The Republican Party’s Class Appeal to the "Spanish-Speaking Vote"

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton)
Benjamin Francis-Fallon, Western Carolina University
This paper analyzes the Republican Party’s outreach to the “Spanish-speaking” middle-class in the 1970s. Through this class-based appeal, Republicans helped reimagine the bonds of loyalty within and across a vast and diverse national political constituency emerging in the decade.

Republicans incorporated the nation’s Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans as a collective by creating national programs and images that rendered individual upward mobility and representation in government by talented members of these communities as the equivalent of progress for the “Spanish-speaking Americans” as a whole.

At a time when liberals and leftists struggled to unite self-described Chicanos and Boricuas, the GOP’s “Brown Capitalism” program fused entrepreneurial ideology, ethnic symbolism, and federal funds to forge a national network of financial institutions, technical experts, and small businesses in the name of Spanish-speaking unity and prosperity. Similarly, Republicans extended the nascent constituency affirmative action in the federal civil service, to give its educated members a chance at “rightful competition” for government jobs.

Republicans also assembled a coterie of Mexican-American professionals who had risen from humble circumstances (often farm work) to attain high offices in government. These strivers vouched for the party’s inclusiveness, and served as living counterpoints to Democratic claims that group progress would ultimately be judged by the condition of the “Spanish-speaking” poor. Republicans went as far as to help publish a Latino/a analogue to Ebony magazine. Under their guidance, La Luz encouraged its educated audience to recognize its class and cultural commonalities as the fundamental means of elevating the Spanish-speaking American’s importance in the market and polity.

The courtship of “Spanish-speaking” voters changed as conservatives ascended in the GOP, but the middle-class ethnic appeal, set in place during the 1970s, would remain an enduring feature of Republican “Hispanic strategy.”

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