I loved Avik Roy’s analogy in his piece on the homepage that “courting Hispanics by passing an immigration bill is like courting a woman by e-mailing her your LinkedIn profile.” It is indeed the case that many Hispanic immigrants don’t feel that the Republican party respects them and that something more sustained is needed than running a few ads on Spanish-language radio every even-numbered year.
And pandering — like, say, delivering the State of the Union response in Spanish — undermines the respect that immigrants need to feel for America, sending the message that we have no culture of our own that they’re morally obliged to take part in as a condition of moving into our national home.
Roy’s solutions are a mixed bag. He’s certainly right that just showing up is a big part of what it takes — actually going to immigrant communities, listening to their concerns and questions, explaining ourselves to them. We should certainly try to learn from the successful work of the Canadian Conservative Party, as he suggests, though Canada’s immigrant flow is radically different in income and education and background from our own.
And speaking of Canada, Roy’s suggestion that “Republicans could probably boost their performance with Hispanics simply by requiring any Republican candidate for Congress or statewide office to take a beginner’s course in the language of Latin America” is the kind of thing that would move us toward Canada in another way. Quebeckers are disproportionately represented in the country’s political elite because the bilingual requirements favor them — they’re a minority that already has to learn English to function, while English speakers outside Quebec don’t normally learn French. In districts or states with lots of immigrants, it certainly can help to speak at least a little Spanish — or whatever other languages are spoken by immigrants there — for the purposes of baby-kissing retail politics, but the business of the nation can only be conducted in the common tongue.
More important, Roy’s suggestions are barely more relevant than e-mailing someone your LinkedIn profile — I don’t know, maybe at the level of following them on Twitter. What’s needed is something a little more sustained. One suggestion is something I posted at Ricochet: The party should open a chain of American Opportunity Centers in immigrant neighborhoods, where a core of paid staff would coordinate grassroots volunteers in teaching English and civics classes and maybe help people file their taxes or navigate the red tape required to start a small business. Not only are things like this in great demand, but such an effort would also enable more ordinary grassroots Republicans and blue-collar immigrants to see each other as they really are, without the distortions of the media or government-funded middle-man organizations.
It’s a long-term proposition, designed to facilitate (and shape) their Americanization, and not one that’s purely political. Sure, they’re still going to vote mostly Democrat for a long time, but it’s a way to speed them along the path to being part of a common American identity — which contributes to the common good regardless of politics, but also can lead in time to more balanced voting behavior more in line with the rest of the population.