The Miami Herald

Hispanic rivalries add to mix of hardball Florida politics

Rep. Ana Rivas Logan’s opponents call her loads of names on the campaign trail.

But one seemed to bother her more than others: “Nicaraguan.”

“They’re making calls to the little old Cubans, telling them, ‘Don’t vote for her. She’s a Nicaraguan. Your commitment is with the Cuban vote,’” a choked-up Logan said last week about her bare-knuckle race against fellow Republican Rep. Jose Felix “Pepe” Diaz.

Welcome to Miami.

This is a place where calling the daughter of Cuban parents a “Nicaraguan” is a slur even though she was born in Nicaragua and says so on her website. Diaz denies participating in or authorizing the attack.

The fact that it was 1) used against the Cuban-American lawmaker and 2) worked enough to deeply unsettle her is a sign of the hardball politics in Miami-Dade. And it stands as a clear sign that Florida’s Hispanic vote is anything but monolithic.

Just beyond the Spanish-English language barrier is a not-so-brave world of ethnic tensions, borderline racism and nationalistic pride that will subtly play out this election season — from the Rivas Logan-Diaz state House District 116 race to the top of the presidential ticket.

In the presidential race, Puerto Ricans are overwhelmingly Democratic and are expected to vote heavily for President Obama in Central Florida. Cuban voters, overwhelmingly Republican, are largely Romney supporters in South Florida. Nationally, the majority of Hispanic voters have ties to Mexico and vote for Democrats.

Pollsters beware. Sample Hispanics in one Florida region and you’ll often get different survey results than if you polled Hispanics in another part of the state.

The intramural Hispanic rivalries are bewildering to anyone from outside the state.

Ana Navarro, a Miami-based Republican of Nicaraguan descent who’s a CNN pundit, said she has only experienced anti-Nicaraguan sentiment once from another Hispanic and that such run-ins are rare. And, in the contact sport of politics, Navarro said Rep. Logan needs to develop a thicker skin.

“Ana Rivas Logan should stop crying and fight back,” Navarro said of the attacks on the lawmaker. “She has been raised a Cuban-American in Miami. It’s what she considers herself and identifies with. That’s all good and fine. But she needs to denounce the use of her country of birth to divide our communities as unacceptable and offensive.”

She noted that former Republican Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, a Cuban-American, successfully pushed a 1997 act that granted legal residency to hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguan and Central American immigrants. Many of them vote, she said, and they’ll punish prejudice at the polls.

In the state Capitol, the prejudice is on display as well. Whites and blacks from across the state and from both parties can be heard in the halls muttering about “crazy Cubans.” So do anonymous commenters on The Miami Herald website, or from those in Broward who say they “fled” Miami when it got too Spanish-speaking for their tastes. It’s all evidence that, no matter the location or race or ethnicity, prejudice is a human frailty. And politics plays with it.

When he successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010, former state House Speaker Marco Rubio took umbrage when he was called “a slick package from Miami” by his opponent, then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

“‘Miami’ is a code for a lot of things in Florida insider politics, among them the perception of Miami as the home of corrupt Cuban American politicians,” Rubio wrote in his recently published autobiography, An American Son.

Rubio doesn’t have instant support from other Hispanics just because he’s Cuban. Quite the opposite, for some. Many immigrants, particularly those from Mexico and Central America, resent the special immigration privileges that give Cubans legal residency as soon as their feet touch U.S. soil.

Democrats are making much of the fact that Rubio, who has an outside chance of being Mitt Romney’s presidential running mate, would have opposed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the “wise Latina” pride of the Puerto Rican community.

Democrats also point out that Rubio has opposed the pro-immigrant DREAM Act and voiced support for Arizona’s right to pass its illegal immigration crackdown law, which likely Hispanic voters opposed by a 2-1 ratio in The Miami Herald’s latest Florida poll.

Rubio’s supporters have decried the “ethnic politics” of the Democrats, but they’re prone to it as well. Some noted the countries of origin of Spanish and Colombian reporters who wrote critical stories about Rubio last year.

The rivalries, friendly and not, between Hispanics from different countries aren’t limited to politics. You can hear them play out during kids’ soccer matches or, sometimes, in the workplace.

Complicating the matter further is the fact that Hispanic is an ethnicity, not a race. There are black and white Hispanics.

A decade ago, Florida Democrats essentially argued in federal court that black Hispanics can’t be considered truly black. Democrats made the pathetic argument in their unsuccessful lawsuit to block GOP-drawn congressional and state legislative districts, which concentrated 90 percent of Florida’s Cuban-Americans in three Miami-based congressional districts.

In the past decade, the proportions of non-Cuban Hispanics have grown faster in Florida than for Cuban Hispanics. Of the 1.5 million registered Hispanic voters now, 36 percent are Cuban, 32 percent Puerto Rican and 21 percent are of Central and South American descent, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

With the growth in the overall Hispanic population, Umatilla Republican Sen. Alan Hays said in his deep Southern drawl last year that the state should check the immigration status of some “Hispanic-speaking people” before all the political districts were drawn this year following the Census.

Some legislative districts were combined and pitted a handful of sitting lawmakers against each other, like Logan and Diaz, who has complained that Rivas Logan’s supporters have called him gay.

But he didn’t get choked up over it. It’s not like he was called “Nicaraguan.”

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