The populist Right is making inroads with Latinos, the largest racial minority in America. Socialists must take the initiative with proper outreach and counter the Right with a viable competing alternative.
It’s fair to say that the 2020 presidential election was unorthodox. The deadliest pandemic in a century, worldwide protests against systemic racism, and the continued ascendance of far-right authoritarianism all made for a unique backdrop to this election. While there is debate over how much these developments influenced voters, the election was undoubtedly a referendum on the Trump administration and their hands-off approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump’s apathy led to 404,284 Americans dying under his watch. Although Trump was fortunately defeated, he did have unexpected success with one racial group: Latinos.
Latinos have been hit hard by the pandemic. State and federal data shows that they are 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than white Americans and over 75,000 Latinos have already died from the virus. Despite these concerning numbers, exit polls show that Trump actually managed to increase his share of the Latino vote from 28% in 2016 to 32% in 2020. This rise should be concerning to leftists, as census data projects the number of Latinos to triple, and the white population to become a minority by 2050. The Left must present a tangible and realistic materialist message to Latinos as an alternative to the far Right’s pseudo-populism. I propose that this alternative be based upon the principles of Cosmopolitan Socialism.
The idea of Cosmopolitan Socialism was first devised by the late political commentator and host of The Michael Brooks Show, Michael Brooks, in his book Against the Web. Cosmopolitan Socialism is a culturally internationalist form of socialism that seeks to build a viable and sustainable socialist alternative to global capitalism. The core belief of Cosmopolitan Socialism is that there are universal rights and commitments for every individual on Earth no matter their nationality, positionality, or cultural practices. These universal rights come with the knowledge that cultural practices and preferences do differ around the world and that those differences must be acknowledged. Cosmopolitan Socialism draws from different fields of leftist thought and strategy like utopianism, labor organizing, and humanism. These core tenets must be understood and fully applied in a principled matter in order for socialists to make a viable case for Latinos to join our cause.
Latinos are not a monolith. We are an ideologically diverse demographic and, thus, trying to fit us into a box will get the Left nowhere. What is imperative is that we as socialists understand the particular historical and societal contexts of the many Latino subgroups. Outreach to Mexican-Americans, for example, should differ greatly from outreach to Cuban-Americans, who generally hold strong anti-communist sentiments in opposition to the late Fidel Castro. Mexican-Americans, on the other hand, have a very different political consciousness. Theirs is shaped by cultural memories of the Mexican Revolution, the art of communists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, the Mexican Student Movement of 1968, and the highly influential Chicano Civil Rights Movement.
But I don’t just want socialists to study this history as a means to more effective Latino outreach. Understanding the cultural, political, and material conditions of the different Latino subgroups can be personally beneficial because socialists can take inspiration from these examples to enhance their own beliefs and outlook on life. Latino leaders and thinkers like the Peruvian neo-Marxist philosopher Jose Carlos Mariategui, the charismatic Brazilian President Lula da Silva, and the fiery yet humble leader of the Mexican Revolution General Emiliano Zapata and his truly revolutionary Plan de Ayala are all worthy of study and critique.
To be clear, Donald Trump didn’t win over more Latino support by mastering history. He campaigned on expanding economic opportunities for current and prospective business owners, which would ostensibly provide jobs to many working-class Latinos. Trump also spoke to Latinos’ sense of existential meaning by campaigning on protecting religious liberty. The Left should pose a competing message by adopting Cosmopolitan Socialism’s humanist tenet, which calls on people’s desire for personal meaning and ambition. Ultimately, every parent wants their child to succeed and go beyond their station in life. For many Latinos who have immigrated to this country, that is their primary mission and socialists should promote universal healthcare, unions, workplace democracy, and free higher education and trade schools as ways to accomplish it.
Before we continue on this point, it’s imperative that we address a potentially dangerous misstep the Left can make: the cultural conundrum.
A trap that we must not fall into is the cultural rift between leftist communities in the United States and the more traditionalist Hispanic America. Nearly 81% of Hispanics believe in Christianity with Catholicism as the outright majority denomination with 62%. There are bound to be cultural divides based on religion and the cultural concept of machismo. These divisions will not be solved by scolding and canceling Latinos for their beliefs. Socialists must make the unique distinction between non-negotiable human rights and commitments and individual cultural practices/attitudes.
Scolding average Latinos for not using the extremely insular academic term “Latinx” will also not win socialists any popular support. Imposing American-centric cultural terms, a form of linguistic imperialism, on Latinos is disrespectful and extremely culturally tone-deaf. Only 3% of Latinos even use the term “Latinx.” The Left should abandon such tribal vocabulary and focus more energy on material politics. Failure to do so will only further isolate us, cementing our status as a mere subculture with little independent power.
I want to end this article with a personal anecdote about my family and how we got my 79-year-old maternal grandmother to vote for democratic socialism. To start off, both of my paternal grandparents, Carlos and Concepcion, voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 and 2020 Democratic presidential primaries. This made sense considering both were active during the Chicano Rights Movement and were educated about Marxism and socialism during the “Movimiento” at Cal State LA. So there was no need for outreach.
The one undecided voter in my family was my maternal grandmother, Elida, who enjoys expressing her values through voting. Elida, who immigrated to this country at 18, was unsure who to support. So she decided to ask her family for recommendations. She asked my tío, Rudy, a college math professor, my mother, a public school teacher, and me, an aspiring educator and historian. Without hesitation, we all told her to back Bernie Sanders, because he was pro-teacher and pro-education. My grandmother proudly cast her vote for him and has since asked me questions like “How are socialism and communism different?” and “Who are some famous socialists I might know?” Not bad for someone who still refers to Russians as “Soviets.” While this approach may not work for everyone, it’s important that we start to take Latino outreach more seriously so that we can win the class struggle in America and beyond.
To stand a chance of reversing global capitalism and its destructive nature, we must unite behind universal aspirations and experiences. We must start thinking in terms of power and a globally-minded approach to socialism is the best way for socialists to reach out to Latinos and build our movement. Forging a new vision for 21st-century socialism may seem daunting, but it must be bold and dynamic for all if it is to become a feasible project for this planet.
No one can eloquently capture the essence of Cosmopolitan Socialism except for the late Michael Brooks himself who writes, “We need a material analysis, buttressed with a sense of humor and a recognition of human fallibility, that connects the fight for a better world to the immediate interests of the majority of the population.” Michael understood that the survival of the planet is at stake and the Left needs to build its base because the Right has already gone international and accumulated mass power. Latinos have been victims of coups, civil wars, and horrid right-wing authoritarians. So they come to this country for the opportunity of a better life. With the Right already making inroads with Latinos, the stakes are too high for Y/DSA to fail to embrace the largest racial minority in America.
How do you think socialists can better reach communities of color? YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit articles to The Activist here.
Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today!