Following last week’s election, a national organization is bringing attention to Hispanic gains in Congress.
Among the five new Hispanic Republican members, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials counted two Texans, including Rep.-elect Bill Flores.
Flores has a Hispanic surname and said his ancestors came to Texas from Spain centuries ago. But unlike some of his Republican counterparts, he has largely avoided discussing his heritage on the campaign trail.
“I am of Hispanic origin, but I’ve never used that as a calling card in this campaign,” said Flores, who defeated incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco.
“My family came from Spain in 1725, and if people want to consider me Hispanic, they can,” he said, “but I didn’t advertise that way, and I’m an American first.”
Other recently elected Hispanic candidates took a different approach.
Francisco “Quico” Canseco, R-San Antonio, who ousted Rep. Ciro Rodriguez last week, played up his ability to speak Spanish in a district with a high percentage of Hispanic voters.
When asked by NALEO, Flores said he considers himself to be Hispanic.
The group tracks the number of Hispanic legislators and has a careful process for identifying Hispanic candidates.
Duke Machado, a conservative Hispanic activist from Woodway, also noted that Flores has talked about his roots in informal settings, as was the case in September when a commenter on Machado’s website brought it up.
Flores said at the time that his family came from Spain and settled near Nacogdoches, saying, “Our family is fortunate to have a well-documented history in a book titled ‘The Flores Family — 1725 to 1963’ by James F. Padgett.”
Machado — a Flores supporter and the founder of the Hispanic Republican Club of McLennan County — said Flores’ approach was appropriate and that policy positions should trump race in elections.
He said Flores’ ancestry differs from that of many Waco Hispanic immigrants, who came to the country more recently from Mexico.
“But what does that matter if you’re focused on addressing the issues of the community?” Machado said.
During the campaign, Machado and other Flores backers stressed Flores’ anti-abortion stance at Hispanic community events in Waco.
Flores on immigration
Hispanic Democrats, including Robert Aguilar with the Tejano Democrats of Central Texas, have focused on immigration policy and programs benefiting poor people.
Aguilar said he didn’t know until told by a reporter whether Flores considered himself to be white or Hispanic.
He added that Flores is in the minority among members of the Hispanic community on the issue of immigration.
Flores told the Tribune-Herald , “I will never support amnesty legislation because it will not work,” referring to a process through which illegal immigrants could be put on a legal path to citizenship.
He’s said such a policy would be unfair to legal immigrants.
“Flores’ position on immigration hurts people of his own blood,” Aguilar said.