THE BLOG
06/20/2012 07:24 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2012

The Hispanic-Latino Cha-Cha

With the stroke of a pen and a thumbed nose to a do-nothing Congress, President Obama is allowing 800,000 illegal immigrants to stay in this country -- and to vote for him. At least those among the youthful 800,000 that are eligible by age to vote, that is. Given Obama's largesse, that's the least they could do. Mitt Romney, of course, sees this gesture as a political move. In an election year, what isn't a political move? In fact, lack of movement is a political move.

The fact that now one out of every six Americans is Hispanic is what's really at issue here. Or are they Latino? Or both?

Why do we lump all Spanish-speaking people into one term, which seems to be interchangeable with yet another term? We don't take everyone from Berlin, Vienna and Prague and refer to them as Teutonic, do we? Also, why do we on some occasions toss Portuguese-speaking people into the same term with the Spanish?

The other day I overheard two members of a small Tea Party rally discussing the upcoming election. Gent #1: "I think Romney will take the lion's share of the Hispanic vote." Gent #2: "Well, that may be, but I still see Obama getting most of the Latino vote." And you wonder why the Tea Party hasn't wrested total control from the rest of us -- yet?

In 1976, the US Congress passed the only law in our history to mandate the collection and analysis of data pertaining to a specific ethnic group -- "Americans of Spanish origin or descent." Figuring that one word would be better than six words to characterize this group, our elected officials instigated what usually passes for trouble in our society. So a typical political controversy was born. The Pew Research Center danced right into the Hispanic-Latino Cha-Cha in 2009, after Sonia Sotomayor had been nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court and people were wondering how to refer to her.

"If you turn to the U.S. government for answers, you quickly discover that it has two different approaches to this definitional question," according to Pew. "Both are products of a 1976 act of Congress and the administrative regulations that flow from it.

"One approach defines a Hispanic or Latino as a member of an ethnic group that traces its roots to 20 Spanish-speaking nations from Latin America and Spain itself (but not Portugal or Portuguese-speaking Brazil).

"The other approach is much simpler. Who's Hispanic? Anyone who says they are. And nobody who says they aren't."

On the heels of the Pew study came a weigh-in from Philip B. Corbett, the New York Times' deputy news editor who is in charge of the paper's style manual.

The labels are not universally embraced by the community that has been labeled. A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that 48 percent of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26 percent generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24 percent generally call themselves American on first reference. As for a preference between 'Hispanic' and 'Latino', a 2008 Center survey found that 36 percent of respondents prefer the term 'Hispanic,' 21 percent prefer the term 'Latino' and the rest have no"
preference.

To many of my friends growing up speaking Spanish, such labeling is an affront. Only in the United States, they say, can all these different people be lumped together and seen as a voting bloc. Truthfully, the only thing they have in common is a language, and even that has many accents and argots. In Latin America, each country perceives itself differently. Colombians are oblivious to Bolivians. Venezuelans don't exactly venerate Peruvians. And
Argentines give Chileans the chills.

As my friend from Mexico City points out, "everyone in the U.S. speaks English, yes, with regional pronunciations and slangs, so why don't you see your whole country as one big fat Gringo voting bloc?"

But Americans have a penchant for pigeon-holing. As a matter of fact, to the GOP, anyone who's not an American is probably a European.

At any rate, here's what I predict will happen as a result of the President's Grand Gesture.

Romney will counter by choosing Marco Rubio, the Tea Party's favorite Hispanic Senator from Florida, as his 2012 running mate.

Obama will then parry, again snub Congress and name Puerto Rico as the 51st state in the union.

Romney will connivingly come back with the Mother of All Salvos: he will propose the invasion of Cuba, put it under U.S. martial law, reinstitute gambling to Havana and open the casino doors to thousands of jobs. This act will be designed to sway all anti-Castro Cubans living legally in the United States to vote for him, to recruit yet another U.S. military force (jobs!), to demonstrate how gaming when it's properly spelled without that nasty B and L in the middle can replace the horror of taxation, and to create a groundswell of employment, from croupiers to chorus girls to body guards (more jobs!). Watch Romney soar in the polls.

Then right before the November election, Obama will declare Jennifer Lopez's birthday to be a national holiday. He'll get four more years.