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"We speak English here!" is often the answer I get at Republican or Tea Party gatherings whenever I skim the crowd looking for a Spanish speaker that can produce a soundbite for my television story. I wonder if they are the same people who cringe when an automated machine tells them to "press one for English, para español, oprima el dos."
So much for what I hoped was becoming a bilingual nation. In last week’s primaries, Republican primary voters across America decided to dump - for the most part - their traditional mainstream candidates in favor of the more aggressive, conservative, radical ones. Here in New York they voted against their party's wishes and elected Carl Paladino, because if you want to vote angry, you’d better do it for the guy that best plays that role. But if Mr. Paladino moves to the center now to appeal to general election voters and get the support of a broader coalition, including Hispanics, should we expect him to hire a Spanish tutor?
He might want to call fellow Republican George Pataki. His Spanish instructor might not be as famous as mayor Michael Bloomberg's, but Mr. Pataki is the only one of our last three governors that can hold his own in an all-Spanish sit-down interview. It seems that long are the days when the Grand Old Party was trying to lure Latino voters nationwide, the fastest-growing minority in the country. Many of those voters know - or are related to - someone who is undocumented. Mr. Paladino, the son of an Italian immigrant, was certainly not talking to them when he said a few days ago "New York is no longer a haven for the poor and disenfranchised and illegals, ok? Stay home, stay where you are. Our budget will be to serve the people of the state of New York, not strangers." If he gets his way this November, should New York's more-than-a-million undocumented immigrants start packing?
Maybe Republicans are giving up on Hispanics, like Senator John McCain did. At the end of the day it didn’t matter that McCain sacrificed his political career to join late senator Ted Kennedy to pass immigration reform in 2007: Latino voters overwhelmingly chose his rival in the presidential election the following year. Now Mr. McCain supports Arizona’s SB 1070 that criminalizes undocumented immigrants. So if Republican candidates are drawing from his example, should Hispanics just give up on them too and vote Democratic this year?
Many Latinos still remember fondly late president Ronald Reagan. He gave them an amnesty, long before that word became toxic. Some were also appreciative of President George W. Bush, a former border governor who seemed to understand their problems. Bush also understood math: a growing number of states can’t be won without the support of the Hispanic vote. So if African Americans stay loyal to Barack Obama, how do Republicans think they can beat him in 2012?
Energized by the inflammatory rhetoric of what has become a key political issue nationwide, an overwhelming Caucasian and Republican crowd rallied in Lower Manhattan on September 11 to protest the plan of an Islamic Community Center two blocks from Ground Zero. Shouting “U-S-A, U-S-A,” any kind of dissent by infiltrators was routinely crushed. And I wondered, U-S-A, yes; but what kind?
Juan Manuel Benítez is NY1 Noticias' political reporter and host of Pura Política. He is also an adjunct professor at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.