melting pot ideology to one today, exemplified by the Dreamers, that embraces those very things. The overwhelming of the Latino policy agenda by the immigration issue has created a politics focused on documenting that Latinos are "more American than the Americans themselves" to the point that the impression given is that every undocumented Central and South American teenager in the country is at the very least a high school valedictorian!
We should, however, be careful not to oversell the meaning of these changes. Instead of any type of political coherence to Latino millennial politics, all we may be witnessing is a reaction to an increasingly incoherent American politics. For Latinos in general, the big question seems to be, as sociologist Mary Waters, has argued, the new role of a politics of legal exclusion over that of race in the Latino case. Latinos in general have not been great at addressing the issue of race, both within our community and outside it, and the phenomenon that Suro is describing may simply be the logical reactions by Latino young people to the racial confusions of their elders. Whether, as Suro thinks, it is more than this, well, we will have to see.
The Opinion Pages
The Real 'Trump Effect' for Young Latinos
By Roberto Suro
DURING a swing through California earlier this month, Hillary Clinton tried to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a rally in East Los Angeles, the Mexican-American heartland where she won overwhelming support from Latinos of all ages in the 2008 primary. But this year, everything is different. Hecklers interrupted her repeatedly,and on the street her supporters faced taunts from a gantlet of demonstrators blaming her for President Obama's deportation of some Central American asylum seekers.
The disaffection and distrust evident in so much of the American electorate festers with special ferocity among young Latinos, the fastest growing segment of the American electorate. Looking at them we can see what this campaign is doing to all of us.
The laws of physics, if not elections, suggest that the Republican Party's embrace of white identity politics will provoke an equal and opposite reaction among nonwhites. But don't look for young Latinos to adopt traditional minority group politics as practiced by the Democratic officeholders, the corporate diversity officers and advocacy groups that constitute the Latino establishment. We all know by now that 2016 is a bad year for establishments.
Democratic primary exit polls show that Mrs. Clinton has won Latino voters over Senator Bernie Sanders by roughly two-to-one so far. In California, however, surveys show a tightening race in the June 7 primary. A close look at the data reveals a generational divide. Young Latinos are strongly supporting Mr. Sanders, while their parents' generation backs Mrs. Clinton.
Latinos have a poor record of voter turnout, and young Latinos are the worst among them. But regardless of their effect on Mrs. Clinton's immediate prospects, Latino millennials will change the ways we think about identity politics. They may finally explode the myth of a monolithic Latino vote. They are pressing policy demands, not easily satisfied with token appointments and the other palliatives offered to minority groups.
"El viejito," the affectionate term for an old man being applied to the Vermont senator, appears to have energized young Latinos with his demonization of corporations, banks and the politicians he casts as their servants, according to the polls. His impact could manifest in the ways young Latinos approach immigration.
For more than three decades, efforts to overhaul the immigration system have followed a "grand bargain" approach. Until Mitt Romney broke the pattern in 2012, presidential candidates of both parties endorsed a reform strategy that offered some kind of legalization for unauthorized immigrants in exchange for giving employers access to foreign workers through legal channels. Enforcement would increase along the way.
The grand bargain has been trashed in this year's campaign. The two most prominent Republican proponents, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, didn't make it past March. And, although he supports comprehensive immigration reform, Mr. Sanders relentlessly attacks the kind of deal-making between business and government that a bargain represents.
After flocking to Mr. Sanders, young Latinos should be less likely than ever to support a future deal that trades legalization for worker visas. Many have already rejected a view of immigrants as an economic commodity, a labor input, to be bartered. Rather than responding to Mr. Trump's tribalism with tribalism of their own, they are invoking foundational truths.
The new approach was born during President Obama's first term with campaigns on behalf of the Dreamers, unauthorized migrants brought here as children who are now in college or the military. Seeking legal status, they present themselves as "Americans in all but name," as people meeting society's expectations by studying and serving. They provided the impetus behind Mr. Obama's executive orders, now tied up in a Supreme Court case, which would give some parents of United States citizens temporary reprieve from deportation.
When they demonstrate wearing caps and gowns and carrying American flags, Dreamers are proud Latinos, but that is not the basis of their demands. They are pledging allegiance to a traditional form of American civic engagement because they believe they have earned the privilege.
These protests are not about language, nationality, skin color or any other kind of group identity. Instead, the fight is over the universal right of the individual to have claims fairly adjudicated by the state.
Young Latinos are responding to Mr. Trump's vision of Americans as a people of kindred blood with a vision of the United States as a place of kindred spirits. Those young Latinos are putting forward a message that might help us out of the mess we've made this year. If they turn out at the same rate as white millennials, they would bring an estimated more than a million new voters to the polls and might affect the results as well.
Roberto Suro is a professor of public policy and journalism at the University of Southern California. He can be reached at