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Robert Gonzalez Headshot

Republicans and the Hispanic Rift

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I am a Mexican American and a Republican.

I remember distinctly when I first picked sides: election night, 1988. I was four. My family had just arrived in the United States. We lived in a tiny apartment in central Tucson, Arizona.

I don't remember much about the election. But I remember my mother, in Spanish, enunciating the candidates' names clearly. Bush. Dukakis. Doo - ka - kis. The Spanish equivalent of "doo-doo" is caca. My electoral choice was clear, Bush it was.

Fast forward twenty years, and I found myself in the midst of a heated presidential campaign, running a small grassroots office in Northwest Tucson for another Bush.

I recruited hundreds and hundreds of volunteers out of that office. Many sweet little old ladies who were worried about national security, who didn't want to see another attack on American soil, or who simply believed in what they considered "good old fashioned family values." Hour after hour, they worked tiny cell phone handsets, calling complete strangers and extolling the values of one Bush policy or another.

During the many breaks, the volunteers would sit around chatting, and the conversation would often turn to immigration. They spoke frankly around me, their notional boss. Perhaps they had not heard my last name: My family is pale, and my fair, freckly skin looks more Irish than Mexican.

Some of the things I heard coming from these volunteers, regarding "the Mexicans," shook me: about how they should be kept out, about how the border fence could not be built high enough, made it seem as if we were the real threat to American society, as if we were the real terrorists, hiding in caves in the Sonoran desert, waiting for the right moment to strike.

I was completely torn. I relied on these volunteers, some were friends, some were mentors, and I needed them to complete my task, to play a small part in getting Bush reelected. But it broke my heart to see a party I identified with, people I identified with, so irretrievably misguided about immigration and in a deeper sense, about the meaning of America.

Six years later, my state has enacted a controversial anti-illegal-alien measure, SB 1070. The law reflects genuine frustration on the part of Arizonans with federal immigration policy. Yet it also strikes at the core of my vision of the party and of the American dream.

The core values of the Republican party could profoundly appeal to Latinos. The party firmly grounds itself in the strength of family, the importance of hard work and personal responsibility, and the virtues of limited government, yet, it has pushed away millions who have sacrificed all, putting their families on their backs, to take advantage of the economic opportunity in the United States, to work incredibly hard and do the jobs that others will not do, just to secure the American dream for themselves and their families.

By failing to embrace the immigrant, those Republicans are making themselves largely irrelevant in a new era. The magnitude of the fall will only become evident once the results from the 2010 Census are released, but it will surely be staggering.

When we arrived to the United States, my family had very little money. But the American dream worked for us. The hard work of my parents, along with God's providence, plus some luck here and there, fulfilled our American dreams, and ensured that we wanted not. I went to Princeton University for my undergraduate education, followed by Stanford Law School. My brother attended Washington University in St. Louis both for undergrad and medical school, his medical school financed with a full ride scholarship. My sister recently graduated from Stanford undergrad, and my other sister is in the midst of her own Princeton education. Six Mexicans thrust into Tucson, Arizona, having little money and knowing little English, somehow made it.

It pains me to see and hear so many Republicans express anti-immigrant sentiments, and it strikes me as politically fruitless to see so many Republicans support measures such as SB 1070. The Rush Limbaughs and Chris Simcoxs of the world embarrass the party, and it pains me even more to think that the party of Lincoln, Goldwater, and Reagan, is dragged down in anti-immigrant rancor.

The GOP is not yet obsolete, nor should it be. Immigrants will embrace Republican ideals and in turn strengthen both the party and the country with a strong new base of diverse, thriving American dreamers.

Cross-posted from FrumForum