Beyond the Mama’s Chi-chi Theory: Latino Vote Lust Previews Growing National Sophistication

February 1, 2008

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It’s both scary and exciting to watch the media and political frenzy building around the Latino vote next Super Duper Tuesday and beyond. Scary because never have so many known so little about so large a population as Latinos. Yet, this hasn’t hastened the exponential growth of the cottage porn industry of Latino vote expertise being displayed in all its perverse glory this election year. It’s also exciting to watch the new Latino watchers because we as a society will only benefit from the growth in genuine information and knowledge mixed in with the dross of many news reports and campaign statements.

My favorite from among the numerous and stunningly simplistic explanations for why, for example, Latino voters appear to be heavily inclined towards Border Wall supporter and driver’s license flip-flopper, Hillary Clinton, actually comes from an elected official – a Latino elected official no less.

As the world watched and waited to see how Latinos would vote in Nevada last week, widely-quoted Nevada Assemblyman Ruben Kihuen used the global spotlight to unveil for the first time his Mama’s Chi-chi Theory of Latino Political Participation, and he did so in no less a venue than the New York Times, the nation’s newspaper of record:

“The Hispanic community is very family oriented, and we respect our mothers,” said Ruben Kihuen, an influential Democratic assemblyman from Las Vegas who supported Mrs. Clinton. “A lot of middle-aged women see her as a mother, a head of the household, and they can identify with this. Especially when they see her daughter, Chelsea, with her.”

Though not as pernicious as the now thoroughly discredited “anti-black-Latinos-are-the- rearguard-of-white-racism” theory of the Clinton vote, Kihuen’s Chi-chi theory does reflect the unprecedented -and often prurient- interest in Latino politics.

Despite being left out of the mainstream discussion of the Latino vote, many, more thoughtful Latinos in the blogosphere, alternative and other media and in the body politic generally have seized the political moment to offer insights that anticipate the eventual demise of the Mama’s Chi-chi Theory and other, less-absurd media constructs.

And the collective and relatively new interest of news organizations, pollsters, bloggers, politicos and other interested parties from across the political and geographic spectrum also previews the future sophistication about things Latino. Over the past several months, I have, for example, spoken with and become aware of numerous national and international (and not just Latin American) media outlets planning or actually doing more in-depth reporting on the U.S. Latino vote.

For all its frustrating simplicity, the coverage of and interest in the Latino electorate may well be remembered as one of the most important new developments of this year in media and politics.

We will, for the time being, have to suffer the flatulence and bad taste of the burrito logic informing Kihuen’s Chi-chi Theory. Still, some of the current attention and reporting found in some Spanish language and English language media and other outlets does give one cause for optimism about the new national conversation around Latino and U.S. politics.

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