Election 2020

Tejano Vote, Not Latino, Key to Trump's Gains in South Texas

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead

Jose Toribio Losoya has one of the most poignant and interesting life stories in American history. I loved telling it when I used to travel around doing public talks on history and the people who lived it.

Born in about 1808, Losoya was initially a subject of the Spanish crown in New Spain. When Mexico rebelled and broke away, winning its independence in 1821, Losoya became a Mexican citizen. He entered the army and was stationed in his hometown, a little fort and neighborhood named after a little town in another part of Mexico.

He stayed there in the frontier town, raising a family and tending to his military career.

When the president declared himself dictator and dissolved local lawmaking authority, Losoya’s state was one of several that rebelled to defend their rights under the Constitution of 1824. Those rights largely paralleled the civil rights enshrined in the United States Constitution.

Losoya faced a choice: Go with the centralization of power in the dictator’s hands, or stand with the constitution and the rebels. It was no easy choice. The frontier state in which Losoya was born and lived was largely undefended; the dictator was a charismatic and battle-hardened war hero who would do whatever he could to crush the rebellion. The rebels, mostly transplants, were divided among themselves and tended to abandon their military units almost as quickly as they formed them. Many had moved to the frontier to escape problems and debts back at home. The smart money would be on the dictator and his powerful army.

But Losoya joined the rebels, putting his life in immediate mortal danger.

It’s always tempting to read the minds of those who lived before us, but we don’t have to do that in Losoya’s case. He sided with the rebels and the civil rights they sought to defend. He stayed in the little fort he had always called home, he stood by his friends, he fought under flags that included one referring to the 1824 constitution, and on March 6, 1836 he was one of the last men standing. Jose Toribio Losoya’s body was found just inside the little unfinished church at the Alamo.

He was just 28 years old.

By ethnic terms today, some might classify Losoya as Mexican (or perhaps Spanish). By cultural terms now, many would classify him as Latino.

None of those would be accurate. Losoya was Tejano. Tejanos were the only natural-born Texans who fought for freedom in the Texas Revolution — the only ones. The other rebels were from other places. Tejanos are Texas’ original freedom fighters, and by and large today they still don’t identify as Latino. Similar to Cubans in Florida, Texas Tejanos are their own identity and culture due to their unique experiences and history. Tejanos are Texans and they are Americans.

Texas Democrats have long looked to the Hispanic vote to flip Texas blue for them. Their strategy is openly racist, discounting the real cultural currents that make Texas what it is, and seeing people in blocs rather than as individuals. In Politico, Jack Herrera notes now the Trump campaign recognized Tejano culture, and that made enormous differences across Texas and especially the Rio Grande Valley.

Ross Barrera, a retired U.S. Army colonel and chair of the Starr County Republican Party, put it this way: “It’s the national media that uses ‘Latino.’ It bundles us up with Florida, Doral, Miami. But those places are different than South Texas, and South Texas is different than Los Angeles. Here, people don’t say we’re Mexican American. We say we’re Tejanos.”

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In the end, Trump’s success in peeling off Latino votes in South Texas had everything to do with not talking to them as Latinos. His campaign spoke to them as Tejanos, who may be traditionally Democratic but have a set of specific concerns—among them, the oil and gas industry, gun rights and even abortion—amenable to the Republican Party’s positions, and it resonated. To be sure, it didn’t work with all of Texas’ Latinos; Trump still lost that vote by more than double digits statewide, and Joe Biden won more of the nationwide Latino vote than Hillary Clinton did in 2016. But Trump proved that seeing specific communities as persuadable voters and offering targeted messaging to match—fear of socialism in Miami-Dade’s Venezuelan and Cuban communities, for example—can be more effective than a blanket campaign that treats people as census categories. And in the end, it was enough to keep Florida and Texas in his column. If the Democratic Party’s 2020 postmortem for Texas—indeed, for the whole nation—goes only as far as to try to increase their appeal to “Latinos” as an undifferentiated bloc, they’re going to experience even harsher losses in the next election.

On the other hand, part of the Democrats’ appeal involves hoodwinking naturally conservative Tejanos.

Take Cynthia Villarreal, a lifelong Democrat and lifelong Zapata resident. She, like many along the Texas border, holds that her family history begins with the Spaniards’ colonial regime along the Rio Grande.

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Villarreal thinks that if Democrats had been better at reaching people in Zapata and South Texas, more would have come to share her view rather than one fed to them by the GOP. “Biden is not coming for your guns,” she says, “and he’s personally pro-life.”

Neither of these is true. Biden has signaled that he will come for our guns and that he is far from personally pro-life. During the campaign, Biden said he would put fake Latino Robert O’Rourke in charge of his administration’s gun control policies. O’Rourke had by then already declared “Hell, yes we’re going to take away your AR-15, your AK-47!” Biden now signals he will find ways to tax guns and ammunition to hurt gun owners.

On abortion, his previous administration took nuns to court to force them to offer contraception and he has signaled he would do away with the Hyde Amendment and force taxpayers to fund abortion. The Democratic Party no longer welcomes anyone who is pro-life.

Tejanos support the military and law enforcement; Biden has been largely silent other than late and perfunctory statements as his fellow Democrats in Austin and elsewhere defunded police and let loose anarchy on city streets. His statement that antifa is merely an idea lets the rioters off the hook and leaves them free to continue destroying businesses, threatening lives, and demonizing and demoralizing law enforcement officers. Our cities face crises thanks to the Democrats’ left; Biden thus far has provided no leadership.

Trump’s strong stance on border security makes more sense in border towns and communities than anywhere else. Those communities tend to be more than 90% Tejano.

More and more Tejanos are seeing the Democrats’ agenda for what it is: radical on abortion; anti-Constitutional rights on faith, speech, and self-defense; and ultimately about dividing America on woke racism rather than uniting it around our shared civil rights and values. Trump and his campaign deserve credit for seeing this and articulating it.

The Democrats’ wokeness will not play among Tejanos.

“You young folks all want to call people Hispanic, Latino, white, brown, Black, green, whatever,” says Cynthia’s uncle Xavier. “When we were growing up, nobody was a Hispanic, Latino, Latina, brown, any of that. Everybody was an American. I’m still an American here.”

Exactly right.

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