What’s the matter with Hispanics?

Hispanic support for the crude logic of identity politics has always been tepid. Julian Castro, a former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary, was the only Hispanic to enter the Democratic primary in 2019. He expected that he would have a solid Hispanic base, but polls never showed him getting more than 7 percent of the Hispanic vote. A significant number of Hispanics have balked at the idea of being shunted into a box marked “people of color.” In the 2010 census, 2.5 million of them described themselves as Hispanic and white. While “Latino,” an attempt to overthrow the colonialist implications of the label “Hispanic,” has become a part of the American vernacular, the more recent enlightened neologism, “Latinx,” has been about as tempting as a soggy tostada. An August Pew Research survey found a paltry 3 percent of “Latinx” actually use the word, and three out of four had never even heard of it. A few days before the election, a follower tweeted to Ruben Gallego, a liberal Democrat congressman in a heavily Hispanic working-class district around Phoenix, “Ruben, honest question, how do we as a party improve our work with the LatinX community across the country as well as we’ve done in AZ?” Gallego’s acid response? “First, start by not using the term Latinx.”

Though bureaucrats, politicians, college admissions officers, and executives at Univision have had good reason to pretend otherwise, Hispanics are not a “monolith,” nor are they neatly packaged as “people of color.” Up until the 1970s, the largest groups from Spanish-speaking countries—Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, and Cubans—lived in different regions of the U.S. They didn’t have much to do with one another and, not knowing what else to do, the Census Bureau simply classified them as white. Seeing the success of the Civil Rights movement, in the late 1960s Mexican-American activists began lobbying for more data on their fellows and proposed a Census category of “Brown.” Since the race of these groups varied, eventually, the government settled on Hispanic.