Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Sorry, Bill Richardson: Ted Cruz is plenty Hispanic

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Wed May 8, 2013
 Sen. Ted Cruz, right, urges the defunding of President Obama's health care act as Sen. Mike Lee watches on March 13.
Sen. Ted Cruz, right, urges the defunding of President Obama's health care act as Sen. Mike Lee watches on March 13.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette: Bill Richardson crossed line by implying Ted Cruz not Hispanic
  • Navarrette: Hispanics hurt Hispanics by accusing one another of not being authentic
  • He says if you want to attack Cruz, call him out on politics, not his authenticity
  • Navarrette once played authenticity game, but he says he grew up

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- Oh no, he didn't go there. Even in a political climate where it sometimes appears that anything goes, Bill Richardson crossed the line.

When the former New Mexico governor recently attacked Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, for -- in essence -- not being Hispanic enough, or not being the right kind of Hispanic, Richardson went too far. Way too far.

During a web interview after an appearance on ABC News' "This Week," the Democrat was asked about Cruz and said this:

Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Ruben Navarrette Jr.

"I'm not a fan. I know (Cruz is) sort of the Republican latest flavor. He's articulate. He seems to be charismatic, but I don't like his politics. I think he introduces a measure of incivility in the political process. Insulting people is not the way to go."

Then, Richardson insulted Cruz. He was asked if he thought the senator represents most Hispanics. That's a dumb question. Cruz has never claimed to represent "most Hispanics." Besides, can you imagine someone asking if an Anglo politician represents most Anglos?

Yet, Richardson played along.

"No, no," he said. "He's anti-immigration. Almost every Hispanic in the country wants to see immigration reform. No, I don't think he should be defined as a Hispanic. He's a politician from Texas. A conservative state."

Since leaving government, Richardson obviously has time on his hands and so he has volunteered to assume the burden of sorting through 52 million Hispanics in the United States and deciding which of us are authentic and which aren't. You have to respect the initiative.

For the record, Cruz doesn't think that illegal immigrants should get a path to citizenship, calling it "inconsistent with the rule of law and is profoundly unfair to the millions of legal immigrants who have followed the rules and waited in line for years, and sometimes decades, to come here legally."

Sen. Feinstein: 'I'm not a sixth-grader'
Cruz makes waves with no apologies
Richardson: Uncertainty in NK worrisome

I disagree with most of what Cruz has said about immigration. But I wouldn't say that he is "anti-immigration." That's crazy. He is the son of an immigrant.

Cruz' father, Rafael, who the senator says has been his hero his entire life, left Cuba in 1957 at age 18. The elder Cruz came to the United States not speaking English, with $100 to his name and washed dishes for 50 cents an hour.

I once asked Cruz how he would solve the immigration problem. "No. 1: We need to get serious about securing the border, about stopping illegal immigration, particularly in a post-9/11 world," he said. "But No. 2, we also need to remain a nation that doesn't just welcome but that celebrates legal immigrants who come here seeking to pursue the American dream."

That doesn't sound "anti-immigration" to me.

By the way, Richardson's father, William Blaine Richardson, Jr., was raised in Boston and worked as an executive at American Citibank. He later worked for the bank in Mexico City, where he met and married Maria Luisa Lopez-Collada Marquez, Richardson's mother. Bill was born in Southern California.

By the time Richardson made his way to New Mexico and into politics, he wasn't exactly greeted with mariachis and margaritas by the politicos whose families had, in some cases, lived in the Land of Enchantment for 300 years. Richardson speaks excellent Spanish, but he still had to convince native New Mexicans that he was authentically Mexican-American. He goes by "Bill" not "Guillermo," and "Richardson" isn't a typical Hispanic surname.

So Richardson should know better than to question someone else's authenticity.

In his eagerness to score a point for Team Blue by sniping at a rising star in the GOP, the Democrat wandered into territory that should be off-limits.

For Hispanics, this is our soft spot. We pull each other down, crabs in a bucket. And our modus operandi hasn't evolved in 500 years: We always make it personal. We can't just disagree; we discredit. And we do it by accusing each other of being less authentic than we are. The whole subject is taboo.

On Monday, during another interview, Richardson said his comments were misinterpreted and that what he meant to say is simply that Cruz "shouldn't be defined just as a Hispanic" because there is more to him than that.

If that's where he meant to go, he took the long way there.

If Hispanics want to attack Ted Cruz, fine. Have at it. But attack him for his policies, his politics and his public statements. Not his ethnic authenticity.

As for the territory that is off-limits, I know it well. Memory carries me back to my freshman year in college where, 28 years ago, I indulged in an unfortunate ritual for Hispanic students. It might as well be called: "I'm a real Hispanic, you're a coconut." Brown on the outside, but white on the inside.

Insecure about my ethnic identity, in part because I attended a predominantly white university, I lashed out at fellow Hispanic students. If they had conservative views, I would say they "didn't identify" and accuse them of not being Hispanic enough. Ironically, some of the people I attacked probably spoke Spanish better than I did. The whole exercise was childish, rude and wrong. And by senior year, when I began to challenge the liberal orthodoxy that many Hispanics worship, I got a taste of my own medicine.

I don't play that game anymore. I grew up. In politics, not everyone has.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette, Jr.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
updated 3:00 PM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
John Sutter says the right is often stereotyped on climate change. But with 97% of climate scientists say humans are causing global warming, we all have to get together on this.
updated 8:57 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Andrew Liepman and Philip Mudd: When we declare that we will defeat ISIS, what do we exactly mean?
updated 4:40 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Thailand sex trafficking
Human trafficking is a multibillion dollar global industry. To beat it, we need to change mindsets, Cindy McCain says.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
The leaders of the GOP conferences say a Republican-led Senate could help solve America's problems.
updated 10:01 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Nicholas Syrett says Wesleyan University's decision to make fraternities admit women will help curb rape culture.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Thu September 25, 2014
Mike Downey says New Yorkers may be overdoing it, but baseball will really miss Derek Jeter
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Quick: Which U.S. president has authorized wars of various kinds in seven Muslim countries?
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Women's issues should be considered front and center when assessing a society's path, says Zainab Salbi
updated 2:05 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
A catastrophe not making headlines like Ebola and ISIS: the astounding rate of child poverty in the world's richest country.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT