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CEPEDA: Cracks in a monolith

One of the most interesting things about studying a rapidly maturing community is watching its members shake off stereotypes and go their own way. Some Latino voters are doing just that.

First a recap: Despite the fact that George W. Bush won a sizable chunk of the Latino vote in 2004, the most recent Hispanic voter narrative has been that, with few exceptions, Latinos can be counted on to vote solidly Democrat.

Then in the 2010 midterm elections, the hot story was that unprecedented numbers of Latino Republicans — among them Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval — won high-profile offices. The question remains whether those victories will be able to reverse Hispanic ire toward the GOP, which has spent the last couple of election cycles taking a hard line on illegal immigration.

In 2011, so far, different Hispanic blocs have done some heavy soul searching about what their priorities are and who they want to build alliances with as we get deeper into the 2012 election cycle.

In early June, the National Tequila Party was launched by an Arizona-based Republican Party refugee with the goal of trying to register as many voting-age Hispanics as possible, and being a counterpoint to the tea party movement, which it views as anti-immigrant.

It has proved a rough start because more than a few Latinos have been offended or felt excluded, not only by the association with alcohol but also by its direct reference to the iconic Mexican drink. As a result, the Tequila Party organizers have spent more of their time defending the name than promoting their political agenda.

And now, drum roll please, comes the Hispanic Tea Party. Reports started surfacing last week about Armando Vera, a Texas pastor who has named himself the president of the "first-ever Hispanic Tea Party" in the United States.

The first meeting was convened in late June and conducted in Spanish at the Abundant Grace Community Church in McAllen, Texas. Vera, a naturalized U.S. citizen, says his objective is to bring tea party principles to a Spanish-language-dominant group of eligible voters in order to push limited government and inject conservative Christian values into politics.

Vera wants conservative Latino voters to counteract what he calls "harmful liberal policies" that Republicans embrace in the name of political posturing. In the spirit of inclusion, Vera told a reporter for a Texas television station that the Hispanic Tea Party is not just for Latinos — he welcomes anyone with conservative values to attend meetings.

There is concern that these groups of "rogue" Latinos won't contribute to some people's notion of what a powerful, unified, progressive Latino vote might look like, but their presence is still a good thing. In fact, even more splinter Latino groups should organize around their own agendas for 2012, whatever their beliefs — that's what full participation in democracy is all about.

And what better way to finally shatter the tired myth of the monolithic mass of immigration-focused Latino voters than to speak out with politically diverse voices? More power to them all.

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally syndicated columnist. Email her at estherjcepeda@washpost.com.