A recent Time op-ed argued that Hillary Clinton’s running-mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, was among a long list of examples of American brands and leaders that pander to Latinos.
When Clinton announced her pick, many Latino pundits were disappointed, but there was a silver lining offered: Tim Kaine speaks Spanish! Rather than address the lack of people of color running for and winning higher office, Latino communities were expected to be content with the fact that Kaine speaks both English and Spanish.
Big deal. So do I. So does my family. So do millions of Latinos. So did Jeb Bush, now the long-forgotten Republican presidential candidate hopeful. The U.S. has the second most Spanish speakers in the world, following Mexico. Roughly 11.6 million people in the U.S. are bilingual.
Yes, capturing the hearts and minds of a diverse $1.3 trillion market is a top priority for U.S. companies and political parties, and some get their Latino outreach horribly wrong. Tim Kaine isn’t one of those people.
The three basic rules for engaging Latino voters and consumers are: (1) Be Authentic: Latino consumers and voters are sophisticated and can sniff out phonies. We want policies and brands that advance our communities and we will not automatically support you merely because you speak Spanish, particularly Latino millennials; (2) Values Matter: All Latinos want to know that you respect our culture and share our values; and (3) Understand the Nuances: Brands and politicians should understand the diversity among Latinos. Salvadorians in Columbia Heights, Boricuas in Alphabet City, and Cubans in Kendall are all Latinos, but they’re also different consumers.
Tim Kaine’s Latino outreach doesn’t just follow these rules, it embodies them. Here’s why:
- Authenticity: Kaine’s near-perfect Spanish isn’t a phony focus group concoction; it’s who he is. He didn’t learn Spanish to win votes, and he doesn’t just speak it come election time. More importantly, his policy positions—from immigration reform to health care to taxes, education, and U.S. Cuba relations—are perfectly aligned with the views of the majority of voters within Latino communities.
- Values: How Tim Kaine learned Spanish—as a Jesuit missionary helping impoverished families in Honduras—speaks volumes about his personal values, and most importantly, it shows that he values Latinos. Regardless of whether you’re a Spanish-speaking Latino or not, all Latinos can respect Kaine’s life story and the fact that he’s a white politician who embraces their culture at a time when it’s under attack.
- Nuances: Hillary Clinton introduced Tim Kaine in Miami where speaking Spanish isn’t just smart politics, it’s necessary to a large and critical voting and consumer bloc in the country’s top swing state. For example, in the Miami media market, Univision and Telemundo newscasts frequently win the ratings battles among all demographics.
While it’s true that Clinton would have likely won Latino voters by large margins regardless of whom she selected as her running mate, based on what I’ve described above, we shouldn’t dismiss Tim Kaine’s role in helping to broaden or deepen her support among Latinos and/or non-Latino voters who value diversity. It would be wise for Latino leaders to resist accusing someone who has dedicated his life to serving our communities, shares our values, and understands our diversity of pandering merely because he speaks Spanish.
Kaine’s fluency, life decisions, and values should be praised by Latinos, as should those of other politicians and brands that follow suit.