By Marcela Salazar and Cristina Rue
In elections, politicians who campaign against immigration reform or immigrants often say “immigration is not the only issue Latinos care about” in an effort to placate the Latino voters they know they need to win. And while they are technically correct, and immigration is the fourth top issue for Hispanic voters after the economy, healthcare, and terrorism, what research fails to quantify is what any Latino will tell you: an attack on any immigrant, documented or undocumented, is an attack on our entire community.
This Hispanic Heritage Month, which starts 54 days before the presidential election, Latinos of all political stripes are united more than any time in recent history. Any seasoned politico in Washington will tell you that political elections are about fear and hope. And for Hispanic voters—even those of us who’ve never faced immigration struggles— words matter. Our tolerance for demagoguery and fearmongering are at an all-time low, as any recent poll of the Latino electorate shows.
To the Latino ear, the word “immigrant” is synonymous with hope, opportunity, and hard work. And it is no surprise within our community that the majority of the American public agrees. While we may be divided over many aspects of our immigration policy in this country, about three-quarters of Americans say undocumented immigrants are “as honest and hard-working” as American citizens.
Stories of honest and hard-working immigrants can be found in mainstream media outlets including Good Morning America, People Magazine and CNN, who all recently featured the story of Fidencio Sanchez, a hardworking 89-year-old immigrant from Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Even in his elderly age, in rain or shine, Sanchez could be found pushing his heavy popsicle cart and selling paletas to raise money to support his grandchildren after his only daughter died.
A concerned stranger recently started a GoFundMe campaign to support Sanchez, quickly raising more than $356,000 in donations from more than 16,200 people. Despite this outpouring of support, and in a true testament to his work ethic, when Good Morning America called his wife to speak to him, she said Mr. Sanchez was out working.
For every Latino, Mr. Sanchez’ story is not unique. He, like many of our parents, or grandparents before them, came to this country, put their heads down, and worked hard. Like all Americans, our forefathers sacrificed and weathered through many tribulations so we could make it in this amazing country. And like Mr. Sanchez, we are grateful for the opportunities we have. Mr. Sanchez’ story symbolizes the beauty and hardworking nature of the immigrant community, the love of family, and the kindheartedness of the American people. Mr. Sanchez is every American.
That is why Hispanics, regardless of country of origin, political leanings, or how long their families have been in this country, have not ignored the vitriol and racist insults against immigrants— or even perceived immigrants like a Mexican-American judge— during this election cycle. Latinos have never been more united on this front. Hispanic celebrities, including those from Cuba or Puerto Rico like Emilio Estefan and Ricky Martin, whose respective communities face little or no immigration barriers, have spoken out against the attacks and called for unity. Even prominent Republicans, such as Ana Navarro, have publicly warned that Latinos, immigrants, and all Americans will remember the political attacks against us for years to come.
The only thing the hateful rhetoric against immigrants during this cycle has done is unite Latinos, across party lines, who see an attack on honest and good people like Mr. Sanchez as an attack on us all. With nearly six-in-ten Hispanics being part of the Millennial generation or younger, there will be real consequences for the vilification of members of our community that will not only be felt in two months, but for years to come.
For our community, Hispanic Heritage Month is not only a time to celebrate our contributions but it’s also a time to reflect on our place in this country. We are proud people. Political opportunism is not an excuse for disrespect and bigotry. And while polling puts the economy and other issues as the top concerns for Latino voters, what data will never be able to capture is how much the visceral attacks on Hispanics during this campaign has hurt us in our hearts. There is no way to measure our emotional distress in numbers.
Whether you are an accomplished U.S. District judge or a neighborhood paletero or street vendor, all Latinos agree that in order to thrive in this great country, we deserve to be treated with basic respect and decency. Anything less is, yes, deplorable.