Are Hispanics Conservative?
By Ray Serrano, PhD, MPH
Ronald Reagan knew a thing or two about Hispanics. As president, Reagan often noted, “Hispanics are conservatives. They just don’t know it.” He was right. For my family, conservatism summed up our deep commitment to faith, family, and hard work.
I grew up in rural Idaho in a household where my parents never had formal schooling and worked tirelessly as migrant farm workers. My mother was born in South Texas and my father immigrated from Mexico. Both families traversed the U.S., following crop harvests before settling in southern Idaho. Growing up, my parents did not spare me and my siblings from the backbreaking 10-hour shifts of “detasseling” corn, picking apples, or “topping” onions. Our upbringing was not punctuated by academic calendars and summer camps, but rather by working under the hot sun to help make ends meet. No job was taken for granted, and every dollar mattered.
This mindset and work ethic led me on a blessed professional journey. Like my parents’ families, I too traversed the U.S. in pursuit of opportunities. I started in California where I completed my undergraduate studies at Stanford. I then headed to the Northeast and completed a Masters degree at Yale. I finished my studies in the Deep South where I completed my PhD at Emory University. I share this journey with my sister, who is now a physician. Over the holidays, we sometimes recall the funny and quirky stories of growing up.
“Remember when we were so happy because Mom took us to celebrate our birthdays at the Golden Corral and then treated us to three items at the local dollar store?”
“Remember that time when we were 8 years old and came to the bold declaration that being truly rich was when one could afford matching furniture and square plates?”
Stories like these characterize our humble upbringing. We often laugh, but do not forget the central point: only in a country like the U.S. could the children of two migrant farm workers with no formal schooling grow up to complete the highest levels of education in our fields. Our paths were tough, but not insurmountable. Our resilience and sweat were rewarded because we lived in a country where hard work, discipline and ambition mattered.
As a young man, my peers constantly challenged me for having conservative views. Why are you pro-life? Aren’t you too poor to be a conservative? Why can’t you just accept that progressivism is what is most needed in Hispanic communities?
They overlooked the fact that families like my own saw the U.S. as a land of endless opportunity, in addition to seeing government as a means of last resort. We knew that hard work was far more empowering than government handouts. We knew that our Catholic faith enshrined values of compassion, respect and individual responsibility. No government office or liberal doctrine could replace time-tested institutions like family, church and paid work. In this light, conservatism was not a label that loosely applied to us; it was an ideal fit.
I am now in my mid-30s and read countless stories from progressives who claim that conservatism is facing a demographic problem with Hispanics becoming a larger part of the U.S. The logic billowing up from the Left suggests that black and brown communities must follow them because we have been wronged by the same country that has blessed so many of us. They cite historical examples as evidence that we should never vote for a conservative, much less identify as one.
Liberals often discount stories like my own as anomalies and somehow suggest that our hardships are not real. I strongly doubt that they have ever toiled in 100+ degree heat in corn and onion fields, much less do their Christmas shopping at the local dollar store. For too long, our voices did not matter to liberals. We were mere cogs in the wheels of progressivism, which ultimately propelled the carriages of grievance culture and entitlement.
In many places across the U.S., there are Hispanics like myself who refuse to allow others to tell our stories. We also refuse to accept the flawed logic that our ethnic/racial identity equates to support for liberal policies. They often only see us for our skin color or the vowels at the end of our last names. They do not see us as small business owners, parents, church members or gun owners. They do not, and probably will never, see us as real conservatives.
President Reagan was right: Hispanics are conservatives. They (liberals) just don’t get it.
Dr. Ray Serrano recently moved to Maryland and is interested in gathering a group of Republicans who are interested in Hispanic outreach in the area. Please feel free to contact him directly at [email protected]