The Latinidad of Ted Cruz

Feb 4, 2016
12:15 PM
On Monday Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas became the first Latino to win the Iowa caucus. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

On Monday Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas became the first Latino to win the Iowa caucus. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Last night Ted Cruz (R-TX) won the GOP Iowa caucus. His win not only changed up the Republican primary race by defeating Donald Trump, but also sparked a discussion: Is Ted Cruz Latino?

Soon after Cruz took the Iowa contest, people already began to call him the “first Hispanic candidate” to win a presidential caucus or primary. In fact Cruz’s political allies have already trumpeted this as a huge breakthrough, telling audiences that Cruz has the potential to be the “first Hispanic president.” Others are confidently predicting that Cruz will “dominate” the Hispanic vote.

However, the reaction from others has been less than enthusiastic. Even his fellow Latino Republicans aren’t really that excited over his own campaign, but rather gravitate towards fellow Cuban American Marco Rubio. Crucial GOP Latino blocs like Latino evangelicals tend to be critical of Cruz as they see him as less inspiring and too harsh on immigration. First-time GOP caucus-goer and Colombian immigrant Enrique Peña clumps Trump and Cruz together when he says: “The tone and the language they use, they would not be good candidates to represent America.”

Despite his historic victory, some have noticed that Latino organizations really aren’t celebrating the milestone either. Even La Opinwondered, “¿Por qué no estamos celebrando?”

Furthermore it’s not just critics on Twitter. Even well-known Latino Democrats have either outright excommunicated him or questioned just how Latino he is. And it’s not some family squabble on the Internet. Non-Latinos like Mark Halperin and Chris Matthews, with their embarrassing antics, pick up that something’s different about Ted. So it begs the question…

Is Ted Cruz really a Latino?

Ultimately the case against Cruz comes down to two points.

First, he doesn’t really make a big deal of his latinidad. He goes by “Ted” instead of Rafael (his first name), he’s not fluent in Spanish, he’s a Southern Baptist, he listens to country music, and — gasp! — he’s not even fully Cuban.

Secondly, he’s a Republican. His conservative outlook and hardline immigration stance make him an odd duck among Latinos. The majority of Latinos vote with Democrats and support immigration reform. If he disagrees with Latinos on such a critical issue as immigration, then isn’t he a vendido (traitor)?

From my conversations with folks, both Latino and not, Democrat and Republican, this seems to be a really popular view. He’s not a Latino, they say. He’s a Tío Tomás, a coconut, a sell-out.

I disagree.

Ted Cruz should be considered a Latino, regardless of any and all political disagreements we have with him, for three reasons. First, Cruz is clearly a Latino from his obvious family background. Second, the rate of assimilation in the U.S. means we are going to have to grapple with Latinos not looking or sounding like our preconceived notions of what it means to be Latino. Lastly, Latinos deserve to have really tough political fights with ourselves, even ones that hurt.

Looking at Ted’s roots and family background, it’s plain as day that the guy’s Latino. Notwithstanding his own emigration from Canada to the U.S., his paternal family’s Cuban story is extremely typical. His father, Rafael Cruz, was born in Matanzas, grew up angry with the Batista regime and then left Cuba when dissatisfied with the direction of the revolution. Even if exaggerated, Rafael’s story isn’t typical of the wealthy habanero fleeing to their summer house in Miami. Also, while sometimes white Cubans like to pretend they are “pure” Spanish, it’s more than likely that Ted, like most Cubans, has a mixture of indigenous, Spanish and African background. Furthermore, the easiest way to see how someone should be identified is simply to ask them. If you ask Cruz, he’ll tell you: he’s Cuban. And while some like to make a big deal of Cruz going by “Ted” instead of Rafael, it should be noted that Cruz actually grew up being called Felito for most of his childhood. He changed it after being teased as a teenager in junior high. Now ask yourself, is it possible to grow up with a crazy Cuban dad, being called Felito and not be a Latino?

Also, as much as you may hate the guy, take a good look. Because Latinos like him — half-Anglo, Protestant, upper-middle-class, Republican — are only going to become more common. Assimilation means our old stereotypes of who is and is not Latino are going to have to change. Right now we are in the midst of a massive shift. For the first time since the Mexican-American War, the majority of Latinos living in the U.S. were born in the U.S. That means a few things. Pew’s report on Hispanic identity shows our community changing rapidly. The more we intermarry with other Americans, the less likely Hispanic or Latino becomes the primary way to identify ourselves. Over generations we become less fluent in Spanish. Politically, while most tend to prefer a larger government that provides more services, Latinos become fonder of smaller government as the generations go by. In addition, as Latinos begin to enter the middle class, the more they will vote Republican as opposed to Democrat. If we’re going to start kicking people out because they don’t match our stale ideas of what makes a Latino, then soon enough there won’t be any of us left.

Lastly, and most important, do we really want to say Latinos can’t have disagreements with each other? Think about what that means. Notice no one says that about white people. No one asks, Is Hillary Clinton white enough? There’s a disquieting racial double-standard where white politicians and voters are free to disagree with each other, whereas people of color and Latinos of all shades must be loyal to the monolith. Nearly every day we read pieces praising the diversity of Latino communities. We come from different stories, we came in different waves to America, and we have different ideas. This notion of “Latino loyalty” is a total absurdity. Ask anyone from Latin America. Is Enrique Krauze “not really Mexican” because he doesn’t kowtow to the PRI’s hijacking of the Mexican Revolution? Is Elias Biscet “not really Cuban” because he disagrees with the Castros? Let’s grow up. We owe it to each other to have civil disagreements on politics without attacking who we are.

Look, I don’t plan on voting for Ted, and he pisses me off more ways than I can count. But all the same, I’m glad Latinos have entered the political mainstream in a way that would’ve been unthinkable 50 years ago. It’s a great moment. Ted Cruz is a part of that moment.


Joseph Laughon is a writer based in Los Angeles who writes for Cafe Con Leche Republicans and at Musings on the Right. You can connect with him on Twitter @el_leprechauno.