The Trump Card

Mexicans in the US have always been underestimated, but when there is a direct threat, they have responded accordingly

By Richard Vasquez
Published on LatinoLA: July 2, 2015

The Trump Card

Pete Wilson. Donald Trump. Just two examples of people in very important positions in our society who have misjudged what the "Hispanic Market" is and isn't.

Their big mistake was not understanding the differences among Hispanics and to lump all Hispanics into one group and think of them as a single, monolithic constituency. A very myopic view convenient to political expediency. They may have gotten this idea from early attempts to reach Hispanics with Spanish language translations of commercials aimed at awakening the "sleeping giant" for commercial purposes. "Sleeping giant" was how the nascent Hispanic community was referred to in the early 1980's.

In the political arena, "Viva Kennedy!", "Viva Nixon!", Viva this or viva that, was all that seemed to be needed to improve your showing among Hispanics. The sleeping giant seemed complacent and to lumber along, never really getting too excited about anything. At the time, Hispanics were dismissed as a niche market and political handlers were happy with any movement or momentum from Hispanics in their favor.

The big Hispanic electoral prizes came from California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. The majority of Hispanics reside in the West and Southwest. The "Hispanic market" could be referred to as the Mexican community, but for the presence of Hispanics in other big states like, Florida, New York and Illinois. These states are home to relatively significant Hispanic constituencies that play a vital role in aligning the US Hispanic narrative to the mainstream US culture. They are predominantly Cuban Americans, dominant in Florida, and Puerto Ricans, dominant in New York and Illinois, although later Chicago moved into the Mexican column surpassing Puerto Ricans as the dominant Hispanic group.

Cubans and to a large extent Puerto Ricans understand political power and how to leverage it. They used this power to advocate not only for what they needed for their communities but to advocate for a unified voice among all Hispanics in the US. This resulted in the invention of the Spanish language marketing and media industry. Though they contributed to the progress of all Hispanics, some Hispanic groups emerged faster than others on economic and political playing fields.

There were reasons for that, among them, was that Cubans and Puerto Ricans for the most part never had to clear the hurdle of indeterminate immigration status. These two groups arrived in the US with full legal immigration standing. Of course, Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

So if you are Pete Wilson and Donald Trump you could think to yourself that by jumping on the anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican, narrative concocted by the extreme right wing you could aggressively "scapegoat" what may seem like the weakest link in the Hispanic chain. Mexicans are generally miscast in media portrayals as complacent and marginalized due to issues of immigration status, language barriers and historical resistance to assimilation. These factors have fueled the anti-immigrant, read
anti-Mexican, fervor of right wing hate groups whose flames are fanned by media outlets such as Fox Nation and talk radio.

Politicians like Wilson and Trump tried to leverage this anti- Mexican sentiment to placate the growing extreme right wing of the Republican party (they have to get through them in the primaries if they expect to make it to the general election against the Democrat), and to raise Super PAC money, while minimizing damage to their mainstream brand. They can easily fall into the trap of believing that if you mess with Mexicans, nothing will happen to you.

Pete Wilson found out the hard way that it doesn't work like that. The "sleeping giant" awoke in the aftermath of Prop 187 and rendered Wilson and the Republican Party impuissant from political power in California. They unwittingly grabbed a tiger by the tail and have not been able to shake it loose. Trump should have done a little homework or taken Hispanic 101 by calling his friendly reps at Univision or Telemundo. But he didn't. "
If he had, he would have learned that Mexicans and Mexican Americans comprise over two-thirds of US Hispanics to the tune of some 38 million souls. They are young, lean heavily to social media, they are pursuing higher education at astonishing rates, know their worth as consumers and have money to spend.

They represent the single largest block of Hispanic voters, which grows in voter registration and political clout in every election in the 21st century. Obama would not be president today without the Mexican American vote. Ask him, he'll tell you.

So there Trump sits looking at the numbers which by now are starting to look like the oncoming lights of a runaway freight train. It is the story of when business and politics collide instead of coincide. He stands to lose a lot more than what is left of his self- respect and dignity. Worse, he is also going to lose money over this. Both Univision and NBC have cancelled airing his beauty pageants effective immediately and NBC has stipulated that Trump will no longer appear on the reality show. What lit the fire? $1.5 trillion dollars in measurable buying power that was getting up to take its business elsewhere.

To mess with Hispanics as a single group is one thing. Under the umbrella defined as Hispanics, you are talking about different cultures, nationalities, traditions and tastes.
When you mess with Mexicans, you are talking about scale. Scale that can not only hurt you politically but your bottom line as well. This is a group that lays deep roots in communities where they settle and have ties to those communities dating back generations. You are talking about community builders, who are raising families, who are hard working, entrepreneurial and who are as vested in the future of America as anyone.

Mexicans in the US have always been underestimated, but when there is a direct threat, they have responded accordingly to attacks from people who misunderstand their complacency and misjudge their fervor for political engagement.

Pete Wilson and Donald Trump share one thing for sure. They never again have to wonder where they stand with Mexican American voters.

About Richard Vasquez:
Freelance Hispanic Marketing Consultant based in Los Angeles, you can reach him at
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