Latino/as and the Reconfiguration of Group Loyalty for a Conservative Era

AHA Session 161
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
José Cruz, State University of New York, University at Albany
The Republican Party’s Class Appeal to the "Spanish-Speaking Vote"
Benjamin Francis-Fallon, Western Carolina University
The Hispanic Conservative’s Watergate
Geraldo Lujan Cadava, Northwestern University
José Cruz, State University of New York, University at Albany

Session Abstract

This panel examines Latino/a political engagement from center-right to far right since the 1970s. The Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s had increased material and psychological incentives for Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans and other Latino/as to identify as “minorities.” The collapse of the Democratic coalition heightened that party’s need to maintain its traditional support among these constituencies. At the same time, a new space opened for Republicans to win their backing. Complicating matters further, while Latino/a party loyalty was thought to be up for grabs, Latino/a ethnic loyalty was in the process of being reconfigured. From the late 1960s on, the federal government and both major parties encouraged members of diverse Latino/a national origin communities to collaborate under the auspices of a broad pan-Latino/a ethnic orientation.

This panel’s papers analyze the adaptations and improvisations that conservative Latino/as undertook in response to these tectonic shifts in postwar U.S. politics. They reveal that Latino/a political actors on the right defined strong—if not always consistent—ethnic loyalties they considered necessary to achieve independence from the traditional alliances, affiliations, and expectations that they deemed corrupted or inconsistent with their authentic selves and group ambitions.

Panelists show that far from espousing a purely color-blind conservatism, Latino/as on the right exhibited a spectrum of attitudes toward the quasi-racialization of the nation’s “Hispanic” population. Some Latino/a Republicans self-identified as the “silent minority,” shielding the GOP in its wider attack on black political advances. Others denied their own “minority” status—associating that term with blackness—yet still distinguished themselves from “white ethnics.” Yet the panel also demonstrates how their conservative multiculturalism would in time face an alt-right movement that disavowed Latinidad in favor of a revived white racial identity.

Focusing on an era characterized by the search for roots, the panel explores the multiple ways in which linkages to external homelands have structured Latino/a conservatives' political outlooks. Papers illuminate conscious efforts to highlight hybridity, and to turn Latin American nationalities into the building blocks of a transnational middle-class “Hispano” sensibility crystallizing in the United States. Others demonstrate concentration, with loyalty to a non-Communist Cuba justifying extreme actions, including political espionage on behalf of the Republican president. A third perspective obliterated Latin American loyalty altogether, and recast group members as “Spaniards in the US,” racially pure components of a pan-European bloc.

Finally, the panel illustrates the depth and uses of the personal in Latino/a conservatism. Papers probe a Latino/a politics based on the Horatio Alger myth, in which individual narratives of upward mobility served as symbols for group advancement under Republican rule. They make claims about a Latino/a politics defined by pride in personal access to the White House. Latino Republicans’ personalistic incorporation required and nurtured a fierce loyalty to those who had, at last, dealt them into mainstream politics. Bringing the debate to the current day, the panel spotlights the intensity with which the individual member of an online community registers loyalty through a personal racial claim that rejects the category of Latino/a altogether.

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