I was reminded this week of 1980, when my father — who was the founder of a national organization representing the interests of Hispanic business owners — got involved with the presidential election in order to support Ronald Reagan.
My dad had been told by his friends that because he was Hispanic he needed to support the Democratic candidate for president. But while he was, of course, proud of his Mexican heritage, my father did not make decisions based on his identity as “Hispanic.” First and foremost, he identified as a business owner and he knew that his philosophy for his business and community were more in line with Ronald Reagan: smaller government, freedom, effective national security, and personal responsibility.
Indeed, my father’s philosophy and Reagan’s were very much aligned. Once he was president, Reagan sought my father’s council both as an entrepreneur and as a Hispanic leader. The two men didn’t always agree, but they discussed their differences and learned from one other.
Who will Donald Trump turn to in the Hispanic community? Will Mr. Trump’s administration actively engage with Hispanic associations and interest groups? If so, which ones, and to discuss which issues? Thanks to some memorable flash points during the 2016 presidential campaign, there will be great interest in the answers to these questions and the Trump team will have to proceed with as much caution as enthusiasm.
As they move forward in their engagement with the Hispanic community, Mr. Trump and his advisers should not be distracted by the media’s false narrative that Hispanic groups only care about immigration. An open-minded look at the Hispanic advocacy community will instead reveal these important truths to the Trump team:
• Like our community as a whole, Hispanics are not monolithic in our views.
• Those of use who are authentic representatives of our community do not place immigration at the top of our policy priorities because it is not the No. 1 priority of Hispanics. The economy, health care and terrorism-national security consistently outrank immigration as issues of concern for Latinos.
• All advocacy groups will claim to care about Hispanics’ economic opportunity, but very few focus on entrepreneurship — in spite of the fact that it is uniquely strong in the Hispanic community.
Advocates claiming to represent Latinos by focusing solely on immigration, or on the jobs that can be created by big business, are the false prophets of Hispanic advocacy. Our community is more interested in self-starting, and in living their American dreams. Consider these facts:
• There are more than 4 million Hispanic-owned businesses in America, with more than $660 billion in combined annual revenue.
• Latino entrepreneurs are 1.5 times more likely to become business owners and those businesses are growing at 15 times the national growth rate.
Hispanics know that owning your own business is the best way to achieve upward mobility; this is the conversation they will want to have with President Trump.
Those Latinos like my father who voted for Ronald Reagan didn’t believe the characterizations of his political enemies: that Reagan was not qualified to be president, that he would be insensitive to the little guy and would most likely start a third world war.
Hispanics who voted for Mr. Trump did so in spite of the same characterizations of our next president.
In both cases, the Hispanics who voted for the Republican candidate — instead of the Democratic candidate, like they were “supposed” to do — voted their self-interest. They voted for the possibility that we could grow our economy again while also protecting our nation from international threats.
In spite of his perceived missteps with the Hispanic community during his campaign, Mr. Trump’s relative success with this demographic group (he earned about 30 percent of the Hispanic vote — more than Mitt Romney) is an indication that his messages on fighting terrorism, and on small-business issues like regulations and health care, may have broken through. This is where Mr. Trump’s next conversations with the Hispanic community should begin.
Mr. Trump will do well to follow Reagan’s example: connect with Hispanic leaders and organizations that share his philosophy about government, business and economic opportunity.
• Hector Barreto is chairman of the Latino Coalition and former U.S. Small Business Administrator.