As the world was gripped by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s highly questionable — but, according to the candidate, “not vulgar” — use of the Yiddish-derived word “schlonged,” another perfect storm of language and identity politics was brewing. With little fanfare and using the Spanish word for “grandmother,” Democrat Hillary Clinton rolled out a page on her campaign website apparently intended to firm up Latino support: “7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela.”
The pitch was not nuanced.
“It’s no secret that Hillary is loving her role as grandma,” the page said, noting recent news that daughter Chelsea Clinton is expecting another child. “And she was thrilled to learn that next summer, her granddaughter Charlotte will have a sibling to play with. She’s always happy to talk about her ‘beautiful, perfect’ granddaughter, she’s an eager volunteer for babysitting duty, and whenever she travels around the country, she makes sure to bring back a gift for Charlotte — sound familiar?”
The page then went on to list seven ways Clinton was like “your abuela.” Among them: “She isn’t afraid to talk about the importance of el respeto [respect] (especially when it comes to women)”; “She reads to you before bedtime”; and, in a response to her main rival’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, “She had one word for Donald Trump … Basta! Enough!”
Anyone still in possession of a dusty Obama 2008 “Si se puede” sign knows that candidates must be ready to reach out to a diverse array of voters — particularly Latinos — when trying to win the White House. But, to some on Twitter, this seemed a bit much. Was Clinton, a white woman educated at Wellesley and Yale, trying to somehow inhabit the character of a wise Latina (to borrow a phrase from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor)? Or worse: Was she trying to compare her struggles to that of Spanish-speaking immigrants, many undocumented and still living in the shadows as GOP candidates mull mass deportation?
On social media, outrage was collected under the hashtag “#NotMyAbuela.”
“Let me be clear,” one Twitter user wrote. “… You are #NotMyAbuela and you should fire the person who thought up that awful marketing campaign.” Another: “Hillary compares herself to my Latina grandma’ –Please just stop!” Yet another: “My Abuelita never got to meet her U.S. born grandchildren b/c of unjust immigration laws.”
Yet, this was far from the first time Clinton has courted Latinos, albeit awkwardly.
“I gotta tell you, I love being ‘La Hillary,'” Clinton said at a rally in Texas in October, trying out a nickname that appeared to be a work-in-progress. “I promise I will keep working on my pronunciation — but I’m not just La Hillary. I’m tu Hillary.”
“If Clinton has the Latino vote all wrapped up, as the polls seem to indicate, why is she trying so hard to court that community?” Ruben Navarrette wrote in the Dallas Morning News after Clinton’s visit. “Because her Latino support is a mile wide and an inch deep.” Saying Clinton “ignored due process when she declared that Central American child refugees streaming across the U.S.-Mexico border last summer ‘should be sent back,'” Navarrette added: “And that has a lot to do with the fact that Latinos can never be sure which Hillary Clinton is talking to them.”
Though Clinton may fall have fallen victim to a social media dust-up, her support among Latinos is formidable. In July, a Univision poll found 73 percent of Latino voters would vote for Clinton. In an August Gallup poll, her familiarity and favorability ratings led the Democratic field. In September, a Washington Post-ABC poll found she is strongly favored by voters of color.
Meanwhile, a choice between Trump, who compares immigrants to rapists, and Clinton may be an easy one for many Latinos. In September, a MSNBC/Telemundo/Marist poll found Clinton would take 69 percent of the Latino vote while Trump would take 22 percent. And in the 2008 presidential primary in which she was “schlonged,” as Trump put it, Clinton still won 2-1 among Latinos.
Some — including Eddie Escobedo Jr., the current publisher of the Spanish-language newspaper El Mundo and the son of its former publisher, who died in 2010 — still have fond memories of that campaign.
“The way my dad explained it, she was somebody you could talk to,” Eddie Escobedo Jr. said earlier this year. “She spoke from the heart and asked about what the Hispanic community was going through and what had to be done. My dad was taken aback by Hillary, by how she was able to communicate and listen and how she wanted to help Hispanics.”