It’s no secret that Democrats are struggling with Latino voters. Just this week, a New York Times/Siena College poll showed that 63 per cent of all Hispanic or Latino registered voters either somewhat or strongly disapprove of the job Joe Biden is doing as president.
All of this made First Lady Jill Biden’s comments at the the LatinX IncluXion Luncheon Monday about the Latino community being as “unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio” seem all the more cringeworthy: Here is the wife of a Democratic president who is shedding Latino voters equating a whole ethnic group to a streetfood. Danielle Alvarez of the Republican National Committee mocked her remarks while the National Association of Hispanic Journalists put out a statement saying: “We are not tacos.”
Anyone who has read my work or my Twitter feed knows I have no problem lighting up Democrats for their obtuseness when it comes to Latino voters. At the same time, while the First Lady’s gaffe definitely made me wince, her words are not the biggest issue here. If Republicans, the press and Democratic Latinos want to point out the party’s problems with the demographic, there are plenty of other things to pick apart.
For starters, let’s acknowledge the fact that Biden was speaking in San Antonio, where breakfast tacos are a staple sold at any Tex-Mex drive-thru, countless restaurants on the Riverwalk and every Texan’s favorite grocery store: H-E-B. My father, a Mexican-American right-wing Republican born and raised in San Antonio, and I have had our fair share of them. It’s well-known that even bad breakfast tacos are better than most other meals.
Jill Biden was clearly trying to speak to people on their own terms and give a hometown shout-out — even if it failed to connect worse than the San Antonio Spurs trying to make a three-pointer this last season. Prior to the “breakfast tacos” remark, the First Lady talked about how the Latino community was “as distinct as the bodegas in the Bronx” and as “beautiful as the blossoms of Miami.” Though she mispronounced “bodegas”, it was clear what she was trying to say. Biden was trying to articulate what Latino voters have often repeated: that the voting bloc is “not a monolith.”
The real problem is that Jill Biden only made these remarks in July 2022, a year and a half into her husband’s administration. But Bidenworld has consistently been lackluster when it comes to Latino outreach. That’s a huge misstep, considering it was apparent they were struggling with the demographic when Joe Biden lost the Nevada caucus to Senator Bernie Sanders in early 2020. Another flare should have gone up as soon as Donald Trump improved his numbers with Latinos. Republicans made inroads in places like the Rio Grande Valley of Texas and Miami in 2020.
It’s now blatantly clear that Democrats’ bleeding of Latino voters could cost them their majority in the House and Senate. Republican Mayra Flores recently flipped Texas’s historically Democratic 34th district, further proving that point. The Biden team has had chance after chance to do a course correction and they are only now doing outreach because they are scared. But Latino voters — who overwhelmingly loved Biden’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama, former Texas governor George W Bush, and former California governor Ronald Reagan (my dad still has the plaque Reagan gave to my grandfather for his service in the Second World War) — will likely not be impressed at the fact Democrats are only now starting to pay attention to them.
Had Democrats been doing more consistent voter outreach, Jill Biden’s flub would not have garnered as much attention, because the administration and Latinos would have an established rapport. After all, Joe made a series of gaffes with Black voters when he was campaigning for the presidency, but he had enough of a record with the community that they still turned out for him in droves in the primary and general election. And Trump himself stumbled with Latinos, once famously tweeting “I love Hispanics!” accompanied by a picture of himself eating a taco bowl. But he became much savvier at Latino outreach after that, and the numbers show it paid off.
The fact that one of the First Lady’s major Hispanic outreach events was an event called the LatinX IncluXion Luncheon is a bigger sign of obliviousness than talking about breakfast tacos. The president has also used the term “Latinx” when discussing how difficult it was for Latinos to get vaccinated against Covid.
“Latinx” has become popular online over the past few years, but very few Latinos actually use the term. One Pew Research Center survey from 2020 showed that about a quarter of Latinos have heard of the term — and only 3 per cent use it. Hispanic women between the ages of 18 to 29 are more likely than other groups to use it, but even then, only 14 per cent do. I’ve often joked in the past that if I said the term and pronounced it “Latin-X” around my aunties, they would be more likely to ask why I broke up with a Latina woman and why I am still single. Meanwhile, Hispanic Democratic members of Congress like Representative Ruben Gallego of Arizona have said explicitly that Democrats shouldn’t use the term.
Team Biden should be sweating their loss of Hispanic voters more than a family of four does in Austin in July. But one off-hand remark won’t kill its chances with voters. Rather, it needs to completely overhaul its approach. “LatinX Luncheon” was a bad place to start. It’s time to shake up that entire strategy — otherwise, the Biden family might be dining on subpar tacos made by Gringos outside of the White House come 2025.