October 13, 2014
By Griselda Nevarez
With less than a month before the November elections, more and more candidates across the country are participating in debates conducted entirely in Spanish in an attempt to court Latino voters.
From California to Florida, Spanish-language networks are hosting such debates regardless of whether the candidates are fluent in Spanish or not. Most candidates have used translators to answer questions during the debates while some have been able to answer questions in Spanish. These debates comes at a time when candidates are acknowledging the ability of Latino voters to swing elections.
Ben Monterroso, executive director of Mi Familia Vota, said participation in Spanish-language debates is a way for candidates to directly appeal to Latino voters.
“I think it’s about time they start talking with us instead of just talking about us,” he told VOXXI, referring to candidates.
One Spanish-language debate hosted by Univision took place October 4 in California between Republican Congressman David Valadao and Democratic challenger Amanda Renteria. They are both competing for the state’s 21st Congressional District.
In New Mexico, Democratic challenger Gary King took on Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, the country’s first Latina elected governor, in a Spanish-language debate hosted by Univision on October 6.
The most recent debate held entirely in Spanish took place in Florida on Friday. That debate, hosted by Telemundo, involved Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, who’s a former Republican governor of Florida.
But not all candidates who’ve been invited to participate in Spanish-language debates have agreed to do so. Monterroso noted there have been candidates who’ve passed on the opportunity to participate in these Spanish-language debates.
One example he pointed to occurred in Arizona. Univision and Mi Familia Vota originally programed a debate in Spanish on October 9 between the top two candidates running for superintendent of public instruction. The debate was converted into a 30-minute televised town hall meeting with Democratic candidate David Garcia when Republican candidate Diane Douglas was unable to participate due to scheduling conflicts.
“When candidates have an opportunity to be on TV for half an hour … and they have no time to come and talk to our community, it makes me question whether they’re going to have time to talk to us once they get elected,” Monterroso said.
Like Monterroso, Henry Muñoz III, co-founder of the Latino Victory Project, also welcomed the idea of having candidates participate in Spanish-language debates. But Muñoz said it’s also important to keep in mind that Latinos are diverse when it comes to the languages they speak.
“The Latino community of the United States—because of all its complexity—needs to be understood as a bilingual, bicultural, biliterate community,” said Muñoz, who’s also the Democratic National Committee’s finance chair. “And any effort to communicate with our community in that matter is a step in the right direction.”
Several reports by the Pew Research Center back Muñoz claim about Latinos being diverse. One report shows that today, three-fourths of all Latinos who are 5 years or older speak Spanish in the United States.
Another report finds that as the Latino population in the U.S. evolves, the language use among Latinos also changes. For example, the report shows immigrant Latinos are most likely to be proficient in Spanish but least likely to be proficient in English. Meanwhile, the use of Spanish falls as the use of English rises among second-generation Latinos. And among third-generation Latinos, English use is dominant.
Nonetheless, Muñoz said he thinks “it’s a good idea” to have candidates participate in Spanish-language debates.