Regardless of who wins the Presidential race next Tuesday, there is one undeniable factor in the mix this election: the rise of the importance of the Latino electorate. While most of the country and many political analysts were talking about the Latino “sleeping giant,” slowly stretching itself out of slumber, rubbing the sleep out of its eyes, U.S. Latinos were building a community, raising families, and working hard.
Then suddenly, after the 2010 Census numbers were released, Latinos in the U.S. mattered – as if they had magically appeared across the country once the Census put them on the official ledger.
But that was just a hint of what was to come. Once the packet of Latino population statistics was ripped open and poured into the national mix, a very clear picture of the future of the United States came into view – politics included. This most recent presidential election go-around, which comes to its climax next week, will give politicos plenty of fodder to ruminate over the coming months.
Let me kick-start the process for the sake of expediency; an Obama second term will have little time to pause and ponder and a Romney Administration has over promised it’s “day one” so I want to make sure I get a word in while there is time.
These are the basic lessons about U.S. Latinos to be gleaned from the election process:
This is no longer a Southwestern states strategy. While you were believing your own narrative about the snoring giant, Latinos were moving across the country to places that had never seen a Latino in their midst, growing communities, putting their kids in schools, opening businesses. So a 2% electorate in Ohio suddenly matters strategically and potentially more than a majority in New Mexico. And I’d be remiss in not warning you that what you see happening across the Southwest, where Latinos have become a politcal force, will happen across the country where Latinos are now just a political strategic importance.
This is the big lesson that seems to be lost in the immigration debate. Immigration was not a Latino priority until non-Latinos starting using it for political gain and in the process began disrespecting all Latinos, shunning Latinos as the “other,” suspecting them of being lesser Americans because of the way they were perceived. When a national poll reveals the 1/3 of all American believe that all Latinos are undocumented, then the way that the undocumented are respected becomes an issue. If nothing else, understand this: the immigration issue is political by default, but it is an issue of respect at its heart.
This is a perennial “given.” And it increases in importance as more Latinos attain higher education. So do the math. This is a business priority: the country’s economy can’t grow without an educated workforce; Latinos are younger, growing faster and filling the nation’s classrooms; the Latino workforce will soon carry the brunt of the economy on its shoulders; the majority of Latinos live in urban areas and go to school in urban classrooms that are severely underfunded; there are important factors in educating urban learners that should be addressed; Latinos want their children to get an education; this problem is not going away; when you talk about Latnios and education don’t do it like Latinos aren’t in the room, we can hear you, make us a part of the conversation beyond “national town halls.”
This goes back to respect and not talking about Latinos as if they aren’t in the room. When it comes to social issues, don’t try to fit us into a frame you think we should go. Latinos aren’t “like you” in that respect. Listen to Latinos. They’re family oriented and comprise the fastest growing group within the US Catholic congregation, yes. But polls show that a majority of Latinos also favor a woman’s right to chose, and favor same-sex marriage as well as believe in the scientific proof of climate change. Don’t make the mistake of lumping Latinos into your own predefined pile, becasue that is disrespectful.
If you haven’t figured this out, then you really don’t know Latinos. Latinas decide where the family spends the money, where the children go to school, who the family votes for. That’s not to say that the men aren’t important, but it is to say that Latinas are the center and foundation of the family and if you take Latinas into account, show them some respect, listen to them, you’ll be touching the heart and soul of the Latino community. And don’t make the mistake of thinking that Latinas sit quietly in the background. Latinas are the fastest growing group of college students, professionals and entrepreneurs. Once you’ve understood that, you’ve won the Latino backbone and muscle, it’s men. As an added note, know this as well: you ignore the plight of Latino men at your own peril, because there will be no fiercer advocate for Latinos than the Latina rearing him and standing next to him.
For now, this is a down to basics list to get the thinking started. There’s more, to be sure, but there will be time to talk about more things in the weeks to come.
[Photo by DonkeyHotey]