Jill Biden causes flap by comparing Latinos to tacos


That’s the message the National Association of Hispanic Journalists and others sent to First Lady Jill Biden after comments at a conference of Latinos in San Antonio on Monday in which she appeared to compare Hispanics to tacos.

Addressing the annual UnidosUS conference in Texas, the first lady praised the diversity of the community, saying it was “as distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the flowers of Miami and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio”. .”

Biden also mispronounced “bodegas” when attempting to praise the Latino community, and a music video of his remarks has garnered more than 2 million views.

The backlash was quick. In a tweet, NAHJ wrote that the organization “encourages @FLOTUS and its communications team to take the time to better understand the complexities of our people and our communities. We are not tacos. Our heritage as Latinos is shaped by diverse diasporas, cultures and food traditions.

“Don’t reduce us to stereotypes”, the tweet concluded.

On Tuesday morning, Michael LaRosa, spokesman for the first lady, had tweeted an apologywriting, “The First Lady apologizes that her words conveyed anything other than pure admiration and love for the Latino community.”

Most Hispanic and Latino groups have not publicly criticized the first lady’s comments. But that hasn’t stopped some Republicans from taking the analogy and using it to hammer her and her husband, President Biden.

Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Arizona) tweeted a video of Biden’s comments, writing, “Jill Biden says Hispanics are as ‘unique’ as tacos and calls bodegas ‘bogidas’. No wonder Hispanics are shunning the Democratic Party !

An average of Washington Post polls of Hispanic Americans found 49% approved of the way President Biden was doing his job, more than voters overall. Still, his approval rating has declined among Hispanics since last year.

In a series of tweets, Irene Armendariz-Jackson, a Republican congressional candidate in the Texas district that includes El Paso, was particularly pointed. “I am an American born to legal Mexican immigrants,” she said. tweeted. “I don’t identify as Latinx. I don’t identify as a bo-guh-da. I don’t identify as a breakfast taco either. I’m a proud American. I’m a woman. Proud Hispanic Enough of this silly racist complacency, please.

And Danielle Alvarez, communications director for the Republican National Committee, released a statement accusing the Bidens and Democrats of taking the Hispanic community for granted.

“Their attempts at appeasement are disrespectful and derogatory,” Alvarez said in the statement. “With Jill Biden comparing us to tacos, it makes sense that Hispanics overwhelmingly disapprove of this out of touch and failed administration and are leaving the Democratic Party in droves.”

Biden’s remarks at the annual Latino conference went through the regular White House process for such a speech, requiring approval from multiple White House units — including the offices of Intergovernmental Affairs, Legislative Affairs and public engagement – according to a person familiar with the speech, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal dynamics.

As first lady, Biden has become a key administration messenger to the Latino community and immigration activists. The role has met with a mixed response from activists, who say they appreciate her being a direct line to the president, but want to have more direct inroads with White House politicians.

Biden began learning Spanish at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and during the 2020 campaign she began weekly meetings with small groups of Latino members of Congress, sharing their concerns with her husband. During the campaign, she also crossed the border to serve Christmas dinner to asylum seekers at a refugee camp in Matamoros, Mexico.

After her husband was elected, one of Jill Biden’s first acts was to appoint three Latinos to serve as senior members of her team – Anthony Bernal as senior adviser, Carlos Elizondo as social secretary and Julissa Reynoso as chief of staff.

Since then, Biden has participated in a 2022 naturalization ceremony in Bakersfield, Calif., ahead of Cesar Chavez Day. She toured three cities in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month in October and chose Latin America as the location for her third solo trip in May, undertaking a six-day diplomatic visit to three countries in the region. .

In his comments on Monday, a person familiar with the matter said Biden was trying to highlight — however awkwardly — a point of local pride in San Antonio: the breakfast taco.

In an interview, Yvette Cabrera, NAHJ’s online vice president, said that after Biden’s comments, the group’s rapid response team met to gauge its own reaction. Members realized the first lady intended to praise the community, she said, but also concluded her remarks were tone-deaf, and decided to offer a ‘proportionate’ response. – a tweet, rather than a full statement on the band’s website. .

“I understand that her intention was positive – she was trying to compliment the uniqueness of Latinos – but in fact what she did was resort to a stereotype that really did not represent the diversity of the Latino community in the United States. “Cabrira said. “It was disappointing, because it felt like resorting to a superficial stereotype when she could have taken the opportunity to examine and give some examples of this diversity.”

Cabrera added that there are a myriad of complex challenges facing the community — difficulties accessing reproductive health care and abortions, for example, or barriers to voting access — that Biden could have mentioned. to better show his understanding of Latinos.

“It would have been great to see her show her understanding and knowledge of these issues,” Cabrera said.

The first lady isn’t the first political figure to swerve when using food to try to get close to the Latino community. In 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeted a photo of himself eating a bowl of tacos in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

“The best taco bowls are made at Trump Tower Grill,” Trump wrote at the time. “I like Hispanics!”

Mariana Alfaro and Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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