How Trump’s comments unleashed ‘Latino Spring’

Updated 1:12 PM EDT, Wed July 8, 2015

Story highlights

Felix Sanchez: Onslaught of protest followed Donald Trump's anti-Mexican remarks, causing three huge media companies to back away from him

He says celebrities have denounced him, and Macy's has dropped his products as Latinos have leveraged their clout

Editor’s Note: Felix Sanchez is the chairman and co-founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

Call it “Latino Spring.”

There were no mass demonstrations in the streets, but Latino protesters amassed online. Their focus? The hurtful anti-Mexican comments made recently by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Felix Sanchez
Courtesy of Felix Sanchez
Felix Sanchez

Latinos gathered in social media circles to condemn, plot and retaliate against Trump with such fervor in the past two weeks that they caused three multibillion dollar media companies to back away from him: Univision, NBC and Televisa.

And on Wednesday, Macy’s announced that it was removing Trump merchandising from its stores after 700,000 people signed a petition.

Trump’s remarks have produced something he and many others likely didn’t intend or anticipate – a galvanizing moment for Latinos across America and beyond. It’s a massive display of zero-tolerance for hateful remarks, and one that carries the weight of a rapidly expanding population carrying $1.5 trillion in buying power. Plugged in and bilingual millennials helped lead the charge. It was the first time in the history of Latino advocacy in America that such an effective response sprang from the ground up.

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Some corporations have taken note. Presidential candidates better do the same.

Let’s pause to recall what Trump said in comments as he announced his presidential run: “When do we beat Mexico at the border? They’re laughing at us, at our stupidity. And now they are beating us economically. They are not our friend, believe me. … When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

The Latino community could not take this quietly, with actors and singers taking to the virtual streets to denounce Trump.

The honor roll of protesters began with J. Balvin, Roselyn Sánchez and Cristián de la Fuente of Colombian, Puerto Rican and Chilean heritage, respectively; all had been scheduled to participate in the Miss USA Pageant on July 12, but on principle dropped out. Cheryl Burke, Thomas Roberts and Natalie La Rose also stepped down from the telecast in solidarity with Latinos, and Mexico has withdrawn from the Miss Universe pageant.

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Latin artists Juanes, Shakira, Maná and Eugenio Derbez offered support in videos and in comments during their concerts. In solidarity, Ricky Martin moved his foundation’s golf tournament from a Trump golf course in Puerto Rico to another venue. And Miss Universe sponsors such as Farouk Systems Inc. withdrew from the Miss USA pageant.

Latinos took to Facebook and Twitter in Spanish and English and to myriad Latino organizations’ platforms, where many were motivated to sign a protest petition on initiated by El Pasoan Guillermo Castañeda: It gathered more than 200,000 signatures in less than three days.

But presidential candidates mainly looked away: Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico and whose children are Mexican American, was best positioned to come out swinging at Trump, but instead offered a tepid response: “I don’t agree with him. I think he’s wrong. It’s pretty simple.”

Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both Cuban American, could have seized the moment and rushed to defend their Mexican American brethren from these charges, but Rubio remained silent and Cruz actually endorsed Trump’s comments.

Had Trump called a woman the B-word, one would imagine that every single presidential candidate would have immediately responded and condemned the remark, but call a Mexican a rapist and what is the response? It seems to be: Just ignore the clown.

At her recent campaign kickoff speech in New York, Clinton said she would “fight for everyday Americans.” But why then, in an interview with public broadcasting’s KNPB did she criticize the “recent entry into the Republican presidential campaign [of someone who] said some very inflammatory things about Mexicans,” but decline to name Trump? Is this the response of a fighter?

Think of what could have happened had she put on those boxing gloves and TKO’d Donald Trump on behalf of the 55 million U.S. Latinos. Think of all the street cred she could have banked. And where was Bernie Sanders? Taking a siesta, I suppose.

Trump’s words, coupled with the weak or absent response of other presidential candidates and elected officials, created a feeling of un desprecio, lack of respect experienced by millions of Latinos in the Americas.

But it was Univision that was the first to recognize and accurately take the pulse of its audience.

It determined that it could not simply pivot away from Trump, as NBC initially tried to do, but needed to divorce from him entirely in solidarity with Latinos.

That put NBC in a quandary: If the network continued with business as usual, it would risk never being able to compete for Latino viewers against Univision with NBC’s own Spanish-language network, Telemundo. In the end, business and common sense prevailed, and NBC parted ways with Trump.

What does this all mean? It means that the presidential campaigns, like many corporate entities, are all in “deep doo doo” with Latinos, to quote a former U.S. president.

These campaigns seem to have more of an AstroTurf than a grassroots outreach effort.

If their political strategists didn’t see – or worse yet didn’t understand the way major corporations do – the opportunity Trump’s remarks had handed them to capture the hearts and minds of Latinos around the country, then you can be assured that the Latino Spring will rise again to issue course corrections, as needed.

Until then, we will be paying close attention.

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