As much as I enjoy laughing at political gaffes—like the politico who tried to eat a tamal without removing the husk—I’m here to help prevent the 2024 US general election’s ingenues from many Latino faux pas that have cost previous candidates their posts, many votes, and even more embarrassing memes.
These campaign gaffes run the gamut from silly and cringey to totally offensive. Like claiming to be “just like our abuela,” playing Luis Fonsi’s hit song “Despacito” from their cellphone during a Latino event, or posing in front of a hideous “taco bowl” as proof of their popularity among Hispanics.
Pandering to Latinos with more style than substance has become so popular, that there is even a term for it: Hispandering. Hispandering can be used as both a verb and a noun, and describes someone pretending to like our food, our music, or our language to get our vote—especially when they aren’t truly concerned with the issues we care and worry about.
WARNING: Before you keep reading and/or vote me off the internet, please remember this column was conceived to be handled with a serious dose of humor.
The Great Tamal Incident and Visits to El Gordo
Hispandering is, unfortunately, an American tradition going back to as early as 1976, when Gerald Ford, while campaigning for reelection in Texas, was offered a plate of tamales and bit into them without removing their husk (as one should). This, of course, was a huge embarrassment in a state with the largest population of Hispanics and where, presumably, everyone most people would know how to eat a tamal.
While I’m not 100 percent certain that Ford lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter as a result of the “Great Tamal Incident,” I can assure you this gaffe was only the beginning of the, often, food related exploits. Perhaps because food is the only thing many of these politicians (sort of) know about Latinos, they often opt to their deliver stump speeches at our favorite eateries.
Take all the candidates that have made tactical stops at Las Vegas’ famed taquería, El Gordo, including Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton and President Biden himself, all of whom made headlines by asking for their favorite taco-enchilada-burrito combo and afterwards posing next to a taquero in charge. As well as when then Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris ate arepas at Doral in order to mingle with a large Venezuelan population in a heavy Latino and Republican state. She peppered her visit with a few words in Spanish and posed for selfies with enthusiastic locals.
Basically, our people open their minds and their kitchens to these politicians, and all we get in return are a few selfies. Plus, they’re probably contributing to making our favorite watering holes more expensive.
Alas, the cringe is not limited to food. I am old enough to remember when Hillary Clinton, while running for president in 2015, posted a litany of reasons on her website for why we should vote for her because she was really just like our abuela.
The tactic not only backfired but also gave rise to a hilarious Twitterstorm with thousands of Latinos (yours truly included) using the hashtag #NotMyAbuela in a sign of protest and to make sure our grandmothers were not to be compared to anyone—not even “La Hillary.”
Speaking of grandparents, right before the 2020 election and during a Hispanic Heritage Month event, Joe Biden took out his phone and played “Despacito” for the audience. What else is one to do when faced with talking to a bunch of Latinos?
And don’t get me started on anti-immigrant, far-right Hispanic Republican politicos who tend to remember their roots only when they’re running. Yes, I’m talking about Ted Cruz, back in 2015 when he launched a Spanish-language campaign ad trying real hard to tell us he’s just like us. ¡Sí, cómo no!
Hispandering examples abound, and this writer cannot wait to see what our fearless politicos have up their sleeve for 2024 when an estimated 34 million Latinos will be eligible to vote. Making appearances at a Bad Bunny concert? Speech stumping inside a NYC bodega? Putting a taco on the flag? Oh, the possibilities!
Stay tuned for Laura Martinez’s next Hisplaining column, which will tackle other key biz terms and jargon and help leaders everywhere smoothly navigate the multicultural business world. In the meantime, send us tips and ideas for other terms and jargon that you’d like to see us feature. And remember: Don’t panic . . . it’s just his-PANIC!