When it comes to the Latino block of the electorate, you’ve probably heard politicians and analysts describe it this way.
“When it comes to voting, experts refer to our community as America’s ‘sleeping giant.’” “Potential Hispanic voters have a ‘sleeping giant’ in Texas.” “There has been a ‘sleeping giant’ in America that has been dormant for too long but things are about to change.”
The giant part refers to the growing number of Latinos in the U.S. The sleeping – well, that refers to how few of them vote. The term has been in use since the 90s. But the 90s were more than two decades ago. Surely things have changed since?
What comes to mind when you hear the word “giant?”
As a linguist for UT-Arlington, Laurel Stvan’s specialty is words – specifically the meaning of words.
“Giant itself has the connotation of size and power – great power,” she says.
So, if giant equals size and power, what does the “sleeping” add?
“Sleeping really is often a peaceful thing but often a neutral or unknown state, right?” Stvan says.
Right, but, the words, when used together, can have a sort of scary connotation. Is that how political analysts see Latino voters?
UT-Austin Political Scientist Victoria DeFrancesco Soto says we need a new way of thinking about it.
“You know? The sleeping giant – I think – is the incorrect metaphor.”
Well, why is this the wrong metaphor?
“Because we’ve come to see that given the socio-economic background of Latinos, institutional structures – there’s not going to be a giant awakening – it’s about moving the ball forward in bursts,” she says.
Basically, as with any voting bloc, change is incremental.
one thing that hasn’t changed is the giant part. Lloyd Potter is Texas state demographer.
“When I was a kid growing up in Houston, there were Latinos around – not quite as many as there are today but – I don’t recall seeing any, like advertising on billboards or stores that were really catering to Latinos,” he says. “Today, if you were to line up 10 Texans – for instance – four of them would be Latinos. And now it’s really hard to go almost any place in Texas without really seeing the acknowledgement of Latinos as an economic force.”
What about the presence of Latinos as a voting force? That part is not there yet. But Why?
One reason is because many Latinos are babies. OK, not literally babies, but literally too young to vote. In Texas, more than half – 52 percent – of all Latinos can’t vote. Some are unauthorized. but, a huge number are simply too young right now. Potter says but number is growing.
“Every day 500 Hispanic babies – 300 white babies,” Potter says.
The demographic story of Texas, as Paul Taylor, author of “The Next America” puts it, is a “drama in slow motion.”
Discard the sleeping giant metaphor. Latinos in Texas are a “baby giant” or better yet, a “giant baby.”
Political Scientist DeFrancesco Soto says it fits.
“A baby is a being with so much innate potential that has to be fostered and nurtured so that they – then – can crawl, walk and run,” she says.
A successful upbringing usually requires love, access to health care and to a good education. Given those, demographer Potter adds:
“Then that child will grow up to love its parents, if it’s taken care of well and will take care of their parents when they get older.”
And, who are the parents? In this case, an aging white population. Latino babies could be their elders’ best hope for a secure retirement because they’ll be the ones paying for the future of older Texans.