Romney And McCain, 'Hispanic' Candidates?

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 26, 2008

When Bill Richardson canceled his presidential bid, wags in the Latino blogosphere did not mourn the lack of other Hispanic contenders. They still had the "Mexican-American" and the "Panamanian" vying for the GOP nomination.

Those hombres would be Mitt Romney and John McCain.

A blog called Adventures of the Coconut Caucus had fun consoling readers thus: "But do not worry, there is still a Mexican-American left in the race, Mitt Romney . . . and of course we still have Panamanian John McCain, who is actually not doing as bad as he was, and could, with a constitutional change, become the first Central American President of the United States."

After the first primary, the Coconutters headlined their dispatch: "Panamanian beats Mexican-American in New Hampshire." (The blog's motto is: "We put the panic in Hispanic.")

Scribes, scholars and provocateurs have sounded similar themes in such online realms as Nuestra Voice, Latinopoliticsblog, Latina Lista, the Latin Americanist, HispanicTips, Think Progress and the Huffington Post.

It's all very funny. But it's not complete fantasy. And it says something about identity and labels.

Mitt Romney's father, George -- the late former governor of Michigan and onetime presidential candidate -- was born in the state of Chihuahua, in northern Mexico. Three generations of Romneys lived there, starting with Mitt Romney's great-grandfather, who helped found one of several Mormon colonies in that country in about 1885. Some of those Mormons, including Romney's great-grandfather, who had several wives, were seeking refuge in Mexico from a recent anti-polygamy law in the United States.

But in 1910 the Mexican Revolution broke out, and in 1912 rebel commanders threatened to pillage the Mormon colonies. Five-year-old George and his parents fled back to the United States.

As for McCain, he was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936, where his father, Jack, a Navy man, was stationed.

In a campaign season in which the theme of immigration is about as stable as old dynamite, what is the meaning of these coincidental family histories of border-crossing and Latin American residency? The candidates don't talk about it much. So the bloggers and pundits are filling in the blanks.

"Mitt's papi, George, was born in Chihuahua and therefore more Mexican than your typical Chicano-studies major," writes Gustavo Arellano in his syndicated newspaper column, "┬┐Ask a Mexican!"

Where would Romney be now, Arellano muses in print, "if it weren't for porous fronteras"?

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