Professor Jose E. Limon, director of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame, made an interesting contribution to the discussion of the Latino vote Monday night at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington. He suggested that identification with the Democratic Party has solidified as an enduring feature of Mexican-American identity.
Here are some excerpts from his comments, which came during a discussion of a new book, Mexico & Mexicans in the Making of the United States:
After observing that the Latino vote comes "substantially" from the middle class and lower-middle class, Limon said:
We have this model of political behavior that also says to us that when a class acquires middle-class status, it starts shifting to the right. That has not happened with Mexican-Americans. I can't tell you it might not happen 30 years from now, but right now that doesn't seem to be happening. We are seeing the emergence of a Mexican-American middle class that is decidedly bicultural in many ways, in some cases decidedly bilingual, and that is also still upholding its traditional historical adherence to the progressive Democratic Party.
That was Professor Limon's most pointed comment. He did not differentiate between the terms "Mexican-American" and "Latino". Earlier in his remarks he established this foundation:
One model that we often hold out for mobility, for middle class mobility for ethnic groups, is that as they get mobile they sort of give up their culture; they assimilate. I want to argue, from a variety of databases and entry points, that does not happen for middle-class Mexican-Americans. They have worked out a very interesting, complex system of articulating their Mexican-ness, as it were, in many different ways, and also at the same time of being full participants in the United States — in American culture and American politics.
The political fact seems to be that [this pattern holds among] the Mexican-American middle-class population, and increasingly by the way, the upper middle-class population, and increasingly by the way a small but very influential, wealthy, multi-millionaire elite class. With interesting exceptions, all of those classes are voting decidedly Democratic politically. I can only offer you the most recent election as an example of that.
Later Limon added, "This started, by the way, with John Kennedy, this decisive movement of affiliation with the Democratic Party. Although, of course, it was also there with Franklin Roosevelt."
See "Viva Kennedy: JFK's Pioneering Efforts To Win Latino Vote" for a recent Associated Press story about a pivotal moment in Kennedy's influence among Mexican Americans.