I don’t think I had a taco breakfast.
She’s eaten all kinds of tacos — fish, beef, and chicken, among other delicious fillings — but they haven’t been as unique as the San Antonio tacos that First Lady Jill Biden alluded to on Monday while speaking at the annual conference of the Latin Civil Rights Group Unidos.
Trying to praise the diversity of America’s Latino community, the first lady said, “We’re as special as the Bodegas Bronx, with the beauty of Miami flowers and as unique as the tacos here in San Antonio.” She also mispronounced bodegas, a popular local NYC grocery store, and later apologized for the entire disaster. The gaffe was worthy of being bored, as when her husband played the Spanish pop song “Despacito” at his campaign appearance in Florida.
As a Latino, I’m not mad that the first lady compared me to a taco for breakfast. I’m even more upset that she didn’t push for a proposal like “Healthcare for All” — and that she thinks Latinos would rather hear cliched ideas about “like and love” than support the policies we really need.
I want elected officials to think boldly and critically about what Latinos want, and polls show there are a slew of policies Jill Biden and her husband could push for.
Take Medicare for All, the ambitious proposal to create a single-payer health care system that progressives called on the Biden administration to support (it didn’t). Polls show that 55% of all Americans support this concept, and about 7 in 10 think that a public health insurance option is a good idea.
Latino voters have repeatedly said that health care should be politicians’ top priority. This isn’t a surprise when Latinos are less likely than white and black Americans alike to get insurance, with nearly half saying that limited access to quality medical care is a major cause of worse health outcomes.
Democrats have struggled with messaging since the 2020 presidential election, when Latinos put on a less impressive display than some Democrats had hoped. Hispanic men, in particular, turned out in higher numbers for President Donald Trump than in the 2016 election. It is true that Latinos are not a single bloc, and they are driven by a variety of concerns, including the economy, immigration, COVID-19 and of course health care. These issues have been, to varying degrees, the reason why Trump has made such strides among our society, according to some scholars.
Trump spoke of economic frustrations and emphasized his desire to grow the economy and find jobs, messages that may have moved Latinos in places like South Texas, which has high rates of poverty and has been hit hard by COVID-19. In counties near the Texas and Mexico borders, Joe Biden won 17% in 2020 compared to Hillary Clinton’s 33-point margin in 2016. Nationwide, Trump received 28% of the Hispanic vote in 2016 and about 32% in 2020.
But I think this explains why Democrats can’t try to placate Latino voters with platitudes and the praises of the crisp taco. Democrats need to be more attuned to the economic and social policies that Latinos said they care about. This is one reason why Bernie Sanders, a so-called Democratic Socialist, has favor among Latinos, who turned the tide in his favor during the major primaries. Sanders has 53% of the Hispanic voter in Nevada. 49% in California and 39% in Texas. Address the everyday economic issues that affect many Latinos and gain their trust.
“He has a lot of credit in the Latino community for being honest and not pretending to be something he isn’t,” Belen Sessa, a former deputy press secretary to Sanders, said in a 2020 interview with Jacobin. “He won’t get rid of a few phrases in Spanish and assume that’s enough to make you feel you can trust him.”
Perhaps Jill Biden was well-meaning in her remarks at the San Antonio conference. I’m sure the breakfast tacos are unique and delicious. But instead of hearing truisms about our society, Dr. Biden can make an even greater impact by declaring her support for much-needed legislation.