Opinion | Mayra Flores, a Latina Republican, Sends a Message to Democrats

“The Democratic Party has walked away from blue-collar messaging, which is really aligned with the new immigrant community, mainly Latinos, and actually in some states A.A.P.I., because they’re working those jobs,” Rocha said.

This has opened the door for politicians like Flores to reimagine what the politics of her community should be. This has a special power within immigrant groups — even those who have been in America for a few generations — because their political allegiances aren’t calcified. According to a January Gallup poll, 52 percent of Latinos identify as independent, which is 10 percent higher than the proportion of independents among the American population as a whole. While this is a crude way to measure voter flexibility, it’s also true that over the past 40 years, both major immigrant groups in America — Latinos and Asian Americans — have swung between the two parties at a rate that far outpaced Black and white Americans.

So who does Flores imagine is “us”? Her messaging mostly centered around economic hardship, family and opportunity. In a flier titled “Mayra Flores Will Restore the American Dream,” Flores promises to “stop out-of-control spending to end inflation,” “secure the border” and “expand, not limit, access to health care.” In another, she promises to “get the economy back on track” and “stop inflation in its tracks, and keep more money in your pocket.” And in her acceptance speech last week, Flores said, “The policies that are being placed right now are hurting us. We cannot accept the increase of gas, of food, of medication, we cannot accept that. And we have to state the fact that under President Trump, we did not have this mess in this country.” Her messaging is clear: “Us” refers to the struggling, working-class families who grew up with socially conservative values. “Them” is everyone else.

Flores, then, can act almost as a proof of concept for future Republican candidates. Her invocation of Trump might have caught the attention of headline writers, but her campaign only occasionally mentioned the former president and stayed on message about economic factors, family and what she said were the real values of the people of South Texas: border security, religion, affordable health care, well-funded police and the Second Amendment.

It’s time for Democrats to ask a very simple question: What, exactly, does their party offer working-class immigrants? Note that here I am not talking about the broad, humanitarian ideal of immigration, wherein a government puts aside its nativist tendencies and welcomes people from around the world. I am talking about the millions of first- and second-generation immigrants who still identify strongly with their country of origin but who have mostly come to the United States seeking economic opportunity. They are largely apolitical or independent voters. They get their news from non-English sources far from the reach of things like this newsletter. Like everyone else in America, they tend to vote based on which party better reflects their self-interest.

This is a question I’ve been turning over in my head for the past five or so years, since I noticed that many of the communities I was reporting on — mostly Asian American — did not seem all that concerned with the threat of Donald Trump. This wasn’t a surprise to me. I was not born in this country, grew up in an immigrant household and have spent much of my career reporting on immigrant communities. For many first- and second-generation immigrant families, racism and white supremacy are secondary political concerns. (A Pew poll in 2020 showed that “racial and ethnic inequality” was fourth on the list of Hispanic voter priorities. The economy and health care were at the top of the list. Immigration, for what it’s worth, was eighth, below Supreme Court appointments and climate change.)

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