Last night, following a State of the Union in which Donald Trump subjected America to nearly an hour and a half of racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor rhetoric, the Democrats served up their response in the form of Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III. Kennedy, a grandson of Bobby Kennedy, did a reasonable job of giving a compassionate reprieve from Trump’s degrading speech.
He also took a moment to shout out DACA recipients and “Dreamers” by delivering a message to them in Spanish:
Setting aside the fact that many DACA recipients and “Dreamers” don’t even speak Spanish or come from Spanish-speaking countries, Kennedy’s bilingual moment was notable for a couple of reasons.
It’s great to be bilingual if you want to communicate with a broader number of people. And for folks like Kennedy and former vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine, who repeatedly used Spanish in 2016 to go off on Trump’s anti-Latinx racism, the use of the language is one of the most immediate ways to verbally and emotionally connect with the Latinx community.
But the one thing better than a white politician capitalizing on the spectacle of speaking Spanish to show support for and court the Latinx community might just be getting more actual Latinx leaders in office and giving them high-profile opportunities. Why not put people who actually are a part of the communities that are so desperately being fought over at the center of the conversation?
Again, good on Joe Kennedy for trying to more directly show Latinx DACA recipients that Democrats will show up for them (even though the Democrats have proven that they won’t). But a better approach for the party as a whole to extend support would be to highlight Latinx voices and leadership. The choice of Kennedy, at a moment when the fate of every DACA recipient is hanging in the balance, to represent Democrats at the State of the Union has meant that their biggest voices on the issue right now—from Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin to House leaders like Nancy Pelosi to Kennedy himself—have all been white. That’s not good enough.