Another election has passed with another Republican victory in South Texas. Political pundits and the media are convinced that the once Democratic stronghold of South Texas is turning more and more Republican because of socialism. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
As a native South Texan, I grew up around these people. They were my neighbors, classmates, and community members you’d always see at the Friday night football games. They love their families, God, and this country, but that doesn’t make them Republicans.
Many pundits will point to these values as to why Texas Latinos are becoming more “conservative,” but we’ve always had these values! From as young as I can remember, my grandma would always explain to me which values were important to her. Among them were family, community, and honesty. These values don’t inherently mean that Latinos are more likely to vote Republican, because Latinos, like other working class people, also care about economic issues.
Growing up in South Texas, I was no stranger to poverty or homeslessness. According to the 2010 Census, the counties that border Mexico are among the poorest in the state and country. This lack of economic opportunity is a prime motivator for election turnout.
The growing wealth gap is even more extreme among Latinos, meaning that we’re often paid less for work than our white colleagues, in an era where we are already experiencing record-breaking wealth inequality. What Democrats need at this moment is an economic message that resonates with these people. So far, Democrats haven’t had a coherent message and that’s what has driven more Latino voters to the Republicans, because at least Republicans can pretend to be economically populist.
The 2020 Democratic Primary proves that a strong economic populist message can resonate with Latinos, not just in Texas but across the country. Look at Bernie’s early performance before the other candidates dropped out. Bernie blew all the other candidates out of the water with his Nevada performance, which has a large Latino population. Then look at the Texas primary results, Joe Biden may have won after the rest of the field dropped out and endorsed him, but despite that, Bernie dominated with Latinos in South Texas.
Furthermore, Latinos have a strong history and relationship with socialism. Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a member of Socialist International, ruled the country for over 70 years. Right now in Mexico, the ruling party is a big-tent left-wing party known as MORENA. Not to mention the many historic and current socialist governments elsewhere in Latin America.
What more proof do you need that this type of economic populism is a winning campaign strategy? Whether you’re a Latino in South Texas or a Latino in Los Angeles, economic populism resonates with them. Bernie wasn’t crazy, he was right. The people are demanding action to improve their material conditions; it’s about time Democrats returned to their FDR roots and took a more left-wing approach to economic issues. You’d be surprised at the things we could accomplish with an economic message that resonates across ethnic, racial, religious, and geographic barriers.
Socialism was never the problem, but it could be our solution and path to political dominance.
Benjamin Salinas is Texas Signal’s social media manager, former Campus Leader for the Bernie 2020 campaign, and a native of Alice, Texas.