Yes, Beto O’Rourke is more “Hispanic” than Rafael Cruz

Beto O'Rourke with performers at the Mariachi Loco Music Festival in El Paso.

by Alex Gonzalez

In the question about who is “more Hispanic” between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz, the voting record of Cruz demonstrate that Cruz is not very “Hispanic.”

It was inevitable, and with Latino vote in Texas making 22% of total vote, who woos enough Latino votes is key to win the U.S. Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke. It’s not surprise that even if Ted Cruz, whose real name is Rafael, and who is a nihilistic tea party anti-immigrant hardliner, still needs to lure about 30% of the Latino vote to be re-elected.  But people are beginning to wonder, not only can Cruz lure 30% of the Latino vote in Texas but whether his last name will influence Hispanic voters.

Conversely, Beto O’Rourke, who has an “Anglo” surname make the argument that he has closer views with Hispanics on policies, and cultural, than Ted Cruz? Beto O’Rourke can easily argue that his policy views on Immigration, border security, free trade, and NAFTA do reflect the views of most Hispanics in Texas and in the nation. Moreover, Beto represents El Paso, a congressional district that is about 90% Mexican-American. Thus, can Beto O’Rourke, whom some have described as a “Mexico-loving”  hipster and libertarian be “more Hispanic” and more attractive to Latino/Hispanic voters than someone with the name Cruz?  The answer is yes; but we need to understand the Hispanic political identity and how it relates to cultural identity.

So if the question is   who is “more Hispanic” between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz we just need to look at the policies they have supported, and their cultural views about being “Hispanic.”


The Hispanic Identity and who becomes “Hispanic.”

We know that politicians from both parties pander to ethnic or religious groups if they are from districts where the predominant ethnic group overwhelmingly support certain policies. This is apparent in the Cuban vote from south Florida, non-Hispanic candidates are force  support the Cuban embargo if they hope to woo the Cuban vote. If you are non-Hispanic candidate running in Florida you have to support the embargo to get the older “pre-Marielito” Cuban vote; or  if you want to be elected in New York you need to take a position on the “associated free-state” of Puerto Rico, and thus, by default, you have become “Hispanic candidate” since your role in Congress is to represent the interests of your constituency.

So what makes you a “Hispanic candidate,” if you are not genetically Hispanic and you do not  have an Hispanic surname? Then you must be engaged in the issues important to particular groups you seek to represent. Or in this case represent the interests important to Hispanics in Texas.

But let’s talk about the Hispanic identity in politics. Marco Rubio speaks eloquently of his Cuban roots. For example, in  his book  An American Son,  Marco Rubio invokes his story as the child of Cuban migrants, saying that without American social mobility, he would probably have grown up a “very opinionated bartender.” In addition, in 2010 in his victory speech Rubio uttered the type of words only Cubans can feel emotional about. Rubio exuded pride in his heritage when he proclaimed in his victory speech that “I will always be the son of exiles.” In his books, Rubio also states that “I am the son of exiles.”  “I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams. This is a story that needs no embellishing.” Thus, in his political career, and idiosyncrasy, Marco Rubio is a Republican and Cuban-American politician that embellishes his Cuban roots and finds comfort in his ethnic   identity and utilizes his post as a politician to support the Cuban Embargo. As s result, Rubio’s political views match his identity as a Cuban Republican candidate. But his views as a Cuban-American do not necessarily mean he has to be a “Hispanic candidate.”

Rubio’s political identity was shaped by an older class of pre-Marielito militant Cubans who refused to compromise on terminating the antiquated Cuban Embargo that even conservative find outdated.  When Rubio ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, Rubio sought the support of the Tea Party groups more than the younger generation of Cubans who are now moving to the Democrats side because they no longer share the views of the old Cuban class of Republican voters.

Similarly, Ted Cruz in Texas was elected running as a Tea Party anti-establishment candidate but delicately touting his Cuban ethnic identity by selling his father’s story as a “hero.” However, Ted Cruz, to his credit, never made his surname part of his campaign and never claimed to be a “Hispanic candidate” and took very tough views on immigration. So we cannot expect Ted Cruz also to be the Hispanic candidate because he never made his Hispanic identity part of his campaign but disguised it as “my father emigrated from Cuba.”  However, his political views are also similar to Rubio because Cruz also vehemently opposes any changes to Cuban Embargo.

Therefore, both Rubio and Cruz are natural Cuban candidates because they embellish their parent’s past, which have shaped their unwavering political views as Cubans but not as Hispanics; and they will use their vote in Congress to protect the interests of Cuban-Americans. But this Cuban cultural worshiping does not mean they want to, or need to be, Hispanic candidates because they never campaigned on it, nor do they support many of the issues important to Hispanics outside of Florida. Both Cruz and Rubio also held harsh language on the Dreamers during their presidential bid despite the fact the issue of DACA is very emotional for all Hispanic voters, irrespective of party ID – Pew Hispanic estimates that 90% of DACA recipients are Mexicans with the biggest number in California and Texas.  As s result, Ted Cruz, may have “Hispanic” surname, but his political views are clearly on opposite side of Hispanics.

Conversely, there are other non-Hispanics that actually embrace becoming the “Hispanic candidate.”

President George W.  Bush  often comes out retirement to help Republicans sell immigration reform. And there has not been another Republican politician that has touched the hearts of Latinos and Mexican-Americans more than W. Bush. More importantly, Bush has never vacillated in using emotional wording when addressing issues important to Latinos. For example, in a speech in support for immigration reform in 2013 he  told the audience that:

Immigrants come with new skills and new ideas. They fill a critical gap in our labor market. They work hard for a chance for a better life. America is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have helped build the country that we have become, and immigrants can help build a dynamic tomorrow. Not only do immigrants help build our economy, they invigorate our soul. Growing up here in Texas, like many in this room, we’ve had the honor and privilege of meeting newly-arrived. Those whom I’ve met love their families. They see education as a bright future for their children. Some willingly defend the flag.  

It is unfathomable to think that Ted Cruz would speak with such compassion and passion in defense of Latino immigrants in Texas. George W. Bush, an “Anglo,” has for years worked to bring Mexico and the U.S. together under a legal framework, free-trade alliances and magnifying the historical and cultural contributions of Mexican-Americans to Texas;  and he did so unapologetically.  Additionally, President W. Bush developed a series of policies to promote the interests of Mexican-Americans in politics, education, and wanted to help Mexico and other Latin-American nations to achieve democratic, political, and economic reforms as the means to achieve stability. Thus, W. Bush has spoken about Mexican-American, and other Latino groups with the same deep devotion that Marco Rubio has about Cuba and His Cuban-American roots. Therefore, in theory and practice, W. Bush was an ideal “Hispanic candidate” everyone loved, even if he was not Hispanic. As a result, every single word that W. Bush has made about Latinos has made millions of Latinos feel welcome and proud to be Texans. Ted Cruz, a”Hispanic,” has done the opposite; thus, a Hispanic surname does not necessarily leads to good policies or closer ties to Hispanic communities.

The fact that  Cruz and Rubio are Cuban-Americans is the main reason why they may not want to be the “Hispanic candidates”. In 2013, the same week President W. Bush gave his speech immigration, Greta Van Susteren interviewed New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez. My Though the achievements of Susana  Martinez are clear, in cutting the deficit, and creating a surplus, Martinez always dodged the obvious question of  what does it mean to be a Latina Republican Governor, and instead, she opted for usual political talk, or makes little reference about her Mexican-American roots.  In other words, she does not have the same adoration or passion for Mexico as Marco Rubio has for Cuba and his Cuban-American roots. Consequently, and unfortunately, the lack of zeal from Gov. Martinez does not arouse the same passion that W. Bush continues to capture among Latinos and Mexican-Americans.

So what is a “Hispanic candidate” you ask? It is someone who will address the issues important to Latinos.  It is someone whose political convictions emanate out of family experience where the candidate has developed an emotional bond with his/her community.  A “Hispanic candidate” is someone who has a desire to  help all Latinos equally–even if his/her last name is not Hispanic—with  policies aimed at creating opportunities for the future generation of Latinos.

Thus, anybody can become part of ethnic group’s Diaspora when you embrace their Diasporatic cause or political interests. It is no secret that Ted Cruz and Mike fight to be most pro-Israel Republicans by making tough remarks in support of Israel to woo Evangelicals and conservative Jewish voters, albeit neither one is Jewish.

So yes, Beto can be the “Hispanic” candidate, he has all the credentials to be so.

As a congressman from Texas, Beto has been a staunch supporter of free trade with Mexico, and he is unapologetic staunch supporter of Dreamers and comprehensive Immigration reform. Beto’s views are where Texas Republicans views were when W. Bush was President. So in his heart, Beto might have been Hispanic, even before he knew it.

Ted Cruz is not a Hispanic Candidate as much as he is a Cuban that happens to be “Hispanic,” and we need to give him credit for that because he will do whatever he has in Congress to protect the interests of Cuban-Americans in the U.S. Senate.

Similarly, when Rubio uses the term Hispanic, he means in general sense to try to connect with other Latino groups. But when he is in Florida and he calls himself “I am the son of exiles…I inherited two generations of unfulfilled dreams, his whole persona shakes with jubilation because in his core being he is Cubano. It would be difficult to see the Rubio or Cruz exuding such passion and adoration for the unfulfilled dream of Mexican-Americans in the Southwest. Thus, if Rubio or Cruz, rightfully, can reject the idea that they have to be the “Hispanic candidates.”

Beto doesn’t says he is a Hispanic candidate, but he talks and lives like a South Texas Mexican-American one.

O’Rourke championed the border city in which he was born and has lived for most of his life, an “incredibly magical place” that forms a “truly binational community” that he frames as a metaphor for everything Trump’s vision of America is not. 

So despite his Irish American heritage, Beto is a “El Paso guy”with a deep-seeded love for the border region that includes Juarez and other Mexican border communities. Since O’Rourke entered Congress, in January 2013, he’s been pushing for policies important to the Texas-Mexico relation and the border region,  including working with  Republican Congressman Steve Pearce (NM-02)on legislation to make Border Patrol more accountable.

“A complex reality: Security, trade, and the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Beto is very outspoken about how secure the border is and sees the rhetoric about”border security” by politicians like Ted Cruz as pure fear tactics and to pander to the anti-immigrant crowds. When Beto is in front of Texas Republicans about border security and regional economy, Beto is well armed with data and reiterates his point that the border is one of safest region in the country, and for the most part Republicans just stay quiet.

Beto doesn’t mind telling Republicans over and over  “that The border has never been more secure in the history of the United States-Mexico border,” and he is troubled by the political rhetoric focusing on border issues and noted be cause he knows that in many border areas, two cities on either side of the border share a common community—more like one city than two. So for Beto, when he talks about south and Texas and border communities, he is talking about communities on both sides of the border made out of the same families, and he sees himself a member these families. And these are the reasons why Beto gets along with Republicans like Will Hurd and Steve Pearce who also represent border districts.

Consequently, Beto shares an emotional and personal connection with Mexican-Americans, and unapologetically adores and embraces his political “Hispanic” identity.

Beto’s entire political career has been about Beto, not Robert O’Rourke. Unlike Ted Cruz, who saw in a name like Rafael a touch of cultural shame, O’Rouke has found in the name “Beto” a sense of regional pride. As a result, Beto’s political and cultural identity  closer to the overall political inspirations of all Hispanics. Hence, culturally, Beto is “more Hispanic” than Ted Cruz.

This sense of belonging to a border communities, which are made mostly of Mexican-Americans, gives  Beto sense that he is member of community, a Hispanic family and a community. Beto embraces  the meaning of “Beto” more than his Irish-American surname. To him, “Beto” means I am member of greater Southwest that is predominantly Hispanic, and Mexican-American; and every policy ideas Beto has been pushing since he was elected to Congress have been aimed at improving  the lives of all Texans and border communities. And he does it with pride and gusto.

This is the opposite of Ted Cruz  who has portrayed border communities as lawless lands plagued with crimes caused by immigrant from Mexico.

So in my book, the real “Hispanic candidate” is Beto. I wish we had more Mexican-American who spoke so eloquently about his/her Mexican past like Rubio does about his Cuban history so that it would stir the passion of Latinos, but we don’t, yet.


Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and founder Latino Public Policy Foundation and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote. Comments to [email protected] or @AlexGonzTXCA 



1 Comment

  1. Boooo. You’re a political analysis? Well you need a history lesson on latinidad. Latin America’s political, social, and cultural project has always been to EMBRACE white supremacy. What you so outdated(ly) call Hispanic is a conglomeration of races. White Latinos exist. Jewish Latinos EXIST. Many Cubans have Jewish roots. Racially identifying as white and white supremacy are why Cruz and Rubio support/align themselves with conservative and white supremacist policies. Latinidad isn’t some magical ass brown marker.

    It’s interesting that you are so willing to erase their latinidad because their political stance is so problematic instead of recognizing how it reflects the actual racial and social issues that still fester in Latin America–Latinidad is COMPLEX.

    Beto is just another politician that knows where his strengths lie–pandering to Latinos.

    But you’re so willing to embrace a white nonlatino yet where are you all to embrace Afro and Indigenous Latinos that are politically active for Latinos??

Comments are closed.