With a week left until Donald Trump’s inauguration, The Latino Coalition (a small business group) and the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) announced they will co-host an event to honor the President-elect. Although Trump’s presidential campaign was rooted in racism and xenophobia, targeted mainly at immigrants and Latinos, the organizers for this event wasted no time in cozying up to the man who promised to build a “big, beautiful wall” along the border and deport millions of immigrants.
As a former intern for CHLI, the news did not take me by surprise. CHLI is a case study of what happens when Latinos in positions of power abandon the needs of their community to gain power and prestige.
Latinos voted overwhelmingly against Trump. Although national exit surveys showed Trump gaining 29 percent of the Latino vote, a Washington Post op-ed pointed out that it is is very likely that Trump received only 18 percent of the Latino vote, the lowest level on record for any presidential candidate in U.S. history. That statistic would make sense, since he announced his candidacy, Trump has repeatedly insulted, degraded and demonized the Latino community. But Latinos are not a monolithic group. We do not share the same (or even similar) backgrounds and experiences. Whiteness and privilege shield many of us from the harsh realities of Trump’s Amerikka. In fact, many Latinos are gleefully ushering in that same Amerikka with open arms.
Although Trump has done everything in his power to alienate Latinos, The Latino Coalition and CHLI are reveling in the opportunity to celebrate his inauguration. CHLI Chairman Lincoln Díaz-Balart went as far as to say, “I speak for our entire Board of Directors when I say it is a genuine privilege for CHLI to host this important Presidential Inaugural event with The Latino Coalition. With great optimism, we look forward to a future of freedom and prosperity for all.” How out of touch does one have to be to be “optimistic” about Trump’s presidency? I don’t see a “future of freedom and prosperity for all.” I see a future where the most vulnerable among us will have to fight like hell to ensure our survival. I see four years where we will have to hold on for dear life. I feel more helpless and hopeless than ever.
I was not shocked to learn CHLI signed on to co-sponsor this event. At their 2010 annual gala, they honored then-Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. In 2011, they honored former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, whose presidency saw a dramatic increase in drug violence and human rights violations. United behind their mission (fostering a “diversity of thought”), CHLI is pretty much free to honor whoever they want, regardless of how disastrous their platform and policies are.
Daniel Garza, Executive Director of the Koch-funded Libre Initiative, said, “It’s important for the Hispanic community to be represented during inauguration week festivities. This event promises to be the premier Latino event of the 2017 inauguration; I’m delighted to play a role as a host committee member.” For starters, it’s not the premier event. It’s the only Latino inaugural event. Other prominent Latinos, like Representative Luis Gutiérrez, are boycotting the inauguration as a matter of conscience. It’s not enough to be “represented,” as Garza suggests. Representation means nothing if those who are representing us aren’t advocating for our well-being and security. Having Latinos in positions of power means nothing if they are not committed to lifting us up as they climb.
What CHLI and The Latino Coalition fail to understand is that having Latinos attend a $200 gala will not prevent the mass deportations Trump has promised. Having a seat at Trump’s table is not going to make him any less evil or dangerous. An invitation to the party is not going to free the thousands of migrants in detention centers nor is it going to lessen the pain of family separation. Throwing a banquet is not going to stop the construction of Trump’s border wall. That’s not the type of representation we need nor is it what we deserve.
CHLI and the Latino Coalition’s individualistic, capitalist ethos throws Latinos under the bus, and it’s time to call them out on it. To quote Zenén Jaimes Pérez, the event organizers’ “proximity to whiteness and power” allows these individuals to ignore their complicity in the oppression of Latinos, especially immigrants, women and LGBT+ folks who will be more at risk under the new administration. Throwing a party to celebrate Donald Trump only serves to throw Latinos under the bus. It does not help any of us—it’ll only secure their status as Trump’s token Latinos. As if we need any more of that.
Barbara Sostaita is a Yale graduate student whose work focuses on migration and religion. She writes about Latinx migration issues, popular culture and women in academia. Follow her on Twitter @BarbaraSostaita.