(The Hill) — Tejano music star Bobby Pulido is playing the biggest event on the Hispanic political calendar this year, and he’s ready to talk politics.
“I was a political science major at the University of St. Mary’s, and I am very, very up to date on everything that goes on,” Pulido told The Hill in a recent interview.
He is the featured musical guest at the 2023 Awards Gala hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute (CHCI), a yearly event that brings together Latinos in elected office, advocacy, lobbying and media.
Pulido, whose 1995 debut single “Desvelado” has aged into a classic, ubiquitous at public gatherings throughout Mexico and the Southwest, won Best Tejano Album at the 2022 Latin Grammy Awards for his album “Para Que Baile Mi Pueblo.”
The Tejano star’s appearance will highlight a large segment of the U.S. Hispanic community that’s often overlooked politically and culturally.
“He was actually my suggested nominee. He’s a great Tejano that really reflects the values of this region. Although I love them, It can’t all be about California and New York,” said Rep. Vicente González (D-Texas), who represents the southernmost district of Texas.
As the educational arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), CHCI’s main mission is to identify and prepare young Latinos for work in public service.
“The whole spirit of the Congressional Hispanic Institute, it’s a big deal for me. It’s a big deal for me, it’s not just another gig. Just the whole essence of what it represents to me, it’s one of the great achievements for me,” Pulido said.
Until 2017, the gala had invited every sitting president since it started in 1979; only George H.W. Bush had been unable to appear due to scheduling conflicts.
In 2017, CHCI withdrew President Donald Trump’s invitation, citing his rhetoric on the 2016 campaign trail.
Last year, President Joe Biden appeared at the first in-person gala after a pandemic hiatus, where he sang “Happy Birthday” to Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), the CHC chair.
Biden is not yet confirmed to be attending this year.
While Pulido will be doing the singing, he said he will have some kind words for Biden if they cross paths onstage.
“Thank you. Thank you for running and beating that guy, because I don’t know what would have happened if he would have won,” Pulido responded to a question on what he would say to Biden.
But he also has some harsh words to dole out to Biden and his fellow Democrats.
“I’m a Democrat. I believe you can criticize your own and it’s perfectly legitimate. It’s a big tent, but I think the party really has not done enough to show voters out there that we are not anti-business,” said Pulido, who lives in Southern Texas.
Pulido said South Texas Latinos are increasingly gravitating toward the Republican Party, in large part because of Democratic taxation and economic proposals.
“I personally know a lot of people that they don’t mind Democrats, but they don’t also want to vote for people that say, ‘Tax the rich, tax the rich, tax the rich,’ because a lot of the business owners that are there are Hispanic and they’re like, ‘Man I’m just getting a footing on my life here.'”
Still, Pulido thinks it’s an easy lift for Democrats to appeal to second and third-generation Texans who value hands-off fiscal policies but dislike the harsher elements of the GOP’s political rhetoric.
“I think Trump is not a hard guy to beat,” said Pulido.
“South Texas is one of the areas that has trended more Republican now,” said Pulido. “Growing up here in my district, it was always Democrat 80-20, man, and that’s not the case anymore. And what we have to do is ask ourselves why.”
For instance, Pulido says Democrats have missed the mark on the border, allowing Republicans to own the issue and set the agenda.
“Well, it needs to get addressed. First of all, you can’t — ignoring it is not an option and it shouldn’t be, for many reasons, right?”
“You don’t do anything to fix it. There’s no proposals to fix it. And, and then it allows the other side to suck the oxygen out of that and use that as a tool for them against you,” he said.
Still, the Tejano star, who regularly crosses into Mexico, said he wouldn’t call the situation at the border a “crisis.”
“But it’s something that has to get addressed, and it requires at least some type of focus on it.”
He said migration will continue, and workforce needs are not being filled in Texas and throughout the country, so Democrats could proactively seize the issue.
“I voted for Joe Biden and I will vote for him again. But not having come over here to this, I think, has been a mistake,” said Pulido.
Still, Pulido reserved his harshest criticism for extremism and the political divide in the United States.
“I think the biggest pandemic we had in this country wasn’t COVID, it was conspiracy theories.”
“I think that’s a big part of what’s going on is it is kind of hard to fight people that live in a different reality. And social media has just kind of magnified all of that and so I am worried for our country to be honest with you,” said Pulido.
But Pulido offered advice for getting along with friends and family on the other side of that split.
“I think that social media has made us less social. And so if you talk to people and actually talk to them and listen to them, you’d be surprised how much in common you would have, even if you sit on a different side of the political spectrum.”
Politics aside, he said Hispanic culture is gaining a real foothold in American life.
“I think you’re starting to see that, where now our culture is becoming mainstream. And I think we’re on the cusp of that,” he said.
Pulido recounted how Latinos in South Texas have embraced their heritage over his lifetime, with many now preferring to speak Spanish, a language that children were once discouraged from learning.
“We’re on the forefront of that change that I think is coming, and it’s a wave that’s coming to the whole U.S., to be honest with you.”