Policy, not Spanish skills, is key for Latino voters, Flores says

August 1, 2016

Since becoming the Democratic Party's nominee for Vice President, Senator Tim Kaine has peppered his stump speech with Spanish phrases and stories of his time volunteering in Honduras.

Latino voters are a key target for Hillary Clinton’s presidential hopes. But Assistant Professor Nelson Flores, a member of the renowned Educational Linguistics Division at Penn GSE, told the Los Angeles Times that Kaine’s Spanish skills won’t automatically win over Latinos. Instead, Democrats should focus on policies solutions on issues that matter to Latinos, he said, especially since English is the primary language for many Latinos in the U.S. 

“This is a textbook example of a raciolinguistic ideology. For a white politician it is an asset to have any Spanish-speaking abilities. For a Latinx politician it is a liability not to have perfect Spanish-speaking abilities.”

“We certainly don’t need a politician to use Spanish for us to understand his or her message,” Flores told the paper. “To suggest that a politician’s Spanish proficiency is relevant to this equation is to ignore the overwhelming rejection by Latinos of politicians such as Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, who have also used Spanish as part of their electoral strategy.”

On his blog, The Educational Linguist, Flores took the discussion deeper. While white politicians are often praised for even limited fluency in Spanish, many Latino politicians, such as Julian Castro, can sometimes be dismissed as “inauthentic” if their Spanish is less than perfect, Flores writes.

Read the Times’ piece here.


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