Who would have thought that it would take Donald Trump to galvanize the Latino community into action?
In what represents a welcome sign of progress, the US Latino community claimed a major victory this week when it organized in opposition to Trump’s derogatory and racist comments about Mexicans. Trump, in remarks kicking off his GOP presidential candidacy, said Mexican immigrants are bringing drugs and crime. “They’re rapists,” he said. “They’re sending us not the right people. . . . It’s coming from all over South and Latin America.”
The online reaction was quick, as Trump (troll level = expert) probably expected, and the media obliged and gave him the attention and the airtime he wanted. (It’s worth noting that this is not Trump’s first attempt at race baiting. In the late ’80s, he took full page newspaper ads to call for the death penalty for the so-called Central Park Five, the black and Latino men wrongfully convicted of raping a woman while she was jogging in the park.) What Trump didn’t expect this time around was what happened in the days after his comments, culminating with NBC Universal’s decision Monday to cut all business ties with Trump and his companies.
First, Univision came after him. The biggest Spanish-language TV network in the country announced it was canceling the transmission of Miss Universe, a joint business venture put together by Trump and NBC Universal. An online petition at Change.org demanding NBC to put an end to all its relationship with Trump went viral. Then followed an increasing number of sponsors and celebrities denouncing Trump’s hate speech: from Ricky Martin and Juanes to Roselyn Sanchez and Christian de la Fuente (who were both slated to host Miss USA 2015, another Trump-owned pageant.) Digital outlets like Latino Rebels stayed on the story, and groups like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda — made up of 39 Latino advocacy organizations — mobilized and used the Internet to call for a boycott of Trump and its enterprises. It all amounted to the kind of pressure that NBC couldn’t afford to ignore.
Indeed, NBC’s decision to cut ties with Trump is already being celebrated as a “watershed moment for Latino clout” and a victory of “civil rights leadership in the digital age.” Yes and of course. But this is also a key teaching moment. Trump’s fall from NBC worked because Latinos decided to use a powerful lever: Miss Universe, a pageant that stays relevant first and foremost thanks to Latino audiences that produce the kind of ratings networks love. And Telemundo, the other major Spanish-language TV network in the country, is a subsidiary of NBC Universal. “The Latino community made it very clear that if you own [Spanish network] Telemundo and your principal audience is Latino, you can’t keep going in a direction in which you normally would go, you have got to change and follow the Latino community,” said Félix Sánchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts.
In stark contrast stands the mute reaction to Trump’s comments by the other presidential candidates. Where’s the outrage coming from GOP candidate Jeb Bush, whose own wife is Mexican? Or from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who has been filling key positions in her campaign with Latinos and Latinas? No candidate among them decried Trump’s anti-Latino comments. What a missed opportunity.
Let this be a lesson in the powerful weapon that Latinos hold in their purchasing power: We may still be considered invisible or not yet as relevant when it comes to electoral politics, but we’re now learning how to speak up with our wallets. As for Trump, I will quote the eloquence that only the New York Daily News can invoke: “Vaya Clown Dios.”
Marcela García is a Globe editorial writer. Follow her on Twitter: @marcela_elisa.