Ruben Navarrett Jr / Politics

Habla Espanol? Who Cares

SAN DIEGO - For many Latinos, conservatives have a reputation for being heartless. Now some folks on the right are trying to be cute.

Some conservatives are trying to have some fun and turn the tables on liberals. They're doing so by advancing an idea that is often used as a weapon against Latino Republicans -- namely that you can't be authentically Latino, or a credible leader of Latinos, if you don't speak fluent Spanish.

Over the last several decades, Latinos on the left have often attacked their colleagues on the right for not being Latino enough. And the measuring cup they've used to assess how much is "enough" is one's ability to speak Spanish.

My, how things have changed.

You know who speaks Spanish really well? Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican who is often attacked by other Latinos as a "sellout" who puts his party before his people.

And do you know who, by his own admission, doesn't speak Spanish well at all? San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who gave the keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention.

The speech was a touchdown. Castro masterfully delivered a moving tribute to his family, culture and country that spoke clearly to a group of voters that has helped elect Democrats for 50 years but gotten little in return. It was a nail in the coffin of Mitt Romney's Latino outreach efforts, as feeble as they have been.

What were Republicans supposed to do? They had to respond by attacking Castro. But with a reputation for being squeaky clean, he didn't give them much dirt to work with.

Except that Castro admits he "doesn't really speak Spanish" as well as he would like. That's what the mayor told a writer for The New York Times Magazine, who penned a profile of him in 2010.

For some reason, the conservative website The Daily Caller found this admission damning -- along with the additional fact that Castro hired a Jewish woman in 2009 to tutor him in Spanish. It published an article noting that while Castro had sprinkled some Spanish into his speech, comparisons to Rubio were incomplete because "Rubio is fluent in Spanish."

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Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group



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