tv 20th Century Spanish- Speaking Vote CSPAN April 6, 2019 5:45pm-6:01pm EDT
c-span.org/citiestour. you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. announcer: western carolina university professor benjamin francis-fallon talks about the spanish speaking vote in the 20th century. he describes a group with distinct interests and voting patterns and outlines how the national democratic and republican parties have courted various hispanic constituencies. this 15 minute interview was recorded at the annual american historical association meeting. steve: professor benjamin francis-fallon is somebody who studies and teaches this at western carolina university. let's talk about the hispanic vote. is it a monolithic group? prof. francis-fallon: no, definitely not. the history of the hispanic vote is one of steadily trying to add different people, people who saw themselves quite differently in national origin terms. for example, mexican-americans,
puerto ricans, or cubans. the whole hispanic vote project, if you will, was one of trying to bring very different people s together into some kind of coalition or consensus about what they all stood for, and it has been a project that has over the years been revealed to be very diverse internally. definitely not. but that has always been one of the ambitions of the people who propel hispanic politics, that there should be this unity of , who aree fundamentally so much alike that they ought to act as one. so there has been that distance between the ambition of some architects of latino politics and the reality of people with very different origins and experiences. steve: let's talk about the history in a moment, but generally speaking, if you look at cuban americans, especially florida -- in florida, they tend to vote republican. mexican-americans generally tend to vote democratic.
why is that? prof. francis-fallon: the socialization of all these groups in the united states, the political socialization, has been different. the cubans are always mentioned as the counterpoint, the outlier in the latino constituency. their arrival happened at a very different time and under distinct circumstances from that of, say, puerto ricans, although both came from the caribbean. you could go back -- cuban americans have a different trajectory and in many ways stay otheryed away from the two large latino groups, mexican-americans and puerto ricans, because they had different issues. they are much more involved in foreign policy as a concern. their primary focus was on returning to kubo and doing away with castro, whereas mexican-americans and puerto ricans had concerns that were much more like, but still distinct from, the concerns of african-americans. they had concerns that related to being minority populations in the united states of america.
concerns about urban poverty, concerns about access to jobs and quality education. these were things that democrats , you know, they sought the help of democrats for. cubans in the united states related to the federal government through special programs of their own cuban refugee programs. they were cap very much on different tracks for a long time. democrats did all right with cubans initially, though many cubans were not big voters yet because they were still expecting to return. by the 1970's with the republican party, the advance of conservatism within it, cubans found a real home in the republican party foreign policy positions of the late 1970's. steve: where do you research the topic of the hispanic vote and what are some of the major benchmarks you are looking at? prof. francis-fallon: because we are talking about communities
from across the country, communities -- east los angeles, rural counties in northern new mexico, the west side of san antonio, the south bronx in new york -- different communities that had their own sort of local political history and their own orientation throughout most of the 20th century. added to that, south florida and miami with cubans who arrived in the late 1950's and early 1960's, through to the present day. going to all of those places is the key to understanding how local latino political communities identified themselves, what they thought of the clinical parties in their areas. but also we look at the presidential archives, because the presidential election is really where the hispanic vote, if it exists, is manifest, because this is an effort -- presidential campaign since 1960 revolved around enlisting a kind of national latino electorate.
at the national level, at the level of u.s. presidents, we see elites attempting to organize these various distinct latino constituencies into something kind of manageable and usable for themselves. ,teve: so let's break it down first republicans and then the democrats. how have the parties tried to court and woo the hispanic voter? prof. francis-fallon: republicans -- so republicans, tracing this back to the 1960's, democrats were in office in the presidency. the democrats' primary minority concern was how to satisfy the demands of a mobilized african american civil rights movement. and republicans began to identify in mexican-americans specifically a group that was disenchanted with their status within the democratic party, that seems to be, at least to some mexican-americans, primarily concerned with black
interests. so a number of prominent republicans from the southwest in the 1960's -- barry goldwater, the arizona conservative, john tower, a republican senator from texas, and california's governor ronald reagan -- made strong appeals to mexican-americans on the basis of a sense of racial victimization. they had been taking a backseat. they had legitimate concerns surrounding discrimination and inclusion in the democratic party, and they offered, republicans did, a chance to -- they held out the prospect of a better deal from her republicans, more attention, and to some degree, putting african-americans in their place. by the time of richard nixon, were in office now in 1979 when nixon was sworn in, at nixon had to figure out, what am i going to do for these people that we spent the 1960's saying, we would do much better for you?
republicans maintained a certain element of racial polarization, that is they pitted mexican-americans, especially, and african-americans in context -- contest with one another. they also added more positive programs. republicans initiated affirmative action programs in the federal civil service to provide new levels of access to white-collar employment, primarily for mexican-americans. they also articulated or elaborated new programs for small business aid, so trying to aid latino entrepreneurs. again, mexican-americans and cuban americans especially. republicans very much tried to cultivate the middle class of those communities, around the idea that sure, discrimination was a thing, but individuals who work hard could find support from the federal government for their own upward mobility. steve: what about the democrats? prof. francis-fallon: democrats had a different set of constituents. throughout the 1960's, the challenge for democrats was how
to balance the insurgent black movement, how to balance the demands of black civil rights with what mexican-americans were feeling were their own civil rights concerns. so, finding ways of including mexican-americans and, to a degree, puerto ricans in civil rights programs and the war on poverty, these were the challenges for democrats of the 1960's, and they didn't particularly do a fantastic job of it, of managing those things. in part because they found a certain benefit in having mexican-americans and african-americans not uniting against them. so there was a certain benefit in playing those two constituencies off one another. steve: on a parallel track, you had cesar chavez and his push to provide more equality for migrant workers. did that in any way play into the politics of the time? prof. francis-fallon: it certainly did.
for democrats, the challenge was how to sort of respect the cultural -- the urge for sort of cultural respect and determination and autonomy that was coursing through, also the black community but the mexican-american community and puerto ricans, with respect to civil rights and cultural particularities of those communities, while also hanging onto some of the core principles of the new deal, particularly those around economic justice and broad programs of polemic -- of economic uplift that work built around everyone being an american. the farmworker insurgency plays inole, particularly california, but at the national level, the farmworker program was influential in the 1972 democratic party platform, the mcgovern candidacy, a very left liberal candidacy, and what it showed is that there was this moment where democrats were not particularly successful at
capitalizing on it on electoral terms, but they were fumbling toward a way of synthesizing the urge towards cultural respect and autonomy and self-determination and inclusion from latino communities, but also finding a way to square that with the need to develop an economic program that would appeal to working-class people more broadly. that gets lost a bit throughout the 1970's, but there are moments when the culture and clashes of the democratic party worked together, though not spectacularly, at the ballot box. steve: i wonder if you could address this issue, because if you go to an atm or express checkout, it's english or spanish. we have become really a bilingual society. is that a good thing or a bad thing in terms of where we are today and how far we have,? prof. francis-fallon: i have not studied it particularly, but i think it's an element of realism. whether it is good or bad, people speak spanish in this society and to accommodate them
is to -- it's probably good business for most of these companies that do that. it's a basic level of respect that communities have for a long time fought for. not just in the business realm, but certainly in politics. we know in 1965, the great voting rights act, which was seen by most people in the united states as a victory for african-americans, it contained a little-known provision that honored the puerto rican access making their by ability to be literate in the english language not disqualifying for access to the ballot. new york state had a literacy test into the 1960's. that's just one example of the many ways in which english language or access to inclusion in the society around language issues was always a political issue. steve: what is your message to fellow historians here in chicago at the american historical association?
prof. francis-fallon: something that pertains specifically to my scholarship? steve: in your research. prof. francis-fallon: well, read my book? i don't know -- they should continue to do the work they are doing to show the complexities in latino communities and do the work that society doesn't always get the chance to do, because there is this portrayal of a latino monolith. historians are doing a good job of excavating and discovering the nuances, but also examining the ways in which there are efforts to bring together people from these very diverse communities. steve: how did you research your book and what intrigued you the most? prof. francis-fallon: i went about the united states of --rica to the places where the first latino congressmen came from. i went to east los angeles, san antonio, i went to new mexico, which had a tradition of the -- of u.s. senator's, actually,
of mexican heritage throughout the 20th century. before there was ever an italian-american senator, there was a spanish american senator from new mexico. i went to those communities. i studied and researched in the archives in new york and washington, d.c., looking for those points of connection among communities that had historically seen themselves as different, but that work evermore being brought into contact with one another. steve: and when you are in the classroom teaching to students, what are the most common questions? what are they asking you? prof. francis-fallon: i teach this -- i teach other things as well, but when i do teach this i -- this, i think students are generally surprised because, like most of the population -- at least our students -- have not seen this kind of texture and nuance within latino communities. the label has been effective at homogenizing or standardizing extraordinary diversity. so -- steve: which clearly is not the case.
prof. francis-fallon: when you ask people, they say, oh, my grandmother is cuban and she doesn't like -- turns out she doesn't like puerto ricans. we were driving to figure out why. then you realize there is again, just a tremendous amount of distinction that people feel among themselves. so part of -- and that's ok. part of my job as a teacher is to sort of introduce students to some of those distinctions, but also the ways in which, for better or worse, american politics has brought those communities together and has cut a channel for their for dissipation -- participation. to some degree, many of these communities are stuck with one another in finding out ways to build up meaningful coalitions , finding out ways to defend their interest as a collective. steve: on this topic, do you have another project may be in the works, maybe another book or essay? prof. francis-fallon: sure, i am always interested in
immigration. a book that is really that appreciates the various ways both liberals and conservatives have fought over the question of immigration and shaped each other's strategies and brought it to the present day, is what i would like to do next. steve: we look forward to that research. benjamin francis-fallon, teaching at western carolina university. thank you for being with us. prof. francis-fallon: thank youi appreciate it. announcer: you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend, on c-span3. next, i talk about the recent discovery and escalation of the remains of two union soldiers and after data names that had been buried after the battle of second manassas. about what
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