I am an immigrant. I am Mexican-American. I should be a Republican. But most Latinos are not Republicans and three-quarters of those who voted in the last presidential election decided to favor President Obama.
As our president embarks on his second term and Congress is expected to tackle immigration reform, Republicans should consider the many issues in modern politics that make Latinos open to persuasion to conservative arguments. A few of these issues include the role of government, worry about debt, taxation, and the role of tradition and religion in public life.
Republicans, we are here. We don’t hate you. Stop repeating talk points and actually get to know us enough so that you can sell your ideas to us
- Marta Martinez
As an immigrant, it is for me a constant source of amusement that many Americans complain about their government with a passion usually reserved in the rest of the world for hard core dictators. Although we may not be as vocal, we get it. Big government is inefficient.
Many of us have experienced first-hand or through our relatives corrupt governments full of employees that at best did nothing and at worst made the lives of individuals and businesses more difficult. We know government needs to keep in check and modified to be better. However, most of us are looking to make government not only smaller, but smarter.
Many Americans worry about becoming Greece; we have lived Greece. Or worse, we lived in Latin America during the 1980s. Many of us are here because the economies in our native countries collapsed spectacularly and we were unable to find jobs and opportunities there.
As governments in our countries grew, they kept borrowing and spending with corrupt schemes until the whole system became unsustainable. Most of us worry about the debt ceiling and the deficit. We are open to the virtues of balanced budgets and making government spending a real investment in the future.
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Although we do not have a philosophical opposition to taxes, we very much dislike paying them ourselves. Taxes are better on thy neighbor. And despite all those theories about taxes and motivation, most of us would prefer to be richer even if it meant paying higher taxes. Latinos are not choosing to have a lower median income than whites to avoid taxation. Help us become wealthier.
Let’s start with immigration reform. Let our family members negotiate higher salaries without the fear of being asked for a Social Security card or being deported. Markets do not work their best with fear. People take lower salaries and substandard working conditions not because they don’t know better, but because they feel vulnerable or they don’t have a choice. An immigration reform that puts all workers on equal footing will make the labor market fairer for everybody in America.
At the core, many Latinos are social conservatives, with families at the center of our lives, both personally and politically. We worry that our children are losing their bearings in a materialistic and individualistic world. We value the celebration and maintenance of traditions and do not see the need to hide our religious beliefs in public life. Abortion makes us uneasy, although only the most radicals amongst us, in particular celibate priests, do not think the pill is a great invention.
And yet, despite all of these common values and fears, we voted overwhelmingly to re-elect President Obama and are considered by many a solid Democratic bloc. As true conservatives, our families and our communities come first. I, and many like me, could not get ourselves to vote for a candidate and a party that would make life for our families and neighbors more difficult.
We have already spent money on the education of undocumented youth and we use the services of their parents every time we go out to eat. Should we not make sure that society gets the maximum benefits from their presence?
Yes, those 11 million people broke the law by crossing a border without permission or overstaying their visas. If you were in their situation, were the choice would be to commit a victimless crime or see your family go hungry, wouldn’t you do the same? No matter how these people, our people, made it here, they are a reality that can’t be ignored.
As the prospect of a massive immigration reform that may include a path to citizenship for 11 million immigrants, around 80 percent of them Latinos, Republicans in the House and Senate may be asking themselves why vote to make citizens individuals that are likely to increase the ranks of their adversaries. But ethnicity is not political destiny. Politicians of any party can’t afford to ignore us and should try to find common ground with us.
Republicans, we are here. We don’t hate you. Stop repeating talk points and actually get to know us enough so that you can sell your ideas to us. Give every Latino citizen and 11 million more people a political choice. Who knows, you may learn a thing or two about being conservative from us.
Martha Martinez is an Associate Professor of Economic Sociology at DePaul University in Chicago.