We are not tacos, bodegas or blossoms.

First Lady Jill Biden compared Latinos to inanimate objects in her speech last week at the UnidosUS conference held in San Antonio.

She praised Raul Yzaguirre, the former president and CEO of the organization, who was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Joe Biden. 

“Raul helped build this organization with the understanding that the diversity of this community – as distinct as the bodegas of the Bronx, as beautiful as the blossoms of Miami, and as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio – is your strength,” the First Lady said, also mispronouncing the word “bodega.”

The reaction was swift.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) issued a statement.

“We are not tacos,” and “do not reduce us to stereotypes.”

After the backlash, Biden apologized.

“The first lady apologizes that her words conveyed anything but pure admiration and love for the Latino community,” Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesman, said.

But she isn’t the first politician to reduce Latinos to food.

Remember Donald Trump’s tweet about taco bowls on Cinco de Mayo 2016.?

“Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

Trump, unlike Biden, did not apologize. And we know that he used worse language to demonize Mexicans and immigrants during his presidential campaign and presidency. 

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” Trump said to kick off his presidential campaign.

This was a deliberate strategy to build up anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment and it worked to get Trump more racist and xenophobic voters.

The First Lady and the Democratic Party should know better. The fact that she and her team, which includes Latinos, wrote and reviewed that speech illustrates just how disconnected some Democrats are from the diverse Latino community.

Instead Biden could have praised the specific work UnidosUS, the largest Latino civil rights organization in the country, is doing to uplift the Latino community.

UnidosUS is partnering with MiFamiliaVota to mobilize Latino voters in a $15 million, multi-state, Latino field organization.

In June 2022, UnidosUS organized 20 civil rights, consumer, and housing organizations to urge Congress to include equitable housing investments to narrow the racial wealth gap and increase fair and sustainable homeownership opportunities for communities of color.

At the annual conference, they also recognize the work their affiliate organizations and nonprofits are doing to support the diverse Latinx community on housing, immigration, education and more. This year, they awarded Puerto Rico’s One Stop Career Center with the UnidosUS Affiliate of the Year Award.

It’s maddening when those who are supposed to be our allies, like Jill Biden, and her team get it really wrong. 

I’m a member and former board member of NAHJ and I agree the organization should hold our public officials accountable.

“Our mission is to ensure the Latino community is accurately & fairly represented in the media. We hope this incident triggers a more thoughtful discussion in the future about how to convey the diversity & issues facing Latinos across the country,” NAHJ tweeted.

But let’s not lose sight of what is at stake in this critical midterm election year and all the work that needs to be done to advocate for our community’s civil rights and human rights. 

Teresa Puente

Teresa Puente has spent her career reporting on immigration and Latino issues in the U.S. and has also reported extensively from Mexico. Previously, she was a staff reporter at the Chicago Tribune and...