A Politician Walks Into King Taco ... A Look At The Political Term 'Hispandering' : Code Switch It wouldn't be an election without a good, old-fashioned, racially charged pun.
NPR logo

A Politician Walks Into King Taco ... A Look At The Political Term 'Hispandering'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458461200/459099539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Politician Walks Into King Taco ... A Look At The Political Term 'Hispandering'

A Politician Walks Into King Taco ... A Look At The Political Term 'Hispandering'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/458461200/459099539" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

OK, now for a bit of political lingo you might not be familiar with, but it's only a matter of time before it's everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Hispandering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Hispandering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Hispanders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hispanders.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: What I call hispandering.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: And if you think I'm not using that at least 15 times this week...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: You're his-crazy.

CORNISH: Latinos are the largest minority group in the United States. They have the numbers to move the needle in next year's elections, so politicians are aggressively going after those votes. NPR's Shereen Marisol Meraji from our Code Switch team says many are doing it by pandering to the Hispanic electorate.

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, BYLINE: Some people rolled their eyes and said Hillary Clinton was hispandering for this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HILLARY CLINTON: I want you to know I am not just la Hillary. I'm also tu Hillary.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: That's Clinton at a campaign event in San Antonio, Texas, referring to herself as the Hillary and your Hillary in Spanish. And Donald Trump - yes, Trump - the man who said Mexican immigrants were rapists and drug dealers, brought a Latino on stage at one of his campaign rallies, and here's what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5: I'm Hispanic, and I vote for Mr. Trump. We vote for Mr. Trump - yeah, Mr. Trump.

(APPLAUSE)

MERAJI: So yeah. Hispandering is bipartisan, a mash up of Hispanic and pandering. It basically means faking interest in Latino issues like immigration and culture - think mariachis - for votes and/or dollars. Its roots are political. A Nexus search turned up the first time it was used on the World Wide Web was way back in 2002 by pioneering blogger Mickey Kaus for Slate. In a short blurb that July, he noted a recent hispandering proposal from then House minority leader Dick Gephardt to legalize undocumented workers. I called him up, and he told me, yep, he just might be the originator.

MICKEY KAUS: I thought I was coming up with it. I mean, I'm always looking for puns.

MERAJI: But when I asked him to take us back to that summer night 13 years ago and give us the play-by-play...

KAUS: I don't remember. I have had some a-ha moments. I don't think that was one of them.

MERAJI: I want a really, really good origin story, and you're not giving me one.

KAUS: I'm sorry. I don't know (laughter). What could you say? It was just another night on the blog.

MERAJI: Oh, boy.

KAUS: Sorry about that.

MERAJI: That unmemorable night on the Kausfiles blog gave us a word that's evolved into a hashtag. Kaus says it works for him because he's against comprehensive immigration reform. So he and others could use it as an epithet. And early on, anti-immigration reform pundits and conservative media lobbed the term at politicians they faulted for wooing Latino voters with friendlier stances on immigration, softening border enforcement or proposing pathways to legal residency for immigrants in the U.S. illegally. But fast forward a decade, and Latino political watchers, many left-leaning, started using it for their own purposes.

JULIO RICARDO VARELA, BYLINE: It's created sort of this genre of political observation and political critique.

MERAJI: Julio Ricardo Varela from the public radio program Latino USA says behind the term hispandering lays a sharp critique of politicians who think taqueria stops, broken Spanish and talking solely about immigration is the way to win Latino votes.

VARELA: Voters are just so tired of it, and specifically Latino voters. And so when they see politicians now, quote, unquote, "hispandering," it's almost, like, become a running joke.

MERAJI: Varela says his Twitter followers frequently send him links to examples of hispandering. For Latino USA, he whittled them down to the top five of 2015. They include president Obama's Cinco De Mayo celebration speech where he mentioned immigration but opened with...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BARACK OBAMA: Tacos and churros and margaritas.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6: And tequila.

OBAMA: And tequila.

MERAJI: So hispandering - will you ever use it?

PILAR MARRERO: No. I've never used it.

MERAJI: Pilar Marrero is the senior political reporter for the Spanish-language daily La Opinion. Marrero says what irks her about the word is that it's the only one like it. She says politicians have been accused of pandering to the elderly, African-Americans, farmers. So why is there only special language when it comes to Latinos?

MARRERO: I think it's kind of ridiculous. You know, I don't like these kind of denigrating terms.

MERAJI: Political strategist Jose Dante Parra says he's seen campaigns get more to sophisticated over the years, so you probably won't catch Ben Carson in a Guayabera on Calle Ocho or Bernie Sanders at King Taco in Los Angeles. Parra, who was the senior adviser to Harry Reid when he was Senate majority leader, even credits the conservative Libre Initiative, a Koch Brothers funded nonprofit, for its approach to winning over the Latino electorate.

JOSE DANTE PARRA: I debated three different people from Libre, and all of them were very articulate in Spanish, whereas five years ago, six years ago, they would have just put somebody on the job based on their last name being Rodriguez.

MERAJI: Deftly navigating the minefields of hispandering is one thing. Genuinely connecting with voters is another. The way Parra sees it - if a politician makes symbolic gestures to the Latino community that go nowhere, it's totally reasonable to wonder if they were just - well, you know the word. Shereen Marisol Meraji, NPR News.

Copyright © 2015 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.