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Politicians And 'Hispandering'


This past week, Democratic presidential hopefuls busted out their Spanish.


CORY BOOKER: (Speaking Spanish).

BETO O'ROURKE: (Speaking Spanish).

JULIAN CASTRO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke and former Secretary of Housing Julian Castro. And then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio went to Miami, the home of many exiled Cubans who fled communism, and said this...


BILL DE BLASIO: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Which is a quote from famous Communist leader Che Guevara. De Blasio had to apologize. Here to talk about the use or maybe the misuse of Spanish this election season is Julio Ricardo Varela, the co-host of the Latinx-focused "In The Thick" podcast.

And dare I say it, hola, Julio.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA: (Laughter) Oh, my God. Can we talk in Spanish? Hola, Lulu.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some people call this kind of thing hispandering. Is that what was going on here in your view?

VARELA: Yes and no because I think one of the things that people tend to forget is that this was also broadcast on Telemundo, so I can understand Democratic candidates saying, oh, wow. There's Spanish-speaking viewers. Instead of having someone interpret for me, I'm going to say some things in Spanish. But I do think the timing of it felt a little bit weird in terms of what Beto O'Rourke - I mean, to start it, it just felt like, I'm going to show everyone. It felt a little bit over the top. And I think that's where the issue is.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. Because I am of Cuban descent, I have to bring up Bill de Blasio because, for me, it perfectly encapsulates the perils of busting out with Spanish. Know your audience, you know? Some politicians really view the Hispanic community as a monolith. And they don't understand that if you are in Miami, even if you are speaking to people who are left of center, busting out with a Che Guevara quote might not be the best way to win over that group.

VARELA: What he said - it was such a Miami moment. It was such a, like, don't go there. But at the same time, it does lead to a bigger question. And I'm not trying to downplay this. But it does lead to a bigger question about how Democrats are trying to deal with Latin Americans or Latino - you know, people of Latin American descent in this current election.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think that is the bigger picture because we should note that the Latino vote will be crucial in this election. We saw it made a difference in key races in 2018. It could prove pivotal in 2020. We're seeing Democrats trying to capitalize and reach out to the Latinos. Do they have the right message? I mean, is - are they going about it the right way?

VARELA: I don't think they've figured it out yet. One of the things that I noticed in the debates - in Democratic debates - like, even if you take the topic of immigration, you know, Julian Castro pushed everyone to the left. And this whole, like, middle ground - it's almost like Democrats are afraid when they hear socialism. They're missing out a little bit on the Latin American left that's saying, socialism - yeah, I get it. It's not that scary. That's the nuance that's missing here because I think everyone just assumes that Latinos are just all moderates and independents. But I think there's a lot of woke, young Latino voters who understand the issues between right and left. And I think there's this thirst to have some of these Democratic candidates embrace that a little bit more. That's where the interesting things are happening. Will it get nuanced? Probably - I hope so.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Julio Ricardo Varela, the co-host of the Latinx-focused "In The Thick" podcast.

Thank you very much.

VARELA: Gracias, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.