It’s ironic that in this next Latino century a discussion about leadership should be devoid of any mention of actual leaders. Anna Giraldo Kerr asked several Latinos about the state of Latino leadership in the United States and came up with little in way of who “our” leader is.
This isn’t surprising. Pew Research’s Hispanic Trends Project published a study a few years ago, which found that almost sixty-five percent of Latinos have no conception of who the most important Latino leader in the country might be.
This is unfortunate and should change.
Throughout much of the 1990’s academics struggled against the misinformed view that Latinos were a unified and homogenous group in the United States, perhaps a consequence of the overwhelmingly Mexican story in the Southwest and Cuban and Puerto Rican histories back East.
However, it’s almost cliché today that we are careful not to assume some cohesive national identity among the diverse historical narratives, and in many ways, our diversity is our greatest strength.
But it also has its drawbacks. Over seventy-percent of Latinos voted for Democrats in the last election, yet Latinos still struggle to have a voice in Washington.
The last election proved that, despite our diversity, we have been able to pronounce a cohesive message across national origins, across regional interests, and across generations. Thanks to the Republican Party’s insistence in treating Latinos as outsiders in our own country, a sense of unity has emerged out of this political environment, and Latinos are now articulating a political identity that is more unified than ever.
And yet while Latinos have common interests in their desire for health care access, immigration reform, job creation, and fair housing, and continue to vote Democrat, the Democrats continue to treat Latinos as an afterthought.
This is an opportunity for leadership to emerge that will express that identity in a forceful manner that Latinos can rally around, and, I hope, centered on the American Creed of inclusiveness, prosperity, justice, and respect for humanity.
To be sure, there are many Latino leaders, but so far there is not one who can capture the collective imagination of our community and use the power of our expressive unity to change the way Washington does business.
The current shutdown of the Federal government conjured up by a minority group, such as the Tea Party, are able to exact such demands largely because there is no forgiveness asked for their assertion of ownership of the country.
This ownership is largely an illusion, but it’s one we all accept for no reason in particular.
We have had a history of great leaders and we indeed are standing on the shoulders of giants, but today’s generation of Latinos are yearning to be led. While our leaders today make great partners on our American voyage, we have yet to find one who can demand our attention, and the attention of the country.
I hope that changes.
Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.