The days when Democratic presidential hopefuls would think of Texas solely as their ATM – a place to raise money – are over. These days, candidates are actually campaigning in the Lone Star State, vying for Texas’ 228 delegates. And, since candidates are meeting voters face-to-face, it would be good for them to learn as much as they can about us.
The Texas population is close to 40% Hispanic now, and more than 5% Asian. If willing, candidates could take this knowledge as a crash course in the state’s demographics.
It’s true that for several decades, campaigns have specialized in crafting their messages for black and white voters. But political consultant Matthew Dowd says candidates need to approach Texas with fresh eyes.
“The campaign you ran 10 years ago is no longer valid in what you need to do today,” Dowd says.
Candidates should also account for the fact that Hispanic and Latinx voters come from diverse “geographic, demographic and generational” communities, Dowd says.
A first-generation 40-year-old Latino voter in Odessa is very different from a 40-year-old fifth-generation Latino voter in Laredo. A 40-year-old new citizen who lives in Houston has different interests than the other two.
Smart candidates will understand that a campaign photo where an office seeker is eating ethnic food, or is surrounded by people of color doesn’t cut it anymore.
“Just because you can pronounce ‘fajita’,” Dowd says, “it doesn’t mean you have some connection to the Latino community or Latina community [in Texas].”
It is common, for instance, to hear mariachis playing at political rallies in Texas. And there’s nothing wrong with tipping your hat to the community in that way. But keep in mind that mariachis are originally from Mexico. And Hispanics and Latinx people have ancestry that can be traced to at least 20 Spanish-speaking countries located in places as different as Africa, Europe and the Americas.
Dowd likes to remind candidates that putting a website together and translating it into Spanish is the bare minimum a campaign can do. The message to candidates is: don’t be afraid to learn more. And while you’re at it, learn about Asian Americans too.
In Texas, they are the fastest-growing demographic. The Asian American community has grown by 42% since 2010 – evidence of this is that today, every major city in Texas hosts Lunar New Year celebrations.
Just as Latinx and Hispanic voters are not a monolith, Asian American voters come from many countries and experiences. The issues they care about are as diverse as the communities themselves.
I met Rekha Joshi as she waited for her seven-year-old to get out of school. Her wait wasn’t calm or peaceful, it was full of cardio. She’s in the thick of rearing her two-year-old. And waiting outside the school actually means running up and down the school’s sidewalk. Joshi’s little girl is a picture of health and strength. She giggles every time her mom gets close to her. But, like every toddler, she often gets sick. Joshi says health care is her number one concern. Joshi is originally from India and she is also her parents’ caregiver.
“It is important to take care of your family,” she says “[but] it is getting harder by the day.”
She needs health care coverage that includes children and older adults.
Asian American mothers and fathers outside the school talked about gun control, education, the environment, the coronavirus and fears that the virus is re-igniting racism against Asian Americans.
Karthick Ramakrishnan teaches political science and public policy at the University of California Riverside. He says Asian Americans are also interested in political life. They want to run for local, state and national offices. Proof of that is Andrew Yang. Even though he ended his Democratic presidential bid earlier this month, Yang’s candidacy challenged the old stereotype that Asian Americans are the “silent demographic”
Ramakrishnan called Yang’s candidacy “refreshing” in part because he focused on the threat of automation, an issue “that most people wouldn’t identify as Asian American issue or even a minority issue.”
Often, candidates of color are presumed to have an interest only on immigration issues. And that is another misconception.
So, the big picture when it comes to the Texas of 2020 is that politics here are no longer just black and white. There is a lot of color to be had.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Texas has 228 delegates, not 261.