Gabriel Gomez is having his moment in the spotlight. The son of Colombian immigrants, he made Massachusetts history in April when he became the first Hispanic to win such a major Republican primary there.
On June 25, he faces 16-term Democrat Ed Markey in a special race for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by John Kerry. But not everyone sees him as a Hispanic trailblazer. The Boston-based Spanish-language newspaper El Planeta ran a column wondering if Gomez is a “LINO” (Latino In Name Only).
It’s bad enough that EL Planeta raised this question — and worse that its answer was “Yes.”
Litmus tests for ethnicity serve no purpose besides dividing our community. They are pointless, unnecessary and borderline offensive. Yet as more Hispanic candidates join the political arena, these questions seem to be the new norm.
That’s unfortunate. Consider that in Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti ran for mayor amid ongoing questions about his heritage. Garcetti is Jewish on his mother’s side while his father’s ancestors are Italian immigrants to Mexico. Garcetti identifies as Mexican and speaks fluent Spanish. Nonetheless, his roots became an issue during his race to succeed Antonio Villaraigosa as Los Angeles mayor.
California Assembly Speaker John Perez told a local radio station, “There isn’t a Latino candidate running for mayor that I know of.” And an Hispanic city council member said of Garcetti, “He says he’s Latino but, you know, that’s for the voters to see or the constituents to see.”
As it turned out, Garcetti was elected by a comfortable margin, including support from 60 percent of L.A.’s Latino voters. However, it is troubling that fellow Hispanics challenged his background. The first and last word on Garcetti’s heritage ought to belong to Garcetti.
While Garcetti faced scrutiny on account of his actual ethnicity, other Latinos are challenged because of their politics. Former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson told ABC News that Texas Senator Ted Cruz should not be “defined as a Hispanic” because he doesn’t support immigration reform. Richardson later said his remarks had been misinterpreted. Still, since when did there become an officially-sanctioned Latino viewpoint? Richardson would be wise to think about the dangers of a checklist approach to ethnicity.
If we’re going to question whether a person is truly Hispanic, some might say that Richardson, raised as a youth in Mexico by his U.S.-businessman father and Mexican mother who still lives there, does not measure up.
Is that fair? Of course not. Nor is challenging a person’s heritage because he or she has independent views. The fact is, a Latino can be Libertarian, oppose immigration reform or be half-Chinese. That doesn’t make him less Latino.
The irony here is that few of us call ourselves “Hispanic” or “Latino.” According to the Pew Research Center, 51 percent of Hispanics self-identify by their family’s country of origin, such as Mexico or Cuba. Only 24 percent use the broader terms “Hispanic” or “Latino.”
So all this fuss about the authentic Latino/Hispanic identity is a waste of time. Most of us don’t describe ourselves in those terms anyway.
Gabriel Gomez, being Latino is one aspect of an interesting candidacy.
He is a former Navy SEAL, Harvard Business School graduate and a successful businessman. He supports immigration reform and same-sex marriage but has yet to receive the full backing of the national GOP. La Planeta was off-base in calling him a LINO. If what they meant is that Gomez has not been active in the Hispanic community or causes, then they should say so. Or call him out for his conservative ties. Let’s just drop the ethnic jabs.
Yes, ethnicity matters to us. We are often thrilled by success of fellow Hispanics such as Justice Sonia Sotomayor and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. Diversity within our community should be celebrated, not scorned. Like them or not, Garcetti, Cruz and Gomez are all “one of us.”
Latinos have fought too long for respect and inclusion. The last thing we need to do is attack each other on the basis of our heritage.
Raul A. Reyes is a contributor to USA Today and NBC Latino