Latinos must wield our influence with care
Ever since the latest census confirmed that Latinos are the largest ethnic group in the country, I’ve been thinking about Spiderman’s motto: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
As a Latino-American, I feel the need to temper my enthusiasm about our new place in our country with a healthy sense of responsibility.
If we honor four of the foundational tenets of Latino culture — family, education, financial security and civic engagement — we ought to do just fine.
First, Latinos are intensely proud of how much our sense of family integrates itself into every aspect of our lives. Now it’s time to expand the concept of family to include the community we live in. Beautifying an abandoned garden or playground, mentoring teens at the church, coaching Little League, organizing a block party and volunteering at a shelter are among the activities that can have the most meaningful impact on those around us.
Second, Latinos must be serious about improving our education status. We can no longer accept having a 35 percent high school dropout rate. We can no longer accept having the lowest level of higher degrees, according to findings released earlier this year by Excelencia in Education.
We need to instill in our children the belief that learning paves the path to lasting success. As an immigrant who came to this country at age 10, I remember my mother saying: “An education is the only thing that will get you the life you want.”
Third, while many Latinos are financially independent, we must adapt. Latinos own 2.3 million small businesses, as reported by the Small Business Administration. From the bodegas in barrios throughout the Northeast to construction and landscaping businesses on the West Coast, we have adapted the American ethos of entrepreneurship and made it all our own. But now we must invest in technology and retrain our employees so we can provide better services to our increasingly wired clients.
Lastly, to truly be part of an engaged citizenry, we must hold ourselves accountable by becoming naturalized citizens if we were not born here, by registering to vote if we have not done so, by making sure that we meet and engage local political candidates when they have town hall meetings or stand at busy intersections in our neighborhoods.
But we must assert our independent spirit — especially at the local level. We cannot be a candidate’s rubber stamp simply because he or she has a familiar-sounding last name. Doing so often guarantees the worse possible results because we teach politicians to pander to us during election cycles instead of holding them accountable before and during their terms.
In short, Latinos have to take those core values that define us and apply them on a larger scale — starting with our families and branching out into the rest of the country — so that we can have the type of meaningful influence that could propel our country toward a more inclusive and equitable future.
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams writes about current issues for the Progressive Media Project. She can be reached at pmproj [at] progressive [dot] org.
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