‘Celebrating Hispanic Heritage’ Is Latino for ‘No Democrat Is Safe’

“No Democrat is safe because they chose politics over giving relief to families.” With these words, DREAMer activist Erika Andiola gave voice to the new spirit infusing “Hispanic Heritage” celebrations taking place throughout the country from now until October 15.

Andiola made these comments in Iowa, where last Sunday, she and other members of the Dream Action Coalition confronted Hillary Clinton, once again the heir apparent of the Democratic mantle, while she and husband Bill were testing the waters for another presidential bid.

Unfortunately, Clinton’s unimaginative response —”We have to elect more Democrats”— to a question about President Obama’s “broken promises” on immigration did nothing but fuel Andiola, DREAMers and millions of Latinos’ continued and expanded efforts to turn Hispanic Heritage Month, once a staple of Democratic (and Republican) appeals to Latinos, into a genetically modified strain of politics gone virulent and viral: a strain of politics that has declared open season on Democrats supporting or remaining silent about Obama’s catastrophic immigration policies.

The confrontation in the Hawkeye State between Clinton, Andiola and the DREAMers took place on a U.S. political terrain overrun in the last week with anti-Democrat sentiment (and action) among Latinos: proclamation of “A Latino Voter’s Independence from the Democratic Party in the U.S.;” Obama allies like Congress member Joaquín Castro and former SEIU leader Eliseo Medina, once an untouchable figure, challenged by activists to pressure, instead of defend Obama and his immigration policies; Cecilia Muñoz, Obama’s top Latina and a former immigrant advocate, again coming under intense pressure for deflecting and diverting from her boss’ 2 million deportations, massive jailing and inaction on Border Patrol killings of immigrant innocents. Previous weeks and months saw harder and harder attacks on Obama—the disintegration of immigration coalitions built to back the Democrats and other unprecedented developments.

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Truly, no Democrat is safe during Hispanic Heritage month. The question is: will they be any safer at the end of the month designated by Lyndon Johnson, expanded by Ronald Reagan as a celebration of Latino contributions to the U.S.? Should they be safer? Never mind that Hispanic Heritage Month was launched on the anniversary of Latin American independence from Spain and was used to keep imposing Spanish identity over a very mixed peoples of indigenous, African and other descent by pushing the the name “Hispanic” on the celebrations. Whatever we choose to call the “celebrations” and ourselves (a subject of continued debate), Latinos critical of the Democrats are on the verge of altering not just Hispanic Heritage month or Latino history, but U.S. history itself.

Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars to essentially dominate and control Latino politics thru the astroturf coalitions that backed the now thoroughly dead and discredited “comprehensive immigration reform” (CIR) proposals leading millions of Latinos to believe their promises —legalization in exchange for even more punitive policies— Obama, the Democrats and their allies in immigrant rights who “delivered” (not) the Latino vote to put anti-immigrant Republicans on the defensive, now find themselves dreading the thought of mouthing “¡Sí se puede!” at a Hispanic Heritage event. Such a titanic turning of tables rings historic for several reasons.

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Firstly, because Latino goodwill and patience of more than 10 years after Democrats and their allies in labor, the nonprofit sector and big philanthropy concocted CIR as a Latino vote-getting machine in 2004 is over. Over time, CIR has become the new Mexican sombrero of Latino politics, trotted out every September 15 as an empty ethnic appeal to a community desperate for real change. By adding the once hallowed political slogan (“¡Sí se puede!”) to the Democrats’ Latino toolkit, as Obama adopted it as his own (“Yes We Can!”), Democrats inadvertently helped raise awareness among Latinos about the difference between dead political language and more relevant political language heard in the “Deporter-in-Chief” slogan now deeply rooted and heard throughout the Latino U.S. Lastly, recent Latino activism comes on the heels of polls by Latino Decisions and other pollsters showing that most Latinos identify with neither party. For increasing numbers of us, “celebrating Hispanic Heritage” is Latino for both “No Republican is safe” and “No Democrat is safe,” marking a new political reality where Latinos are no longer simply co-dependent Democrats.

In the face of this awakening, some overt —and covert— Democratic operatives have taken to attacking activists like Andiola as a “threat” that will “kill comprehensive immigration reform” and usher in a new era of Republican rule. Beyond being absurd in extreme (i.e. CIR is so dead they rejected it as a zombie extra on “The Walking Dead” and no polls show Latinos flocking to the GOP), such attacks are dangerous in how they divert our attention from this incontrovertible fact: on immigration policy, Obama and his supporters are exponentially worse than the worst Republicans and their deranged immigration rhetoric and politics. Republican talk and Republican immigration policy proposals are still more abominable, but at the material level, at the level of jailing hundreds of thousands of immigrant bodies, at the level of deporting millions of immigrant bodies, at the level of ripping bodies from other bodies called familia and at the level of allowing the Border Patrol to continue shooting innocent immigrant bodies with impunity, the Democrats have proven themselves Republicans on steroids, but with a softer, more familiar, “¡Sí se puede!” tone.

Thankfully and to the benefit of our dignity, many Latinos are leaving the dangerously infantile politics that try to silence dissent with the Republican boogeyman and are instead actively expanding the political imagination of a country in urgently desperate need of greater imagination. Rather than seeing the world through the dandruffed and dirtied lens of “good Democrat-bad Republican,” which still prevails among too many Latinos and non-Latinos alike, some of us are opting out of such blind and extremely dangerous binaries by inserting the transcendent moral logic heard in still vibrant, still relevant slogans like “No Human Being Is Illegal” and “Undocumented and Unafraid.” Short of a sea change in the economic and moral structure of both parties, nothing less than the expanded moral imagination and intrepid action that’s turning over the tortilla of once dead Hispanic Heritage celebrations will suffice in bringing about real change in immigration and in the country itself.

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Roberto Lovato is a writer and a Visiting Scholar at UC Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. You can follow Roberto on Twitter @robvato.

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