The perfect Latino for the American political campaign is the one who swoons at a botched “¡Si se puede!” from a candidate at a rally, and asks for nothing more. As they exist in American politics, “Latino” or “Latinx” as umbrella terms have been used to homogenize the experiences and interests of a vastly diverse array of cultural identities. While the emergence of “Latino” as an umbrella term in recent decades has created both community and political power within our own communities, the external imposition of the Latino blanket term has stifled these benefits by linking the term to the relinquishment of national identity or cultural distinction. American popular and political conceptions of Latinidad chip away at the unity of Latino communities in the United States by creating a catch-22: identifying with Latino as a term runs the risk of contributing of the generalization of Latin-American experiences, while rejecting the term is to renounce the social and political power that Latinos have fought for in the United States. As a demographic community, we can and should benefit from embracing “Latino” as a cultural identifier while we work to diversify its definition in the realm of U.S. national politics.

The rapid rise of the political use of “Latino” in the United States in recent decades has been used to generalize our interests and minimize the ideological diversity of the demographic community. As Latinos have become the country’s largest minority voting bloc, the “Latino vote” has become a highly sought after strategic prize by both Democratic and Republican national candidates. But this pursuit — while indicative of the political power that Latinos have managed to amass under a unifying term — is often misguided and politically, as well as culturally, uninformed. Think back to the 2020 presidential primaries: Beto O’Rourke making an objectively awkward but valiant effort to drop a few points in Spanish, Cory Booker following suit with attempts at the language reminiscent of an L2 graded discussion, while the only actual Latino candidate on the stage, Julián Castro, was comparatively reserved in his use of Spanish and focused on the policies laid out in his platform. 

Latino voters won’t be swayed by butchered Spanish on national television — we need to see adequate attention paid to the issues that concern us as individuals and dynamic communities, including and beyond immigration. National politicians and their campaigns evidently know that Latinos are an integral part of the path to victory in many states, and yet so many fail to demonstrate an understanding that this path varies wildly based on the history and culture of the Latinos they are courting. Roughly 19.6 million Latinos in the United States, or 55 percent, identify as Catholic. While religious identity can sway key issues like abortion or same-sex marriage, the majority of Catholic Latino voters are solidly Democratic, with about 68 percent identifying as Democrats or leaning toward Democratic. Country of origin is another predictor of hugely disparate political behaviors. Nationally, 58 percent of Cuban voters affiliate with or lean toward the Republican party. In comparison, exit polling results and analysis in Arizona after 2020 showed that 63 percent of Latino votes in the state went to Biden, with Mexican Americans making up the largest ancestry group.

All of this is not to say that we should do away with “Latino” as a term — there is much to be gained from embracing Latino as a cultural identifier within the United States. Creating connections and associations between Latino communities within a population where we exist as ethnic minorities is positive and necessary. The Latino community is highly racialized, despite being a cultural identification. Two-thirds of Latino adults describe their Latino background as part of their racial identity, and Latinos in the U.S. often face a common set of stereotypes and barriers associated with Latinidad, regardless of culture or country of origin. 

It has historically been difficult to articulate this racialized existence in the absence of a way to identify this broader community — identifying as Latino creates language that allows us to describe both our individual and collective experiences. The popular representation of Latinos, especially in recent years, has been portrayed as threatening the position of whiteness in the United States — see the use of “invasion” to describe refugees, or covert fear mongering about demographic shifts led by a growing Latino and Asian American population that will lead to a white minority. 

Media representations of Latinos seldom include Afro Latinos, however, despite one quarter of U.S. Latinos self-identifying as such. They, as well as Indigenous Latin Americans, have been historically excluded from seeking community in the identity of Latinidad. This external imposition of Latinidad, coupled with the rampant racism and colorism in Latino communities, has linked the term “Latino” to a surrender of intersectional identity. 

We must work to extricate “Latino” from these implications, and reclaim the term as an intersectional and encompassing unifier that works not to stifle or generalize our diverse experiences, but to give voice to them. Only then will “Latino” see its full potential realized: to unify us on our own terms.

This piece was produced for the Latinx Special Issue.

ISABELLA WALTHER-MEADE is a first-year in Branford College. Contact her at