With the Philadelphia mayoral election coming up tomorrow on November 3rd it seems appropriate to reflect on those months leading up to the primaries on May 19th with a focus on the pioneering campaign of Nelson Díaz. Of Puerto Rican descent Díaz was the first Latino to make it to the primaries in the history of Philadelphia. His campaign called for Spanish and English language media to enter into a conversation about what it means to be a member and a worthy representative of the Philadelphia community?
Often the question about Díaz was not about the potential of his policies and plans for the city, but rather would he as Latino really be able to lead our highly diverse city. An analysis of the discourse produced by English and Spanish language media sources during his campaign reveals a battle taking place between those who considered Díaz equal to other candidates and those who cast Díaz as “just the Latino candidate” and painted the Latino community as apathetic to politics.
Díaz regularly spoke against assumptions of him as “just the Latino candidate” as he said in an interview (March 2nd) with Philadelphia Magazine, “I’m not just Latino. I think I am broader than that.” Nonetheless English language media sources repeatedly reported that the success and failure of the Díaz campaign rested solely with voters from the Latino community. For example, on February 17 Ferrick from the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “As the first Latino to run for mayor, Díaz is likely to get a large percentage of Latino votes. But, it will still add up to a paltry number.” The ultimate goal of this article from the Philadelphia Inquirer was of course to frame Díaz’s chance of winning as small due to a low voter turnout in the Latino community.
Al Día actively retaliated against this allegation on the 19th of February in their article, “Low voter turnout isn’t a Latino problem, it’s a Philadelphia problem.” With this article they generalized and reframed this issue of low voter turnout as something experienced not only by Latinos, but a difficulty the entire community of Philadelphia struggles to overcome.
Díaz was not elected mayor of Philadelphia, but his campaign created the space in which the Latino community as represented by the Latino media combatted and can continue to deconstruct misconceptions of Latinos created and perpetuated in Anglo media. As one editorial in El Impacto said just after Díaz announced his campaign, “No matter who wins in the end, this is a clear indication that we have arrived, that we are beginning to count.”
This election year reminded us that as a city we still have a lot of work to do in resolving the timeless question of what it means to be a Philadelphian and who qualifies to be our representative. There is of course no one right answer and any conclusion that we reach will not permanent, but for Latinos who wish to represent the people of Philadelphia as officials of the city it will require working through the issues of membership and belonging in different ways than other candidates and officials.
As consumers of media and members of the body politic of Philadelphia, this means thinking critically about and familiarizing ourselves with the messages created and circulated in the Anglo and Latino media. Who wrote that article? Why was that news story reported in place of a different story? What does the reporter or author want us to think or feel about an issue? What do we actually think of feel about?