Has the diversity pendulum swung, in some areas and in some ways, too far?
Hillary Clinton was recently caught, by Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczynski, embellishing her ancestry. The presidential candidate claimed all her grandparents were immigrants when, as Buzzfeed found, only one actually was.
Clinton told a fib, as many candidates tend to do. Shrug. The bigger issue here is: Why would a candidate nowadays even feel the need to have — or fabricate the existence of — immigrant relatives in the not-too-distant past?
Over in the Republican camp, there is an emphasis to push forward minority conservatives (e.g., Allen West, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio), so as to refute the constant (undeserved) accusation that the Grand Ole Party is unwelcoming to some. (Though it begs the question — is that not the kind of ethnic pandering and affirmative-action-mindset the same conservatives purportedly fight against in college admissions and the workplace?)
From a Democratic standpoint, the same push is more puzzling.
Unlike Republicans, Democrats do not have a stigma to combat regarding minorities, thus there is no actual pressure (Barack Obama’s 2008 nomination notwithstanding) to put forth a minority candidate with a colorful background, at least not twice.
Or, one would think so — until Clinton felt the need to push an immigrant story. It is also rumored she will select HUD Secretary Julian Castro, a Latino with deep roots in the Mexican-American activist community, as her vice presidential running mate.
While the young Castro is certainly a future star in American politics, and is earning his accolades, surely there are more experienced individuals to consider for one’s second-in-command.
Sure, Elizabeth Warren, a fellow Democrat and potential 2016 contender, may have also embellished her (Native American) background years ago, but such was done in an attempt to secure a teaching position in universities with affirmative-action-friendly hiring policies.
Hillary instead seeks public office — begging the question: Is there a now an unwritten bonus point for those seeking to serve where, if no ancestor of color can be produced, at least a vibrant immigrant story from a recent ancestor?
The fact that even Hillary — one of the most respected names in liberal circles — felt she needed to spruce up her background with an immigrant tale is the latest indication that candidates nowadays strive to check off some sort of minority angle (“woman” is no longer enough).
But so what if Hillary is as white as they come and her family has been here for generations? Why is that a fact that should be hidden and, moreover, buried under a false tale of Immigrant Gramps from the Old Country?
Add to this the recent endearing tale of Jeb Bush who, depending upon whether one believes it was just an oversight when filling out a voter registration card, may even have started, at some point, thinking of himself as Hispanic.
As for Marco Rubio, much has been made of his Latino ethnicity. It is almost the first angle anyone mentions about the Florida senator. “He’s Republican — and he’s La-tee-no, you know!” a supporter will excitedly proclaim. But why should that matter?
If there were a Marco Rubio doppelganger named Mark Robbins, from South Miami rather than West Miami, with the very same résumé and very same views, would there be as much excitement about his political potential?
The answer is a resounding, unequivocal ‘no’ — and that is troubling. Indeed, it is just as troubling as if Rubio were shut out of the political class for his background, than it is that he is shoved in the express lane for the same reason.
Is it permissible to simply be a plain ol’ white male in American politics nowadays? Yes, of course — look at the majority of candidates and Congressional office holders.
But is the same candidate, with a surname ending in a vowel, or a touching immigrant background, pushed forth ahead of the former nowadays? You bet.
The early theme this 2016 race seems to be: “It’s OK if you’re a white male whose family has been here for generations — but, wink-wink, it’d be better if you weren’t. At least pick a running mate who isn’t.”
A Fox News Latino piece excitedly notes: “Camp of presidential candidates so far is most diverse ever — with two Latinos and a woman.”
But as a Latina woman myself, and the child of immigrants myself, even I shrug and ask: “So what?”
A.J. Delgado is a Miami-based writer and lawyer. She writes about politics and culture.