The October edition of Texas Monthly includes an overly long, occasionally tendentious, but yet extremely informative article captioned “Why Democrats Are Losing Texas Latinos”. It doesn’t linger on immigration, but addresses several important points in the immigration debate.
If you’re not familiar with the periodical, it is glossy, solidly constructed, and usually well-written — the kind of magazine you leave back copies of on the coffee table the way that your grandparents would place National Geographics on the bookshelf. It was the main outlet for the indescribable Kinky Friedman, raconteur, singer-songwriter, and erstwhile gubernatorial candidate in the Lone Star State.
The article leads off with the question of why the Republican party has fared so well in recent elections in South Texas cities and counties that are largely “Latino” or “Hispanic”. In the border towns of McAllen and Laredo in the 2020 general election, for example, Donald Trump improved his results by more than 23 percentage points over 2012.
In Starr County, Republicans boosted their turnout by close to 300 percent (Trump lost to Biden by 5 points, while he had lost to Hillary Clinton by 60 points four years earlier). Zapata County, also on the Rio Grande, did not even have a local Republican party, but still Trump became the first Republican to win there since Warren Harding in 1920.
The author, Jack Herrera, posits that Texas Democrats had become fat and happy (that’s not a quote), and were awaiting demographic changes to swell a voting bloc they had long considered theirs, and solidly so.
The dominant ideology in the area (which is largely Catholic or evangelical, rural, and blue collar) had long been conservative, but cultural factors had for years trumped ideology when it came to voting, even as the Democratic party moved farther to the left.
According to Herrera, however: “What changed in 2020 is that conservative Hispanic South Texans voted like their non-Hispanic white neighbors. Ideology suddenly became polarizing for the group in a way it never had been before.”
That is hardly news to anyone who has lived long enough to remember when there were just three networks that presented (more or less) straight news, but the last five years are still a watershed, and especially so in the Rio Grande Valley and along the border.
More insightful, however, is his observation that: “While Hispanic South Texans are proud of their Mexican heritage, many do not consider themselves to be ‘people of color’ at all.”
According to the author, in the 2020 census “in Starr County, where 96 percent of respondents were Hispanic, almost 99 percent identified as white. On paper, that means the county isn’t just one of the most Hispanic in the country. It’s also one of the whitest.”
Such results were common across South Texas, where 76 percent of Hispanic residents identify as white, substantially more than the 62 percent who do statewide. In Laredo, 95 percent of respondents marked Hispanic or Latino — making it the second-most Hispanic city in the country — and 96 percent identified as white.
I hate such manufactured distinctions that do little other than drive Americans apart. For that reason, I particularly disliked the referenced question on the 2020 Census form: “What is Person 1’s race? White — Print, for example, German, Irish, English, Italian, Lebanese, Egyptian, etc.”
Ancestry.com reveals my forbears were German, Irish, and English, as well as Scottish, Swedish (not sure how), Spanish, and North African (the latter two proving family lore that ancestors were Sephardim). Not only would I not be able to fit that into the 16 boxes provided, but I’m also not any of those things: I’m American, a refrain repeated throughout the Texas Monthly article by Tejanos in South Texas.
This became most patent to me on the morning of September 11, 2001, as I stood in the back parking lot of the Rayburn House Office Building with thousands of my fellow staffers. “If the United States is under attack, where do I send my son to keep him safe?” Nowhere, because we burned our boats behind us. I had to keep him safe here.
Speaking of that, border security is, naturally, a much more pressing and salient issue for the residents of those border towns than it is for most in the United States. You can see that in the Texas Monthly article, but you really have to look for it.
CBP is listed as a major employer, Trump was greeted by “Anglos and Tejanos” when he spoke at an unfinished portion of the fence in Pharr, Texas, in June, and one schoolteacher said Democrats erred in 2020 in appealing to her based on “her Mexican heritage or the plight of undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers ... instead of as a voter interested in issues such as border security and the economy”.
Half of all Border Patrol agents are “Hispanic”, and I know more than a few of them. None joined simply because it was a good paying job — it is, comparably, but I am not sure you could pay me enough to live in the middle of nowhere and ride a horse into the desert in the dead of a rainy night.
Most of the ones from the border areas where they serve joined because they wanted to protect their families (as I did that day 20 years ago) and their communities. Illegal immigration brings crime, and it is the handmaiden of the cartels, who exploit a border that is out of control (as it is today) for profit.
Drug smugglers are criminals, human smugglers are criminals, human traffickers are criminals, and more than a few of the illegal immigrants themselves are criminals (Border Patrol apprehended 8,691 criminal aliens, 1,568 criminal aliens with outstanding wants or warrants, and 279 gang members in FY 2021 through July 31).
Do you want to make money? Go to law school. Do you want to keep your border community safe? Become a cop or a Border Patrol agent.
The big unspoken takeaway from the Texas Monthly article is this: U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage who live in South Texas are not safe voters for either party. Many are conservative in their values, proud of their heritage, and interested in the wellbeing of themselves and their families. And not swayed by cheap rhetoric.