OPINION: Latino media CEO’s message for politicos: You’re doing it wrong.

First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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First lady Jill Biden speaks during the American Federation of Teachers convention, Friday, July 15, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

You could hear the uncomfortable laughter in the audience last week when First Lady Jill Biden cheerfully told Latino journalists at a conference that they were “as unique as the breakfast tacos here in San Antonio!”

What Biden seemed to mean as a compliment was an off-key reminder of Donald Trump’s Cinco de Mayo Tweet when he was running for president in 2016. With big smile and a huge taco salad on his desk, he wrote, “Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!”

Neither event really surprised Rene Alegria, the Atlanta-based CEO of Mundo Hispanico, who has watched Democrats and Republicans alike misread Latino voters over and over.

“It’s cringe-worthy whether it’s Left or Right,” he said of most mainstream politicians’ approach to Latinos in the United States. “We have a thick skin about it, but we also are very sensitive to it. Are you pandering? And if you’re pandering, it’s an immediate, ‘Forget it.’”

In an interview this week, Alegria said it’s past time the political world modernized its approach to the country’s 62.1 million Latinos and recognize that the voting block is changing, acclimating, and becoming more complex every day.

Taco Tweets and Spanish-language ads in October before Election Day aren’t going to get the job done.

Alegria’s views aren’t just his personal opinions. They’re the result of a year-long test program that Mundo Hispanico just finished in an effort to expand its reach.

Instead of the Spanish-only content they had delivered before, the company offered content in both English and Spanish based on research that showed the vast majority of the Latino population in the U.S. is now either bilingual or prefers English-first content.

Specifically, Alegria said they found “Latino 1.5″ and “Latino 2.0” groups, who were either brought to the U.S. as young children or were born in the U.S., make up 55% of the U.S. Latino population now. They are English-first speakers, culturally American, and looking for bi-lingual, bicultural content.

With another 17% of Latinos third-generation English-first or English-only Americans, Alegria said he and his colleagues realized they were missing a huge share of their potential audience by providing content only in Spanish.

“We knew that for us to represent the entirety of the Hispanic spectrum, we needed to show that we can address our Latino community in English as well as in Spanish,” he said.

Last month, Spanish-only Mundo Hispanico became MundoNow, with all content in both Spanish and English. Its audience grew by 1.5 to 2 million users per month and they are now the largest bilingual digital media platform for Hispanics in the country.

With 1.1 million Latinos, Georgia is one of MundoNow’s largest markets.

The 2020 Census also showed Georgia has one of the fastest growing Latino populations in the country, with a 32% increase over the last 10 years.

It’s been a cultural sea change for the rapidly diversifying state, where the Asian population was up 53% since 2010, the Black population increased 13%, and whites now make up just over 50% of Georgians.

But the politics of the state have been slower to change — and the approach of Georgia politicians to Latino voters even slower.

Alegria said Georgia politicians can learn from the approach MundoNow has taken by broadening their understanding of who Latinos are and modernizing the way they speak to them.

“If you go to Gwinnett, for example, and you have certain schools that have 60%-plus Hispanic students,” he said. “Those students speak English, those students are Americans, and those students are future voters that are listening to the messaging in English, and are kind of rolling their eyes when politicos try their whole Spanish bit.”

Democrats in Georgia got a major head start courting Latino voters years ago, with a Latino Caucus within the Democratic Party of Georgia, bilingual canvassing, and a Latino Victory Fund to support Latino Democrats running for office.

Although Democrats have typically outpaced Republicans in elections, the latest elections showed that’s slowly changing.

Joe Biden won the Latino vote in Georgia in 2020, but Donald Trump improved his performance among Latinos from 27% of the Hispanic vote in 2016 to 37% in 2020, even as he called for a wall on the Southern border.

And Republicans are looking to expand their share of the vote even more in 2022.

The Republican National Committee opened a Hispanic Community Center two weeks ago and brought RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel to the Suwanee strip mall where it’s located for the event.

Among the groups former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler is funding ahead of the midterms is Georgia United Action, a grassroots group focused on reaching Hispanic voters.

Alegria thinks Republicans’ traditional approach of not segmenting Latinos from other voters may work better for the Latino population of the future.

“I think that Republicans in certain areas are doing a better job authentically courting the Latino vote because they’re not really looking at Latinos as Latinos but just as neighbors and individuals that are part of this community,” he said.

Democrats, he said, “Fall into the stereotype of being almost too politically correct in trying to engage with us and as a result, they miss us.”

As for the issues Alegria sees moving his audiences, the economy, gas prices and inflation are on Latino voters’ minds, just like most voters.

And immigration, which is usually a top message point from some Democratic campaigns, can be just as polarizing an issue for Latinos as it is for mainstream audiences.

Alegria said he sees elected officials and campaigns relying on Spanish-language media veterans for their Latino outreach, an approach that “kind of misses the boat.”

To win over Latino voters now and in the future, “Politicos need to engage with us Latinos in a bicultural, authentic way.

And whatever you do, no more taco references, please.