Por Alfredo Estrada
We’ve seen this movie before. Many of us at LATINO Magazine worked at HISPANIC, launched in 1988 during the so-called “Decade of the Hispanic.” It certainly wasn’t, and no one would make the same claim of the naughty ’90s and double-barreled ’00s. But here we go again…
Latinos (not Hispanics!) were the decisive factor in the last election, voting 71% for President Obama and handing him victory in swing states like Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Even an adversary as staunch as Fox News CEO Roger Ailes declared that “the contributions made by Latinos are extraordinary.” It appeared that we finally “arrived,” and the coffers of corporate America and the federal government would soon fly open. But to paraphrase another catchphrase from the ’80s, “Where’s the menudo?”
As the next issue of LATINO goes to press, Obama has yet to name any Latinos to his cabinet after the departures of Hilda Solis and Ken Salazar. Elsewhere in the government, the percentage of Latinos remains dismally low, barely 8 percent, as compared to over 13 percent in the national workforce. And though we escaped the fiscal cliff, we’re falling into the sequestration snakepit—fiscal havoc has sharply curtailed government spending on Latino outreach and educational programs.
While there’s been some noise about immigration reform, all we’ve seen is a rehash of the same stale ideas like the need for “border security,” although there’s been no migration from Mexico to the U.S. in the last five years due to our flagging economy. The proposed “path to citizenship” is more like an obstacle course that could take as long as 8 years (good luck with that, amigo!) And while Romney urged us to self-deport, Obama is happy to lend a helping hand. By the end of this year, the president will have deported 2,000,000 Latinos, nearly the same number as in the U.S. from 1892 to 1997, according to the New York Times. Over 200,000 of those were the parents of children who are U.S. citizens.
This has injured innocents, separated families, and derailed dreams. It appears that even if we have arrived, we better leave fast!
With political power comes purchasing power, so you might think that corporate America would be eager to engage Latinos. But this, too, has lagged behind. At no time in recent memory has corporate support for programs that benefit our community been as fragile. One example is the lack of support for Latino-owned media. Throughout the late ’80s and ’90s, both HISPANIC and its fierce competitor Hispanic Business published monthly. HISPANIC was sold to Televisa, which shuttered it last year. Hispanic Business no longer publishes a print edition. The result is a glaring lack of coverage from a Latino perspective of the issues that affect our community.
Who can we blame but ourselves? Many of us in the “cucaracha circuit” here in our nation’s capital seem more interested in lurid scandals like Senator Menendez’ weekends in the Dominican Republic than our representation in the administration or immigration reform. We should be unified in outrage, yet we’re competing for complacency. We should be bringing more people to the table, yet we’re fighting for the crumbs left behind. We should be making demands, yet we’re wasting time on the latest self-serving, politically correct initiative. We should be marching in the street, yet we’re on the sidewalk, waiting in line for the next rubber chicken enchilada dinner.
Assuming we sit through it, how does the movie end? The one from the ’80s just went on and on, with innumerable remakes, like Halloween. But crankiness is rarely constructive, and it’s more useful to view this as a test that we will either pass or fail. If Latinos are truly to be a “community” rather than just Census figures, then we have to show leadership. If we’re going to move forward, then we have to fight for what we want. And if we want our place at the table, then we have to take it. Because if we fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we’re unlikely to get another one for quite some time. It’s up to us.
Alfredo Estrada is the editor of LATINO Magazine, which focuses on issues, politics and culture and is available online at Latinomagazine.com. His latest book is Havana: Autobiography of a City (Palgrave, 2009). If you have any comments, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. To order a free copy of the next issue of LATINO Magazine, please visit http://www.latinomagazine.com/feedback.htm