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If you are wondering whether Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke is a Latino, the answer is no: he’s a fourth-generation Irish-American whose father gave him the Spanish nickname “Beto.”
And yet, Beto O’Rourke may end up being Latinos’ most effective voice against President Trump’s anti-immigration nationalism.
O’Rourke, who has raised more money online than any other Democratic hopeful on the first day of his campaign, speaks Spanish. More importantly, O’Rourke has turned his multicultural experience as a congressman for the border city of El Paso, Texas, as one of the centerpieces of his campaign.
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While Trump describes the U.S. border with Mexico as a place infested by Mexican criminals, drug dealers and dangerous undocumented migrants, O’Rourke presents his hometown as an unmitigated success story. And he talks about El Paso as an example to follow across the country.
Contrary to Trump’s anti-immigrant narrative, O’Rourke reminds his audiences constantly that El Paso is one of the safest cities in America, and has long been so. In addition, he says that El Paso, like many other U.S. cities, has benefited enormously from the free-trade agreement with Mexico that Trump had denounced as a calamity.
Last month, when Trump went to El Paso to step up his immigrant demonization campaign as a way to request funds for his border wall — the one he had originally said would be paid by Mexico — O’Rourke gave a competing speech, debunking Trump’s dark view about Latino immigrants. As a Miamian, I couldn’t identify more with what O’Rourke said that day.
Referring to El Paso and its next-door city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, O’Rourke said that “Here, in the largest binational community in the Western Hemisphere, two and a half million people, two countries, speaking two languages, with two cultures, and two histories, who come together — are joined, not separated — by the Rio Grande river, forming something far greater and more powerful than the sum of our parts.”
He added, “We have so much to give, so much to show the rest of the country, and we’re doing it right now.”
Days earlier, Trump had falsely claimed in his state of the Union address that El Paso had one of the highest rates of violent crime in America before a barrier was erected, and that — thanks to its wall — it had later become one of the nation’s safest cities.
El Paso’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, tweeted in response that “El Paso was NEVER one of the MOST dangerous cities in the U.S,” and fact-checking websites such as snopes.com and factcheck.org later corroborated that Trump had lied.
Granted, there is already a truly Latino Democratic hopeful, former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro. But so far, Castro has remained far behind in the polls.
And while O’Rourke has the charisma, the Robert Kennedy look, and a massive social media contributors’ network, his positions on most issues are largely unknown. He is believed to be running as a centrist, but even that’s unclear. He has been too slow to denounce Venezuela’s dictatorship and has raised some concerns among Israel supporters.
Also, his rivals will surely claim that his use of a Hispanic nickname is dishonest — his real name is Robert Francis O’Rourke. But he’s not an impostor, in that he did not adopt the nickname “Beto” for political gain. In fact, his father did that for him.
His father Patrick Francis “Pat” O’Rourke, an El Paso County Commissioner and county judge, gave him the nickname Beto — shorthand for “Roberto” in Spanish — when he was a child, in case his son wanted to pursue a political career in the largely Mexican-population border city. Beto O’Rourke has backed up the story by posting a picture of him as a child with a sweater with the word “Beto” on its front.
Now, O’Rourke is perfectly positioned to turn the 2020 election into a campaign of ideas. He should turn it into a race between multiculturalism versus bigotry, globalism versus isolationism, free trade against protectionism, international cooperation versus xenophobic nationalism, decency versus immorality.
If O’Rourke campaigns as a globalist who supports America’s core principles, he will win the support of Latinos and many other Americans — even if he’s ethnically not a true “Beto.”
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” tv show Sundays at 8 pm ET on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera