Beto and the Spanish name-game in the Texas governor’s race

Beto and the Spanish name-game in the Texas governor’s race


Former congressman Beto O’Rourke has recently announced his intention to run for governor of Texas, challenging the incumbent Greg Abbott. This decision has sparked a response from the Republican party, who have begun tweeting about O’Rourke’s full name, “Robert Francis O’Rourke,” in an attempt to emphasize his Anglo heritage. This move by the GOP is reminiscent of their previous use of Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, to insinuate that he was a foreigner. This article explores the implications of this name-game and the larger issue of cultural appropriation in the Texas gubernatorial race.

Abbott’s Strategy and O’Rourke’s Heritage

Greg Abbott, the current governor of Texas, has faced criticism in the past for his anti-immigrant campaign. However, with O’Rourke entering the race, Abbott seems to be following the campaign model of Senator Ted Cruz, who attempted to appeal to Hispanic sentiment by accusing O’Rourke of cultural appropriation. This strategy aims to remind voters of O’Rourke’s Anglo background and distance him from the Hispanic community. O’Rourke, who hails from the border town of El Paso, has a strong connection to the Hispanic culture that dominates his hometown. He is fluent in Spanish and has been known to use the Spanish nickname “Beto” throughout his political career.

The Concept of Cultural Appropriation

There is a longstanding debate about cultural appropriation, particularly among Hispanic voters who perceive politicians as cynically appropriating elements of their culture for political gain. O’Rourke’s cultural affinity and use of the nickname “Beto” have been the subject of these discussions. The article references a personal experience of the author, who recalls debates about cultural appropriation during O’Rourke’s previous Senate campaign against Cruz in 2018. The author highlights the importance of understanding the nuances of cultural appropriation and its impact on Hispanic communities.

Abbott’s History and Inconsistencies

The article delves into the contradictions within Abbott’s approach to cultural appropriation. While Abbott proudly boasts that his wife, Cecilia, is the state’s first Hispanic first lady, he has made derogatory comments about Hispanic regions of Texas in the past. During his campaign for attorney general, Abbott compared Hispanic south Texas to third world countries. Moreover, his rhetoric on immigration, particularly in relation to Joe Biden’s policies, has been offensive to many Hispanics. The article suggests that Abbott’s attack on O’Rourke for embracing his Hispanic culture is an interesting twist in Texas politics, reflecting the state’s changing demographics and the efforts of some Anglos to retain their power.

O’Rourke’s Authenticity and Connection to the Hispanic Community

The author highlights O’Rourke’s authenticity and genuine connection to the Hispanic community. The article recalls the author’s personal experience in El Paso, where O’Rourke’s father, former El Paso county Judge Pat O’Rourke, was well-known and respected. The late county judge, who tragically died in a cycling accident, was described as personable, and O’Rourke often spoke of his son Beto. In the border town of El Paso, where Spanish nicknames are the norm, there was never any issue with a non-Hispanic individual like O’Rourke using the nickname “Beto.” This highlights the cultural acceptance and diversity of the region.

The Political Implications for Abbott and O’Rourke

The article discusses the potential implications of cultural appropriation as a campaign issue in the upcoming gubernatorial race. According to a Democratic party elder statesman quoted in the article, the race is not about whether O’Rourke can win, but rather about whether Abbott can lose. The article mentions Abbott’s controversial policies, including a strict anti-abortion bill, his stance on mask mandates during the pandemic, the transgender sports bill, and the failure of the state’s electrical grid. Abbott’s focus on side issues like cultural appropriation may divert attention from these critical matters. However, O’Rourke’s ability to stay on message and remind voters of Abbott’s shift towards the right in recent years could prove pivotal.

The Volatility of Race and Ethnicity in Texas Politics

The article suggests that if Abbott’s attack on O’Rourke for cultural appropriation seems hollow compared to his rhetoric on immigration, it could bring the issue of race and ethnicity to the forefront of the campaign. The author compares it to the recent gubernatorial contest in Virginia, which was marked by volatility and unpredictability on these issues. O’Rourke has already begun highlighting the tragic consequences of anti-immigrant rhetoric, such as the 2019 shooting in El Paso that specifically targeted Hispanics. This serves as a reminder to Abbott and Texas Republicans that questioning the cultural appropriateness of a candidate with a minority background in the border region may have unintended consequences.


The Texas gubernatorial race between Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott is shaping up to be a contest that delves into issues of cultural appropriation, race, and ethnicity. While Abbott attempts to distance O’Rourke from his Hispanic heritage, O’Rourke’s authenticity and connection to the Hispanic community may prove to be a powerful asset. The outcome of the race will depend on the ability of both candidates to address critical issues facing Texas, such as abortion rights, pandemic response, and immigration, while navigating the complex terrain of cultural identity in a diverse state.