Some years ago my wife and I were on our way to pick up our car in the parking lot of the hotel we were staying to have dinner. As we hop in the elevator a white man who looked like he had just ran a marathon approaches us after listening us speaking in Spanish and asks us (in Spanish) to take a look at his sneakers. He wanted to show us that his sneakers were autographed by George Lopez, whom he had seen in the street after the marathon, and wanted to share his excitement with this Latino couple who surely were also fans of his. My “meh” reaction along with my wife’s “George who?” quickly made him realize that not all Latinos are fans of or know who is George Lopez.
I thought of that story while I was reading the reactions of a potential Ted Cruz (and to a lesser extent, Marco Rubio) run as the Republican candidate for President of the United States. With no Latinos in the race for the Democratic nomination, the possibility that the first Latino candidate for President (and potential first Latino U.S. President) will be a Republican has reignited the debate of who counts as a Latino. (For a good read of various arguments check this series of tweets from the National Institute for Latino Policy)
Technically, the fact that Senator Cruz does not hide his Cuba-born father away or changed his name to “Cruise” or “Cross” or started using his white, Delaware-born mother’s name to hide his Cuban roots should make him part of the Latino family. Rafael Cruz, Ted’s father is the equivalent of our crazy uncle and that makes Ted our crazy cousin.
It is true that Ted Cruz’s policy positions stand against what most Latinos stand for. But, whether politically or culturally, it is hard to find an “ideal” way of being a Latino. This is the case of those of us who are non-religious and who have to have to withstand the assumption that being a Christian, particularly a Catholic one, is the right way of being Latino. As an atheist Latino I reject the notion that one must possess a particular set of characteristics to be able to call oneself a Latino. (In fact, my dissertation is partially an effort to reconcile the cultural and social aspects of Latino identity into coherent political ideologies).
Sen. Cruz may not represent the interests or the preferences of most Latinos, but he represents a darker side of our collective DNA. He represents the nasty authoritarianism that has produced countless dictatorships in Latin America. He represents the Latin American elites who side with the powerful and colonial powers to exploit the poor and weak. He represents a dominionist brand of Christianity that has been exported from the U.S. around the world (including Latin America), spreading hatred and a jingoistic Americanism.
All these things have been in our midst for a long time: in every dictator and every colonial stooge that has placed the interests of multinational corporations and the war machine over those of their own. Ted Cruz is the culmination of that legacy, and if he becomes the biggest Latino “first” (as a Presidential candidate or as …shudder… President) this will be our “cross” to bear. Just like all Latinos are not George Lopez groupies, not all Latinos are working-class progressives. After all, homogeneity has never been our strongest suit.