While the victory of Latino candidates in Tuesday’s midterms sent a powerful message to Washington about the hopes and fears of America’s fastest growing minority, sentiments expressed by some leaders of this influential population about Israel underscore the need to engage with them con rapidez.
Their political success comes at a crucial time in US history and as the country’s Hispanic population continues to grow – more than 58 million strong according to latest data.
For years there has been talk about the power of the Latino vote and its impact on US domestic and foreign affairs. Tuesday’s results embodied that expectation with Latino victories across the country. Prominent among them is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
While their political win is a victory for women and Latinos in America, their views on Israel may be cause for concern, but also an opportunity – depending on who you ask. On the campaign trail Ocasio-Cortez stirred controversy when she dubbed Israel’s response to Gaza frontier assaults a “massacre.”
“I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” she said in a PBS interview. “I just look at things through a human rights lens and I may not use the right words… Middle Eastern politics is not exactly at my kitchen table every night,” she said.
As founder and CEO of Fuente Latina, I hear similar sentiments expressed by Latino influencers across the US. Fuente Latina is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that removes geographic and linguistic barriers for global Spanish language media covering stories about Israel and the Mideast.
Most Latinos are not familiar with Israel and why should they be? Latino leaders and media have mostly focused until now on US domestic issues that directly affect their communities. But with the rise of Latino politicians in this election, such as Ocasio-Cortez, foreign policy in general and Israel in particular are of interest.
However, in the age of “fake news” facts matter more than ever. That is why Fuente Latina is working to inform Latinos about Israel and Middle East issues by facilitating accurate coverage in Spanish language media. Our challenge is that unfortunately many Latinos across America view Israel through the same lens as Ocasio-Cortez, but it generally stems from a lack of facts and information. Meanwhile the void is being filled by bad actors like Iran, with its 24/7 Spanish language news network HispanTV that reaches millions of Latinos in the US and worldwide.
Several Latino candidates won Tuesday, many of them in districts heavily populated by Hispanics and Spanish-speakers. According to NALEO, Latinos ran for top offices in 36 states. Democrats received the majority of the Latino vote – 68%.
Ocasio-Cortez ran in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which according to Slate is 50 percent Latino, 40 percent Spanish-speaking, and about three-quarters people of color. Her supporters consider her their voice in Washington and care deeply about her stance on important issues, including Israel.
Our challenge is in making sure Latino leaders like her and millions of others have the facts.
The good news is that Fuente Latina’s work and research show that Latinos are open to learning about Israel when presented with information in a way that culturally resonates. Regardless of whether they are seeking news in English, Spanish or Spanglish, it must be relevant to them – whether it’s Tierra Santa, startups or security – that is why we produce digital and social media stories tailored specifically for Latino audiences.
As the Latino population in the US grows (by 2050 they will be 30%) and their political participation increases, so does the urgency to inform them about Israel and its strategic importance as America’s most important ally in the Middle East.
Hispanics and Israelis have much more in common than the noise that tries to divide them. While overcoming misperceptions about Israel in the Latino community is a challenge, their midterm victories mark an incredible opportunity to start some much-needed conversation.
Yalla, it’s time to hablar.
About the author: