Spanish lessons for the GOP

By Edward Schumacher-Matos
Friday, December 10, 2010

Newt Gingrich is learning Spanish. Bless his heart.

This is the same person who three years ago called Spanish "the language of living in a ghetto." He quickly apologized and last week hosted his own forum on Latino issues. The only profile in semi-courage among the Republican presidential wannabes, Gingrich even says what no other major Republican is willing to utter.

"We are not going to deport 11 million people," he said at the forum. "There has to be some zone between deportation and amnesty."

There is. It is called comprehensive immigration reform. Or at least the motherhood-and-apple-pie Dream Act, which congressional Republicans are blocking this week. But we knew this was going to happen.

Gingrich represents something new at the top of the party, especially compared with the likes of Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. Like Saint Peter before the crow of the cock, they conveniently forget their earlier support for legalizing most unauthorized immigrants.

Jeb Bush is reemerging from his shell, too. The favorite Anglo of many Latinos, Bush has a Mexican wife, is simpatico and really does habla Espanol - fluently. He accuses both parties of playing politics with immigration but stops short of pushing reform like his brother George did. Jeb's Latino strategy has been to nurture his star pupil, Florida Sen.-elect Marco Rubio.

Add other newly elected Republican Latinos to the launches of Fox News Latino and the Heritage Foundation's, and suddenly making nice with Hispanics has become an incipient Republican cottage industry.

Let us hope it grows enough to shut down the hateful rhetoric and demonizing of Latinos by too many Republicans in recent years. Who cares if the change is done out of political self-interest? Latinos are an estimated 16 percent of the population and growing faster than the rest.

So to help the Grand Old Party, let me explain why even its enlightened leaders will fail if they don't understand why what happens to unauthorized immigrants is so crucial to Latinos. It is all about culture and family values.

The Republican kick-'em-out crowd may say their concern is legal and economic - exaggerated but real concerns - but many studies show that cultural fear is a strong and possibly overriding force. The fear is a natural one of being overrun by Spanish speakers and a foreign culture, whether the immigrants are here legally or not.

Hispanics are assimilating as did immigrant groups before them, and much of the country has come to see diversity as a fundamental American value. Gingrich knows this. But the deportation advocates have cowed the Republican Party with a message of rejection and hate that most Latinos take personally.

In a Pew poll released just before the midterm election, 61 percent of Latinos said that discrimination against Hispanics was a "major problem," up from 54 percent just three years ago. Nearly 80 percent oppose the papers-please Arizona law.

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