Opinion: Pandering in Spanish During Democratic Presidential Debates Will Not Get the Latino Vote

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.


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!”






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