Stop treating Hispanic Americans as outliers

By on September 19, 2022 0
(Photograph by Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto/Getty Images.)

Would it be helpful to talk about how Italian Americans plan to vote this fall? I mean useful in the sense that it could teach us a lot about the midterm elections Where the condition of Italian Americans today.

The answer is quite obviously “no”. Indeed, there are no polls that even consider the question because no one would bother to ask it. It is interesting how women or men view the election, or how richer or poorer voters view the state of politics. The same is true for many other characteristics: level of education, religious participation, rural vs. urban, etc. But the Italians? That wouldn’t tell us anything. Kevin McCarthy (his mother was born Roberta Palladino, daughter of an Italian immigrant) is an establishment Republican, Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi essentially is the Democratic establishment per se, Joe Manchin is a moderate Democrat and Rudy Guiliani is a MAGA Republican. So what? Their Italian heritage is not politically important.

But that wasn’t always the case, even relatively recently.

Italian Americans, especially those of southern Italian and Sicilian descent, came to the United States in large numbers, tended to be distinguished from other immigrants of the same era by their close family ties and distinct culture, and were one of those groups that Michael Novak in 1972 called “intractable ethnicities”. These were Americans of mostly Southern or Eastern European descent or descent of whom Novak said, “In terms of work, guilt, reason, gender, family, violence, the irrational, tragedy, the future, hope, godliness, sacrifice, pain, ethnicities don’t all think or feel like WASPs think or feel.” It’s funny to read today, because if there’s anything people care less about than the political leanings of Italian Americans as a subgroup, it would be how “WASPs think or feel.” “.

Indeed, the idea of ​​America as a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant country already sounds hilarious in a country where one in five marriages is between people of different racial groups and the biggest divide over religion n is not between Protestant and Catholic but between “everything” and “none”.

In his essential 1967 book, Do it, Norman Podhoretz described the “brutal bargain” struck between Ellis Island immigrants and their children on the one hand and the WASP ruling class who demanded cultural assimilation as the price of success on the other. As Gay Talese said of his childhood as an Italian tailor’s son in South Jersey: “You get over it. But we never fully recover. You carry it with you. This is the great – and not so great – aspect of being or trying to be an assimilated American.

But at the time of the 50th anniversary of Podhoretz’s book, the author Told Forward magazine, “I think that is no longer true, in fact it may be the opposite.” Jews of Eastern European descent, like Roman Catholics in southern Italy and Sicily, no longer negotiated with anyone. The infusables had melted and changed the flavor of the whole dish in the process.

In Lee Iacocca’s autobiography, he recalls what it was like growing up as the son of Italian immigrants in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in the 1930s and being bullied for eating pizza. “These guys grew up on shoofly pie, but I never made fun of them for eating molasses pie for breakfast,” Iacoccaa wrote. “You don’t see shoofly pie shacks anywhere in America today.” The father of the Mustang, the K Car and the auto bailout knew that in America, success – for better or for worse – is the norm. (And for the record, chess pie is better than shoofly pie, but pizza is better than both.)

Which, unduly, brings us to the next title in the New York Times: “Majority of Latino voters out of reach for GOP, new poll shows», and this one of the wall street journal: “Latino voters, once solidly Democratic, divided along economic lines.”

Let’s replace “Latino” with “Italian” for a moment. While the massive and interesting survey of the NYT and Sienna College reveals that there has been a considerable shift to the right among Latinos, it fails in one important way. Census Bureau data shows average Hispanic household income is lower than national average considerably. How would a poll of Americans earning about $11,000 below the national average register? I don’t know for sure, but I bet if you surveyed by economy rather than ethnicity, poorer households would probably be “more likely to view Republicans as the party of elite and as having extreme opinions”. How would Italian Americans answer this question?

And as for the WSJis “divided according to economic criteria”: who is not? I appreciate the point the reporters have ably raised, but the point itself entirely undermines the value of the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino.” Each group is divided according to economic criteria. Lee Iacca could have told you that between bites of pizza.

No one has done better or more thoughtful work on this issue than my colleague from the American Enterprise Institute, Ruy Teixeira. His clear call to his fellow Democrats is to not only stop taking Latino and Latino voters for granted, but to understand that everybody in different states and from different economic and social positions feel differently about things. Grouping people not only numbs us to real political considerations, but makes us more inclined to withhold our patriotic filial love from one another.

Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is Italian on her mother’s side and Mexican on her father’s side. If she loses to Adam Laxalt, whose grandfather was born to two Italian immigrants, would that be a win for Hispanics over Anglos, or just another election? The sooner in politics we see ourselves as people, not ethnicities, the closer we will be to seeing America as it is, and not as it is portrayed by old-fashioned demographics.