Hillary Clinton, leave our grandmothers out of it

Story highlights

  • Raul A. Reyes says Hillary Clinton's campaign post comparing her to an abuela was a clumsy case of pandering to Hispanics
  • Clinton, who does well with Hispanic voters, should focus on issues they care about, he says

Raul A. Reyes, an attorney and member of the USA Today board of contributors, writes frequently for CNN Opinion. Follow him on Twitter @RaulAReyes. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)She had to go there.

On Tuesday morning, Hillary Clinton's campaign released a post on her campaign site with the headline "Seven ways Hillary Clinton is just like your abuela." "Abuela" is the Spanish word for "grandmother," so presumably this list was designed to appeal to potential Latino voters.
On the list were items such as, "She reads to you before bedtime" and "she had one word for Donald Trump ... 'Basta!' Enough!"
    With all respect, Clinton's latest effort to connect with Latinos is beyond lame. Her campaign's list is an example of "Hispandering" at its worst. It is condescending to Latinos and has generated deserved pushback on social media.
    Clinton is an intelligent, accomplished woman and certainly presidential material. But let's be clear: She is not "just like" my abuela or those of most Latino voters. My grandmother did not go to Wellesley College and Yale Law School; she was fortunate to finish grade school. My grandmother did not give speeches for $200,000 a pop at Goldman Sachs; for most of her life, she cleaned other people's houses. My grandmother raised seven children In El Paso, Texas, yet did not live long enough to know most of her grandchildren.
    The problem with Clinton's attempt at Latino outreach is that it talks down to Hispanic voters. The "Seven ways" posting seems to have been put together with little thought, as it consists mostly of GIFs and photos. The "reads to you before bedtime" item, which is accompanied by a picture of Clinton with two children who are not her grandchildren, appears to have been taken during the day. Her "one word for Donald Trump" is actually two words -- "Basta! Enough!" -- and "Basta" is not a commonly used expression. ("Ya," which also means "enough," might have been better.) What is conspicuously missing from this not-so-helpful list is any substantive discussion of the issues that matter to Latinos.
    No wonder this effort backfired. By Tuesday evening, the hashtag "NotMyAbuela" was trending on Twitter. Latinos were quick to note the dissimilarities between their grandmothers and Clinton, saying, "My Abuelas survived poverty, abusive husbands, and dictatorships -- Hillary wears designer pantsuits" and "My Abuela worked as a meat cutter in a packing house until she was 66 years old." (@metalbones59).
    Others raised important policy points, such as "Unlike HRC, my grandmother's bills aren't paid for by lobbyists, PACs, and private prisons" (@lowsell) and "My abuela wouldn't support the deportation of central american child migrants to the violent countries they tried to flee from" (@paulinecstasy).
    The negative reaction was so bad that the Clinton campaign later changed its original headline from "Seven ways Hillary Clinton is just like your abuela" to "7 things Hillary Clinton has in common with your abuela."
    Clinton seems to have learned little from an earlier blunder with Latinos. In October, her campaign was criticized for a Spanish-language posting of "Seven things that you didn't know about Hillary Clinton."
    That list was similarly lightweight, containing such nuggets as "She is a grandmother" and noting the fact that Marc Anthony brought Clinton onstage at a concert. It was in Spanish, despite the fact that Latino voters largely speak English; a Pew report in May found that a record 68% of Hispanics speak English proficiently, up from 59% in 2000.
    The most unfortunate aspect of these controversies is that they are so unnecessary. Clinton is extremely well-liked among Latinos and has a sizable lead over all her potential presidential challengers. A Univision poll this summer found that she was the top choice of Latinos over all her potential rivals. Among registered Latino Democratic voters, 73% supported Clinton. An NBC/Telemundo poll this month showed Clinton defeating all of the GOP field in hypothetical matchups.
    Sure, Latino voters appreciate it when candidates make a genuine effort to connect with our community. However, this misfire is proof that we recognize "Hispandering" when we see it.
    Clinton would have done far better to highlight her pledge to take executive action on immigration, her longstanding commitment to civil rights, and her laying the groundwork for the Affordable Care Act, which has benefited millions of Hispanics. These are genuine reasons for Latinos to embrace Clinton, not because she is anything like our grandmothers.
    Instead of relying on gimmicks, Clinton needs to make a serious case for Latino support. And please, leave our abuelas out of it.