Next week is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, an annual opportunity for this country to celebrate the cultural, economic and civic contributions of Latinos. Politicians, corporations and a variety of entities will engage in a concerted effort to convince Latinos that they understand our community and value us as consumers, employees, students, et cetera. Each year, I take time to reflect on how far we have come as a country and as Latinos. Things have definitely come a long way, and yet we have so far to go.
According to the US Census, the Latino population has increased from 22.4 million in 1990 to 50.4 million in 2010. That is a population increase of 125% in just two decades. Along with the population growth, Latinos have increased their purchasing power to over one trillion dollars. The Selig Center reports that Latinos accounted for 9.3% of all US purchasing power in 2010, up from just 5% in 1990. TheNew York Times has conducted an analysis of exit polling for presidential elections and shows that Latinos have increased their percentage of the electorate from 2% in 1992 to 10% in 2012. In the same 20 year period when they doubled their population, they increased their voting participation five-fold. These are some impressive facts about the Latino community in the United States.
However, the truth is much different. The truth is that despite the increase in population, purchasing power and civic engagement, Latinos do not command the level of respect that we have worked so hard to earn. The truth is also that despite the fact that Latinos are contributing more to this country than ever before, Latinos are still viewed as guests in this country. This is showcased every time a Latino raises a concern about something in this country, and gets responses such as, “If you don’t like it here, go back to your country.” This response happens even when the Latinos raising their concerns can trace their centuries-old lineage to this country, while the ill-informed attacker cannot. This is also showcased when politicians allow a vocal minority to infuse the political discourse with so much toxicity on any issue that relates to Latinos, fearing that their voice is more reflective of overall Americans than the views of Latinos. The sad truth is this country is still struggling to embrace Latinos as part of the American fabric, and millions of Latinos continue to suffer as a result.
The positive news is that America has a history of adapting to cultural and social changes. These changes usually occur over the course of a few decades, but they gradually do take course. I’m comforted that I know I don’t have to endure the many obstacles that my mother faced growing up in this country, and I’m optimistic that the future will be much better for my daughter. There is a lot of disappointment and frustration among Latinos right now dealing with truth of where our community lies on the power spectrum. These emotions are warranted, but the solution is not to remain frustrated and quit. The solution is to continue moving forward, and work for a better tomorrow. I know that sometimes the truth hurts, but enderezate, recuerda los sacrificios de tus padres y sigue adelante.