A Romney-Rubio ticket? Not if Hispanics don't see themselves as Hispanic.

A Romney-Rubio presidential ticket may play well to the notion of a "Hispanic vote." But a Pew poll shows why that idea falls flat.

Isaac Brekken/AP Photo/file
A Spanish-language version of a Nevada voter registration form is seen in Las Vegas.

As Mitt Romney steadily ties up the GOP nomination, he’s begun to etch-a-sketch his campaign toward winning “the Hispanic vote.” As America’s largest minority, Hispanics are seen as critical to victory in the presidential race.

Only there’s an awkward problem for Mr. Romney. And it’s not just a Hispanic tendency to vote Democratic. A new survey shows only a quarter of Hispanics actually see themselves as Hispanic.

In fact, of the Hispanics born in the United States, about half say they view themselves as simply American, according to a survey by the Pew Hispanic Center. And more than two-thirds of all Hispanics say they do not see a common culture among Hispanics. In the 2010 Census, more than half of Hispanics checked off the box for “white.”

Identity politics in the US may need a big rethink.

A good example of this is current speculation about Romney possibly picking Republican Sen. Marco Rubio as his running mate, in large part because of the Floridian’s Cuban-American heritage. That may not be such a wise move.

More than half of Hispanics identify most often with their family’s place of origin, such as Mexico, according to the Pew poll. And many non-Cuban Hispanics resent the special political and immigration status given to Cuban immigrants.

This problem of clumping together all US residents with roots in Spanish-speaking nations began in 1976. That’s when Congress mandated the collection of official information about this loose, panethnic category. In 1997, the government created even more confusion by adding the term “Latino.” And then there’s the issue of Portuguese-speaking Brazilians in the US who resent being called Hispanic.

Despite all this, politicians still like to target the 50.5 million Hispanics (or Latinos) in the US. Is this stereotyping worth the effort?

Hispanics make up 16 percent of the population and about half of them are US-born. That seems like a tempting demographic. But in the last federal election, they made up less than 7 percent of voters.

The fluid and complex nature of this group points to the need to treat people as individuals. As a country, rights are granted to individuals, not cultural or ethnic groups. Otherwise it becomes all too easy to create different levels of citizenship.

What holds Americans together is a basic belief in equality before the law. If politics breaks people down into classifications – with some groups more worthy of special favors than others – then the country starts to move away from its adherence to honoring the worth of the individual.

Just look at the youth in Egypt and Tunisia who led last year’s protests to claim their natural rights and freedoms. They’re losing power to Islamist groups who want to smother many universal rights with an official Muslim identity.

So as a Romney versus Obama contest starts to rev up, they need to rise above the kind of pandering to stereotypes that can erode the universal nature of a democracy.

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