The first debate for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates was eventful, to put it mildly. Topics ranged from immigration to climate change during the two-hour Democratic debate. There were 10 candidates in total: New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, and Washington State Governor Jay Inslee.
It must have been “Latino night” at the debate because three out of the 10 Democrats opted to speak Spanish.
To appeal to Latino voters, Democratic presidential candidates O’Rourke, Booker, and Castro spoke Spanish, albeit not fluently. In a time where authenticity is necessary, the language choice for Booker and O’Rourke felt contrived. Although Latino candidate Julián Castro admitted that he doesn’t speak Spanish well, despite his mother and abuelos (grandparents) speaking the language fluently, he seemed more interested in speaking on issues like justice for Blacks and Latinos versus pandering to a specific demographic. Beto O’Rourke, who has a Spanish nickname but is named Robert Francis O’Rourke, is a fourth-generation Irish-American who learned Spanish in border towns in Texas. Cory Booker learned Spanish in a language-immersion program in Ecuador.
It’s evident that none of the presidential candidates spoke with Latinos before deciding to show up to a debate speaking second and third-year high school Gringo Spanish. Not to say that the effort isn’t appreciated, though it is patronizing. The issue is non-Latinos drop the ball on matters that are important to us. Speaking Spanish, isn’t one of them.
In a poll taken by UnidosUS, only 33% of Latinos want a presidential candidate who speaks our native tongue. And that’s IF the person speaks Spanish. Latinos desire a president who values diversity while working with both parties to achieve goals.
Reactions via Twitter reiterated that message.
Can I say something? I appreciate candidates that want to try to speak Spanish but, it makes me feel really uncomfortable when they do. Am I the only one? #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/UOXNeFCl08
— Sili (@SiliRecio) June 27, 2019
Castro: Not only do I speak Spanish better than all these people, I also know when to deploy it for a reason. #DemDebate
— Blair LM Kelley, PhD (@profblmkelley) June 27, 2019
I don’t know who needs to hear this but speaking Spanish is not a personality trait.
— Rebecca Gorena (@rebeccagorena) June 27, 2019
My fiancé wants to know if Telemundo put captions when Booker spoke Spanish because no one knows what he said. 😂😂 #DemocraticDebate
— Elden Lord Tony (@Latinegro) June 27, 2019
Castro said y’all speaking Spanish but my immigration policy is 💯 in English or Spanish.
— Bakari Sellers (@Bakari_Sellers) June 27, 2019
I want to hear your plans more than I want to hear you speak Spanish.
— Warm VaLinda Sugar (@linluv5) June 27, 2019
Can they stop with the pandering in this bad Spanish?!?!
— La Gran Tirana 🦇 (@alexachula) June 27, 2019
When Dad says "Hola, como estas?" to the waiter at the Mexican restaurant #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/64FY2LV6kp
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) June 27, 2019
It will behoove the Democratic presidential candidates to take Latinos seriously going forward if any of them want a shot at becoming America’s next president. Lose the schtick and talk about tangible solutions to get the Latino vote.
In the words of my favorite Cuban judge on television Ana María Polo, “Caso Cerrado!”