Just because a political candidate speaks Spanish doesn’t mean the candidate understands Hispanic communities, and journalists shouldn’t leave viewers and readers with that impression, according to an advisory issued by National Association of Hispanic Journalists president Mekahlo Medina.
“We want to give you some guidance in reference to ethnicity and language while covering the Presidential race,” Medina wrote. “Speaking Spanish does not make someone ethnic, it does not automatically make them understand an ethnicity or a community of people or give them a perspective of an ethnic person.”
News reports Friday of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s pick of Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her vice presidential running mate prompted NAHJ’s advisory. Several news reports focused on Kaine’s ability to speak Spanish fluently, as if that automatically endears Kaine – and the Democratic ticket by extension – to Hispanic voters. When, in fact, the exact opposite may be true.
Medina urged journalists to give readers and viewers more context about Kaine that so that Hispanic voters, and voters in general, know more about his understanding of Hispanic issues that go beyond just speaking the language. “Please give viewers/readers more reference points to support those claims other than speaking a second language,” the NAHJ president said.
Social media users expressed their dissatisfaction with journalists touting “speaking Spanish” as an “in” with Latino voters.
“As many on Twitter pointed out, Kaine speaking Spanish does not translate to any help with the Latino vote. It just puts him in the same club as Republican also-rans Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida governor Jeb Bush and former president George W. Bush,” Mathew Rodriguez wrote on Mic.com. “… On Wednesday night at the Republican National Convention, Kentucky state congressman Ralph Alvarado Jr. spoke Spanish and was reportedly booed by the crowd. Trump previously made fun of Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish to appeal to voters.”
Though she enjoys a sizable lead among Latino voters over Trump, Clinton has stumbled too when it comes to using the Spanish language to appeal to voters. In December her staff published an article outlining to Latino voters ways in which Clinton is “just like your abuela.” It backfired. Angry social media users responded with the hashtag ##NotMyAbuela.
Not butchering the language can be helpful also. Like Republican delegates did this past week.
An incorrect translation of Spanish appeared on signs held by Republican delegates at the convention in Cleveland. It was an error that did not escape Hispanic voters, many of whom are turned off by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Instead of “Latinos Por Trump,” (Latinos For Trump), the signs read “Latinos Para Trump,” which actually means “Latinos for the use and benefit of Trump.”