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Paula Ramos Discusses New Book 'Finding Latinx: In Search Of The Voices Redefining Latino Identity'

Paola Ramos is the author of a new book named "Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity."
Paola Ramos is the author of a new book named "Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity."

Paola Ramos is the author of a new book named " Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity."

Ramos is also a host and correspondent for VICE and VICE News.

Ramos traveled across the U.S., “ to find the communities of people defining the controversial term Latinx.”

TPR’s Reynaldo Leaños Jr. spoke with Ramos about her book, what Latinx actually means, her time working for the Hillary Clinton campaign and the current election. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

RL: You start your book by saying that you never really came out until recently and that upon reflection, you hadn't come out as your full self until you essentially heard the word Latinx and it basically was able to roll off your tongue. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? Why did Latinx resonate so much with you and what does it actually mean?

PR: I think about when I was younger and I grew up in a household where telenovelas were on the background all the time. My dad's a news anchor for Univision and so, you know, the portrait of the Latinas that I thought I was supposed to look like looked nothing like me.. So that was sort of the first time. I was like, you know what? Like, obviously I'm Latina, but I don't I don't feel like those women that I see on TV.

And then, you know, I'm queer. But then when I would go see my family in Mexico, I felt like I couldn't necessarily be my full self. No, I couldn't be like to queer here. In multiple jobs that I've had, right, and many times they've asked me to wear my Latino hat. But then sometimes I always felt like I couldn't wear both hats at the same time.

My dad's Mexican and my mom's Cuban and so I just felt like a lot of my journey during my youth and even through my 20s was sort of like putting a different hat depending on where I was and when Latinx rolls around... I wish I had a better explanation as to like why. But it truly is that it just felt right. No, I was like, this is a word that doesn't carry a story. When I think of Latinx, there's no stereotype that I associate it with. There's no limitation to the word. And so I don't have to come out. You know, the words sort of like embraces who I am. And I think that's kind of the controversy behind the word that, like, suddenly more people started feeling the same way without knowing why. And then suddenly it went beyond queer folks.

And you ask what the word means for me? It means, you know, the X is simply a more inclusive way of referring to the 60 million Latinos that live in this country. It is a word that right now doesn't carry any stereotypes. And I think that's really needed, particularly in the political moment we are in.

So, in Latinx, you find folks that look like me, but you also find, you know, the three million Afro-Latinos that live in this country and you find black immigrants, you find trans folks, queer folks who find indigenous folks, you find, you know, the over 250,000 Latino Muslims that are around us. And it's a word for liberals, but it also is a word for conservatives. And so it simply forces us to see us holistically in a word, in a way that I don't I don't really think we have in a long time.

RL: Paola, I also wanted to quickly talk about this upcoming election. You worked on the Hillary Clinton campaign back in 2016 as the deputy director of Hispanic media. What do you think that the Clinton campaign missed when reaching out to our community? You know? And how do you think that the Biden campaign is doing? And is there anything you think they should have done differently to mobilize, you know, our diverse electorate?

Provided /

PR: Yeah, I mean, I look back at 2016. And you're right. I think it was an election where we all believed that Latinos would show up in these, like, astronomical numbers. And at the end of the day, we woke up the next day and less than 50 percent of Latino eligible voters showed up. And I do think that at the core of that is because we were believing our own stereotypes. Right.

It is because we didn't have a force, a word, a lens that forced us to go into these battleground states and look for the voices that we hadn't ever looked at. Whether those were Africo-Latino voices in Florida and whether it was like the younger Latino voters in Texas, whether it was like indigenous folks in Arizona. And, you know, queer folks all over the place, like we just were treating the vote in the community as a box and as a label and hadn't really spent enough time understanding the nuances, that I think number one.

What the Biden campaign is doing, look, I mean, perhaps it took a little bit of time, but the truth is now they're spending a lot of money in Spanish. A lot of money in Spanish language ads. They're treating, you know, Texas with what it deserves. Obviously, we have Kamala Harris going, you know, going down there. And so I think they're doing a good job.

But I still think they're scared to ask basic questions and to mess up when it comes to the Latino vote. Right. Which is the question of like, how have Latinos changed? What do young Latinx voters actually want? What does change look like for them? What does it mean to a Latino now with one identity, but with multiple identities? With, you know, sexualities that are different. What does it mean for Latinos to want, like, break taboos and stereotypes? And you find that in Texas many times.

And so I think that there is still a fear of messing up. And to get it right. And I think you need to start asking these questions in order to just get to know us.

RL: And I wanted to follow up on that. I mean, do you think that there needs to be a wider reform within the Democratic Party itself? And if so, what does that look like moving forward. You know, like even after this election. One of the things that you pointed out in your book is that younger Latinx voters are increasingly registering as independent or nonpartisan and that it's no longer enough, you know, for the Democratic Party to be taking this voting group, you know, for granted.

PR: Yeah, I mean, I think the true accountability begins on January 20, 2020 if Joe Biden wins and I think the true change isn't necessarily in the policies. People always want to discuss the policies. At the end of the day, to me, that's pretty it's pretty known what Latinos want.

I think the real change and the accountability will be what does the White House look like? Are there Latinos in power? Not just in the Latino offices, in Hispanic press. Who around you know, the Vice President Biden and perhaps President Biden, who around him looks like us, is thinking like us and looks different from us. I think that is a route of change. And that will be like a sign of progress.

And I think that's something that Bernie Sanders did really well. one of the reasons why there is a vast difference between what his campaign looked like in 2016 versus in 2020. One of the biggest differences is that he empowered black and brown folks in his campaign who went into these battleground states and knew who to talk to, knew who was mobilizing. And I think I think that'll be then the next story of this, you know, of this political era that we're in.

What does accountability look like? It'll depend upon who is brought to the table and I think that will be a big, I hope, a big sign of progress.

If you want to hear more from this interview, click the audio above.

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Reynaldo Leanos Jr. covers immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border for Texas Public Radio.