The New York-D.C. media authorities excel in creating folklore. One of their greatest achievements was to convince the American people that the typical Trump supporter is a reincarnation of Tom Joad—motivated more by “bad trade deals” than racism and Christian nationalism. The data contradicts the Trump-working-class folktale. In recent years, and especially in the last few months, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker, and other legacy media have crafted another myth.
The Times has run headlines such as “How Much are Latinos Shifting to the Right?” “What Drives Latino Men to Republicans?” and “The Rise of the Conservative Latina.” In reaction to the Mexican-American mass shooter Mauricio Garcia, who had neo-Nazi social media posts, The New Yorker hailed “The Rise of Latino White Supremacy.” A senior reporter for The Guardian’s U.S. division had already crafted this script in his May story, focusing mainly on Latinos, “The allure of fascism: why do minorities join the far right?”
All these reports on Latinos and white nationalists are suspiciously free of facts, figures, studies, and statistics. In the place of evidence, reporters would have their audiences believe that there is a wave of Latino neo-Nazis based upon the same handful of names: the aforementioned Garcia; Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio; George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin; and most dubiously, the white supremacist Nick Fuentes, who supped with Donald Trump and Ye (aka Kanye West) at Mar-a-Lago. (Fuentes claims that his Mexican ancestors immigrated to the U.S. over a century ago, and he identifies as white. He isn’t exactly the marshal in a Cinco de Mayo parade.)
If the vast majority of America’s 62.1 million Latinos—compromising about 19 percent of the nation’s population—were becoming fascists en masse, journalists could name right-wing Latino organizations with growing numbers. At a minimum, they could show that Latinos are flocking to the Republican Party.
Here is where the story gets more complicated, requiring thought that goes beyond the superficial.
It’s true that in 2016 and 2020, Trump did make striking gains with Latino voters after Mitt Romney’s terrible performance in 2012. According to the Pew Research Center, the hapless former Massachusetts governor garnered only 27 percent of the Latino vote. Trump posted 28 percent in 2016 then 38 percent in 2020. This is not insignificant. Democratic analysts and operatives would be committing malpractice if they didn’t pay careful attention when a key constituency’s support declines.
But what those obsessing about the Latino “drift to the right” never mention is that Romney’s performance among Latinos was one of the worst in the past 40 years. Only Bob Dole in 1996 (21 percent) and George H. W. Bush in 1992 (25 percent) dipped lower, and independent Ross Perot took a piece of the Latino vote in both of those races, 14 and 6 percent, respectively.
In light of Romney’s lonely anti-Trump stances in his party, many might have forgotten how harsh his 2012 rhetoric sounded to Latinos, particularly his calls for “self-deportation.”
Because the mainstream media often behave as if human history began last weekend, there is rarely a reference to the Republican who had record-breaking levels of votes from Latinos: George W. Bush. In 2004, Bush won 40 percent of the Latino vote, partially by promising to exercise “compassionate conservatism” on immigration policy. Four years before that peak performance, the Texan’s Latino share was 34 percent. When looking at elections in the 1980s, Republican presidential performance with Latinos ranged between 30 and 37 percent. And in 2008, John McCain earned 31 percent of the Latino vote. Trump did relatively well, perhaps surprisingly so given his rhetoric, but nevertheless in line with several of his predecessors.
Moreover, presidential performance is not the only metric we should measure. The Latino vote for Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate in 2020 was even stronger than for Biden. The Latino Policy and Politics Institute at UCLA took a magnifying glass to the Senate results in Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, and Texas. It reached the following conclusion: “Latino voters supported the Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate by wide margins across the five states analyzed. There is no evidence of a ‘drop-off’ in Democratic support for the U.S. Senate.”
Furthermore, the institute found that “Latino voters supported the Democratic Senate candidate over the Republican candidate by at least a 3-1 margin in Arizona, Colorado, and Georgia” and that the margin was 2-1 in New Mexico and Texas.
The numbers for the 2022 midterms were the same. Exit polls gauging support for House candidates revealed that one reason why the Republicans did not enjoy a “red wave” was due to a relatively high turnout from voters under the age of 30. Among Latinos under 30, 68 percent voted for Democratic candidates.
Seemingly acting as public relations specialists for the Florida Republican Party, mainstream journalists have obsessed over the Latino vote in the Sunshine State, where Republicans have always tended to do well. Paola Ramos, in her special for MSNBC on Latino Republicans, traveled to Florida and interviewed several Trump supporters. Rarely do reporters like Ramos specify that Latino support for the right wing derives from the well-known, generations-old concentration of Cuban Americans in South Florida. One of the legacies of Fidel Castro’s violent persecution of political critics and religious devotees is that the majority of Cuban Americans, even as the original refugees from his revolution decrease in numbers, detest anything resembling the left and, therefore vote Republican. Even so, 52 percent of Florida Latinos voted for Biden.
Meanwhile, major media publications and networks have largely frozen out coverage of Latino solidarity in opposition to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s abuse of migrants and refugees for political gain. Thousands of Latinos recently marched through Florida cities to protest a new law that gives authorities the ability to arbitrarily audit businesses in search of illegal immigrants and bars driver’s licenses issued to non-citizens in other states from use in Florida. Despite Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s endorsement, the mainstream media have also ignored the wave of Latino truck drivers calling for a boycott of Florida over the new law.
When examining voting patterns, journalists could just as easily run lengthy expositions and record television segments on Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania. Seventy percent of them voted for Biden (only 24 percent voted for Trump), proving crucial to his thin margin of victory in the swing state. The story is similar in the battleground state of Arizona. As the Latino Policy and Politics Institute summarizes: “In Arizona, where Latinos represent 25.2% of all registered voters, the size and turnout of the Latino electorate helped Biden become the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since Bill Clinton in 1996.”
I recently interviewed Roberto Rodríguez, the program director of the Raza Killings Database Project at California State University, San Bernardino, which documents police violence against Latinos in the United States. Citing the initial exit poll data from 2020, Rodríguez offered a sharp assessment of the disparity between the electoral reality and the disproportionate coverage of Latino Republicans: “If Biden won 66 percent of the overall vote, the media would have reported it as a massive landslide, but when he wins 66 percent of the Latino vote, the story is somehow about Latinos and the right wing.”
In contradiction to the evidence, the insistence on identifying Latinos with the right wing boosts deceptive Republican claims of representing “working class” voters of all races. It also functions in ways more insidious. To argue that Latinos are flocking to the right wing, and that the cadre of Latino white nationalists is significant, is to stealthily claim that Latinos are perpetrators of racism. In reality, they are its victims.
The Raza Killings Database Project finds that “over 2,600 Latinos have died at the hands of police since 2014, more than double what had previously been known.” Furthermore, Rodriguez explained that Latinos are often classified as “unknown race” when they are victims of police violence (understating the problem), while the U.S. Border Patrol is uncooperative in providing numbers on violent confrontations they have with migrants or those seeking asylum.
“There is a violence epidemic against Latinos,” Rodriguez told me, “And it’s always been there. When I researched, I could not find a time when it was better.”
The 2019 mass shooting targeting Latinos in an El Paso Walmart briefly brought attention to anti-Latino hate crimes, which have steadily increased in the past 15 years. Similarly, Donald Trump’s horrific family separation policy at the southern border and the 2019 drowning deaths of Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and Angie Valeria Martínez Ávalos—a father and daughter from El Salvador attempting to cross the Rio Grande—provoked outrage over the abuses of migrants in American immigration practices. In the case of the latter, agents involved in a Border Patrol Facebook group mocked the father and daughter as “floaters” before suggesting that the photo of their corpses in the water was doctored.
Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, the former Director of Advocacy, Research and Leadership Development at the Hope Border Institute in El Paso, told me in a recent email exchange that the “over-emphasis on isolated cases of Latinos who identify with white nationalist organizations or ideology, or with right-wing sentiments or policies is deeply misplaced and dangerous.” According to Pérez-Bustillo, the wildly disproportionate emphasis obfuscates “the much more salient phenomenon of racist and xenophobic policies and violence that target Latinos because of who we are or are taken to represent.”
To counter the prevailing perception that Latinos are lurching to the far right, Pérez-Bustillo suggests a fuller portrait of how Latinos see their complex history: “The first step is the need for a much better understanding of our history and of our transnational and multiracial identities, and their complexities regarding issues of class, language, culture, and heritage… Anti-imperialist sentiments, grounded in shared histories of U.S. intervention and imposition are deeply rooted and almost instinctive. But so is a desperate desire to be accepted, and to be included in the ‘American Dream.’ Both things, at once, are sometimes seamlessly intertwined. All of this is best captured by learning about and immersing oneself in our art, music, and literature.”
The 2023 MSNBC documentary series “Leguizamo Does America,” in which actor and producer John Leguizamo visited Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Puerto Rico, provides a poignant tour of the culture that Pérez-Bustillo describes, even if it makes historical errors. For an accurate and gripping history of how Latino migration is a direct result of U.S. foreign policy, readers and reporters could consult Juan González’s book and accompanying documentary film Harvest of Empire.
Others in the media could learn from these examples. They might also take the advice of Martín Espada, the first Puerto Rican to win the National Book Award in 70 years. When I broached the subject of the media distortion of Latinos with him in an email, he answered with the following: “There are more Latino poets than Latino white nationalists. Why doesn’t The New York Times write about us?”
David Masciotra is the author of several books, including I Am Somebody: Why Jesse Jackson Matters and a forthcoming examination of the politics of exurbia and suburbia. He has also written for The New Republic, The Progressive, and many other publications. He lives in Indiana.