White Latinos

Yara Rodrigues Fowler

A lot of people are confused – and disappointed – by the so-called ‘Latino vote’. Especially by the so-called ‘Latino vote’ in Florida, more than half of which, according to CNN, went to Trump (compared to 35 per cent in 2016). Trump has called Mexicans rapists, ran for office on building a border wall with Mexico, and puts Latino children in cages. Why, you might wonder, would so many Latinos want him in charge?

If you search for ‘white passing latinos’ on Twitter, you’ll see the phrase being given as both cause and explanation for why some Latinos voted for Trump. The logic seems to be that, while ‘Latinos’ are a non-white racial group, some Latinos can ‘pass’ for white, and this access to whiteness – with all its power and privileges – tempts these Latinos to forgo solidarity with their fellow Latinos, and vote for Trump.

This is a bad take. ‘Latino’ is not a race. Latino just means from Latin America, and if you go to Latin America, you’ll see it’s full of white people and black people and brown people, like the US. Think about Bolsonaro, and now think of Pelé – they are both ‘Latino’. White Latinos aren’t ‘white-passing’; they’re just white. (‘White passing’ is a term with a very specific US history: it’s when Black people with light enough skin live as white. This is not what white Latinos in the US are doing.)

Latin America came into being in much the same way as the United States: settler colonialism. Across the Americas and the Carribean, through the 1500s and beyond, white Europeans invaded, settled, killed most of the indigenous population, and forcibly transported more than 10 million enslaved people from Africa to the New World. Just as in the US, race has been at work in Latin America for centuries, in order to enrich the ruling classes. And just as in the US, Latin America is now populated by the descendants of white settlers, enslaved people and indigenous people. There has been more mixing and less segregation in Latin America than the US, but their foundational racial hierarchies remain broadly the same.

The history of the 20th century matters too, especially when it comes to Florida. During the Cold War, US-backed coups installed rightwing dictatorships across Latin America. These coups relied on, and were administered by, enthusiastic right-wing ‘Latinos’, who hated ‘socialism’ and ‘communists’ as much as their North American backers did. This ruling class is alive and well among Latin Americans at home and in the diaspora: Bolsonaro, for example, frequently and openly praises the Brazilian dictatorship; his son, Eduardo, apparently cried when he saw Biden’s lead in the electoral college.

The US of course didn’t manage to install rightwing dictatorships everywhere in Latin America during the Cold War, the most notable exception being Cuba. Many Latino voters in Florida are Cuban-Americans: exiles, who fled or were kicked out after the revolution. Unsurprisingly, they tend to be militantly anti-socialist and anti-communist. And for many, rich and white, socialism directly threatens their class interests. This is not to say their experience wasn’t traumatic or their fear isn’t sincerely held – simply that it makes sense right-wing candidates appeal to them, and they can be mobilised by the threat of socialism.

Latinos are as complex a voting block – and from as complicated a continent – as North Americans. Some Latinos are Guatemalans of indigenous descent without papers or access to the formal economy or education; they might cross the Mexico-US border illegally. Some Latinos are black; they might come on a plane from Brazil with a temporary visa. Some Latinos are rich businessmen who can trace their European ancestry, US citizens whose maids and drivers are black or brown Latinos without papers. These white Latinos are more likely to look Italian than Irish, but at home they are the white oppressors. In some ways, they are the most natural Trump supporters of all.


  • 6 November 2020 at 4:24pm
    stevemerlan says:
    Everything Ms. Fowler says here is true. There is one more point worth making; that is that in North America the land was closer to what the Europeans had left behind and attracted people whose purpose was to displace or eliminate the native population and work the land themselves.
    Further south the Europeans were more inclined to regard the indigenous people as a source of labor for plantations and encomiendas. Therefore the indigenous were allowed to remain in larger numbers than in the north, although strictly controlled.

    Amusingly the "progressive" anglos in the USA are following in the footsteps of their "settler" ancestors. They automatically assume that ethnic boundaries are drawn in the same fashion, north and south, and having been taught that -o and -a noun endings are masculine and feminine, respectively, they are trying to recast the grammar of Spanish by introducing "LatinX" suffixes, no matter what Spanish-speakers themselves may regard as correct. Just try asking one of these revisionists to specify the gender of "Mano."

    Steve Merlan
    Santa Fe NM

  • 7 November 2020 at 4:59am
    rebecca seger says:
    This isn't exactly true, in effect it's a language classification. La Raza lobbied for it. I don't know anyone from Haiti or Belize who considers themselves Latino.

    • 7 November 2020 at 8:40am
      prangman says: @ rebecca seger
      Good point, arguably the same could be said of Brazilians. I don't think many people think of Pele or Bolsonaro as 'Latinos'. I'm nitpicking though, and I couldn't agree more with the thrust of this article.

  • 7 November 2020 at 7:42pm
    Isabel Fonseca says:
    Also worth mentioning that Donald Trump’s administration, while barring unprecedented numbers of other legitimate immigrants and refugees, admitted record numbers of Venezuelans and fast-tracked them for citizenship. They are the new Cuban reliably Republican voting block. Dems should now focus on the many Puerto Ricans who have moved to Florida....

  • 13 November 2020 at 12:02pm
    freshborn says:
    The racism of the Venezuelan upper crust against Chavez and Maduro is pronounced but is overlooked by Westerners, who see them all as just being foreign. They are often fluent in English and can be found railing against the socialists on social media, people often believe them because they are Venezuelan, so they must know what is happening in their country better than a left-wing westerner. But the people of Venezuela have been electing socialists consistently for over 20 years, and I have not once seen a dark-skinned Venezuelan propagandising in English on social media.

    The racism towards Evo Morales, not merely dark but indigenous, is far more rabid than anything you can imagine in America or Britain today. The Guardian and BBC wring their hands fretfully over Trump's tantrums and epithets, but when an elected indigenous premier is overthrown in a US-backed coup, they won't even call it a coup. It is only "described by Morales loyalists as a coup". So much for democracy and equality.