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Year In Review 2011: The Highs And Lows For Latinos (PHOTOS)

Year In Review 2011 Latino

First Posted: 11/30/11 02:00 PM ET Updated: 11/30/11 02:00 PM ET

¡Ay bendito! What a year...

2011 started out with a blend of hope and doubt, of promise and disappointment.

On the one hand, there was some excitement as the 2010 Census results were soon to reaffirm the size, rapid growth and growing cultural and economic influence of the Hispanics, the largest minority in an ever more multicultural U.S.

But just as well, Latinos were only too aware that behind the numbers lay the same harsh realities faced by all American communities living with the frustrations of trying to move their families, communities and the country forward in a hyper-partisan environment where there seems to be little progress and much divisiveness.

As various reports have since shown, Latino kids and families continued to fall behind in achieving the American Dream, in staying in school through high school graduation, in escaping prejudice and hate crimes.

Of course, there have been amazing highs too -- the stories of DREAMers like Benita Veliz and the success of Hispanic talent in film, TV, and music come to mind.

The slideshow below reveals 5 highs and 5 lows which impacted Latinos in 2011. And then there is the tiebreaker; the 11th issue or event which threw the year over to one side.

But in the final analysis, was 2011 a plus or a minus in our collective history? Click through the slideshow to find out our opinion about 2011. Do you agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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  • HIGH: A 'New American Reality'

    In case it needs repeating: Hispanics are redefining America. <a href="" target="_hplink">Guy Garcia</a>, CEO of MentaMetrix and HuffPost blogger, argues that Latinos are "<a href="" target="_hplink">multicultural and multifaceted</a>; they watch MTV Tr3s and True Blood, they listen to rap, rock and Mexican banda, sometimes in the same song. Recent studies have shown that Latino identity is malleable, contextual and constantly evolving. This vibrant nexus of fluid and free-flowing identities is the cutting edge of the new American reality." <a href="" target="_hplink">According to the 2010 census</a>, the Latino population grew 43 percent to 50.5 million people since the previous census taken in 2000. While this largest minority in the U.S. is projected to grow an additional 163 percent to 132.8 million people by 2050, the real influence of Hispanics will not be based on the size of the population, but on its youth and unique bi-cultural make-up. 1 in 4 babies born in the U.S. are to a Latina mother; 95 percent of the teen population growth through 2020 will be Hispanic. This young, dynamic group will not only dramatically change what being Latino in the U.S. is all about, but also will affect change across the country in ways we're only starting to witness. As <a href="" target="_hplink">Roberto Ramos</a>, CEO of The VOX Collective, states in a recent blog, <a href="" target="_hplink">"Simply put, Latinos are younger and a larger share of their voter base is young."</a>

  • LOW: Educational Achievement

    For too many years now, statistics related to Latinos' educational achievements have been mostly negative. Unfortunately, 2011 saw further evidence of this with reports about high drop-out rates and the lack of Hispanic teachers. Since 2010, there has been a spike in <a href="" target="_hplink">high-school drop-out rates</a> by Hispanics. "The size of the Latino student population, whose graduation rate currently lags 21 percentage points behind that of non-Hispanic whites, has grown by 50 percent in the past decade alone," <a href=" "Only 56 percent of Hispanics and 54 percent of blacks who started ninth grade graduated from high school in 2007.")" target="_hplink">according to Education Week.</a> Research has shown that shared cultural backgrounds between students and teachers are <a href="" target="_hplink">bellwethers for classroom motivation</a>. But recent data shows that while minority students make up more than 40 percent of the nation's public school population, only 17 percent of the country's teachers are minorities Similarly, while 22 percent of all public school students are Latino, <a href="" target="_hplink">only seven percent of teachers are</a>, highlighting the shortage of culturally relevant role models and mentors for tens of thousands of kids.

  • HIGH: College Education / DREAMers

    The good news began with data showing that in 2010 the number of Hispanics aged 18 to 24 on American college campuses <a href="" target="_hplink">grew by nearly a quarter,</a> as there were an additional 350,000 Latinos enrolled in college compared to the year before. Then, in October, California joined other states -- including New York, New Mexico, Texas, Maryland and Connecticut -- in offering "<a href="" target="_hplink">tuition breaks to undocumented immigrants</a>" when Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 130, the first bill of a two-part California DREAM Act. Inspired by California's initiative, the New York Board Of Regents reported it is <a href="" target="_hplink">drafting it's own version of that state's DREAM Act.</a> The bill would open up opportunities for undocumented students who have lived in the U.S. for at least two years and arrived prior to age 16 to receive scholarships, obtain driver's licenses and practice a profession. While a national DREAM Act remains in congressional limbo, in June the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement established <a href="" target="_hplink">new guidelines</a>, providing much needed relief to DREAMers such as <a href="" target="_hplink">Benita Veliz</a>, a Mexican native who has been in the U.S. since she was eight years old. Veliz graduated from high school two years early as a National Merit Scholar and as her class valedictorian. She went on to graduate from St. Mary's University, which she attended on a full academic merit scholarship. In 2009, a grueling deportation process began for Veliz after police discovered she was undocumented when she was pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. Thanks to the the new guidelines, Veliz was spared deportation.

  • HIGH: Revised Deportation Rules

    Although the country still lacks comprehensive immigration reform to address the many issues surrounding this emotional topic, 2011 saw some positive steps. It began with a memorandum from Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton which "serves as a much-needed guide for ICE officials on how, when and why to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration cases", <a href="" target="_hplink">according to a HuffPost blog by Mary Giovagnoli</a>. Morton's memo has served as an outline for how the Department of Homeland Security will carry out the "<a href="" target="_hplink">review of the 300,000 pending deportation cases</a>, distinguishing between 'high priority' and 'low priority' individuals, and also commence a training program for enforcement officials and attorneys in related cases." The review "aims to categorize deportation cases based on certain criteria -- hastening the trials of those who have committed crimes, and halting the proceedings of college graduates, those who have resided in the country from a young age, and non-criminals". In contrast, and emboldened by the <a href="" target="_hplink">Occupy Wall Street</a> movement which spread nationwide, Latinos across the country regularly protested to clearly voice their opinion against ongoing deportations in the US. In <a href="" target="_hplink">Occupy La Migra</a> -- La Migra is Spanish-language slang for border patrol and immigration officials -- Latinos and union workers in San Diego protested against the ICE's deportation of immigrant workers and compared their behavior to the greedy actions of corporate America. Latinos were not the only ones expressing their opinion against deportation this year. Members of the U.S. Border Patrol and ICE have also openly criticized the system. <a href="" target="_hplink">In a blog for The Huffington Post</a> John Randolph, a retired U.S. Border Patrol/ICE Agent states: <blockquote>"In my twenty-six years as a US Border Patrol/ICE Agent, I caught many people. At the time, common sense told me that the vast majority of the people who I caught were good, hard working people. I began to wonder why immigrants had to be chased like animals, and why I was being paid to chase them.... After thirty-five years of working and observing our government's failed immigration and drug enforcement systems, I am now convinced that both are insidiously designed to fail". </blockquote>

  • LOW: Record Deportations

    In 2011 we learned of a new record high deportation statistic -- separating families, leaving thousands of children in foster care, and giving way to unlawful practices. The Obama administration set a new record for deportations, <a href="" target="_hplink">removing nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants</a> in the last fiscal year, Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced in October. Looking at this in greater detail, the <a href="" target="_hplink">Applied Research Center (ARC)</a> found that in the first six months of this year, the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of U.S.-born children. As a consequence, <a href="" target="_hplink">at least 5,100 children of deported immigrants are currently living in foster care.</a> But once separated, the <a href="" target="_hplink">children face enormous obstacles to rejoining their parents</a>, even though child welfare agencies are required by federal law to reunify them with parents who are able to care for them. The lack of clear rules regarding deportation has allowed for unlawful practices to take place. Perhaps the most scandalous one being <a href="" target="_hplink">undocumented women being forced to give birth while shackled and in police custody.</a> Shackling during childbirth is illegal in 14 states and is against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) policy. But women being held for immigration-related offenses classified as "criminal offenses" can still legally be handcuffed to their hospital beds by state authorities in the 36 other states. Those women can also be denied the right to have a family member in the birthing room, or to hold their newborns for longer than 24 hours.

  • LOW: Anti-Immigrant Activity

    Over the course of the year, heated controversy over immigration reform and the passage of <a href="" target="_hplink">various anti-immigration laws</a> often dominated conversation among Hispanics: <a href="" target="_hplink">Alabama's HB 56,</a> one of the most controversial laws enacted prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. It has also had a chilling effect on <a href="" target="_hplink">the attendance of Latino children in local schools.</a> <a href="" target="_hplink">Arizona SB 1070</a>, passed in 2010 and implemented in April of this year, made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. State authorities are now required to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. <a href="" target="_hplink">Georgia's HB 47</a> which went into effect on July 1st, requires government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could not prove their legal status. <a href="" target="_hplink">Utah's HB 497</a> requires ID cards for "guest workers" and their families and <a href="" target="_hplink">South Carolina SB 20</a> requires law officers who make a traffic stop to call federal immigration officials if they suspect someone is in the country illegally. As troubling and challenging as the implementation of these laws has been, the bigger problem has been how they have contributed to an emotionally-charged environment and <a href="" target="_hplink">rise in anti-Latino hate crimes</a> which rose disproportionally to other hate crimes between 2004 and 2008, according to a study by the National Institute of Justice. "Gilberto Esquivel, a member of the Riverside Human Relations Commission, <a href="" target="_hplink">said that the 50 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos in California</a> in 2010 was directly tied to the passage of the S.B. 1070 immigration law in Arizona."

  • HIGH: Political Influence

    Despite the lack of a Latino presidential candidate in the Republican field, the growing influence of Latinos in American politics is undeniable. Perhaps surprisingly, it's been in the GOP where Hispanics have seen the most measurable improvements as the party is home to <a href="" target="_hplink">three rising stars</a>: Susana Martinez, of Mexican descent, is Governor of New Mexico and the first woman to hold this position in this state; Brian Sandoval, also of Mexican descent and Governor of Nevada; and Marco Rubio, Florida Senator and son of Cuban immigrants. Rubio, who faced some <a href="" target="_hplink">controversies of his own</a> this year, has been regularly touted as an ideal Vice Presidential candidate on the Republican ticket. <a href="" target="_hplink">According to a HuffPost blog by Bill Schneider</a>, Distinguished Senior Fellow and Resident Scholar at Third Way, "If you asked a computer to design the perfect Republican candidate for vice president, it would come up with Rubio. He's got three big things going for him. He's a Tea Party favorite. He's Latino. And he's from Florida." Latinos expressed their political influence at the polls in 2011, working with allies to engineer the defeat of State Senator Russell Pearce, the controversial architect of Arizona's strict anti-immigration law, who was <a href="" target="_hplink">recalled from office</a> on November 8th. He was defeated by Jerry Lewis, a fellow Republican who does not support the immigration crackdown. It was the first time in U.S. history that the president of a state senate was ousted in a recall. And finally, as noted in <a href="" target="_hplink">a HuffPost blog by Roberto Ramos</a>, CEO of The Vox Collective, "The Latino voter growth is all the more important because it's taking place at an accelerated pace in key battleground states like Florida and Nevada where the Latino boom has given those states added Electoral College votes and provided the group stronger national influence."

  • LOW: Political Rhetoric

    Highlighted by suggestions from Herman Cain for electrified fences and Rick Perry's desire to escalate the use of Predator drones for immigration enforcement missions on the Mexican-American border, there's been <a href="" target="_hplink">a steady stream of militarized anti-immigrant rhetoric</a> from Republican candidates and officials throughout the year. Any challenge to Republican conservative thought is quickly smacked down, leaving very little leeway for any real discussion about immigration reform. As <a href="" target="_hplink">reported by The Huffington Post</a>, "Those who support stronger enforcement policies often justify their hard line with the argument that immigrants commit violent crime in their new-found communities at high rates. But critics say numbers don't support this reasoning." Republicans candidates who have shown a a more lenient or progressive stance on immigration have been subject to strong criticism. Newt Gingrich, for example, might have damaged his presidential campaign <a href="" target="_hplink">when he asked in a GOP debate for a more "humane" treatment for undocumented immigrants abiding the laws in their communities..</a> Similarly, Texas Governor Rick Perry who voiced his support for a bill that provides <a href="" target="_hplink">in-state tuition to some undocumented students</a>, received very strong criticism from other Republican candidates. And, as <a href="" target="_hplink">reported recently by The Associated Press</a>, "as more Latino Republicans seek and win elected office, their families' backgrounds are becoming subject to increased scrutiny from some Latino activists, a reaction experts say is a result of Latino Republicans' conservative views on immigration." New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez was forced to clarify her late grandfather's immigration status and Florida's GOP Senator Marco Rubio was accused of embellishing his family's immigrant back-story. In terms of presidential politics, while there is not a single Hispanic among the Republican field of candidates, President Obama has not been embraced by Latinos either as he has still not yet delivered on <a href="" target="_hplink">his campaign promise</a> to enact comprehensive immigration reform in his first year of office. President Obama said <a href="" target="_hplink">in a conference in September</a> that the "Hispanic community can continue to count on him as the strongest of advocates for comprehensive immigration reform but that it doesn't depend solely on him, and added that it doesn't help the debate 'by perpetuating the notion that somehow, by myself, I can go and do these things.'" But Obama, who won office in 2008 with over 60% of the Latino vote, has lost a significant amount of support from Hispanics -- recent polls showing it down to 48% -- <a href="" target="_hplink">"Latino voters may not be the ace in the hole that Democrats need."</a>

  • LOW: The Effects Of Mexico's Drug Wars

    The Mexican government <a href="" target="_hplink">launched an offensive against the country's drug lords in 2006.</a> The resulting drug wars, which include at least seven different cartels fighting each other and the government, has claimed more than 35,000 lives since then. In 2011, there were increasing signs that the effects of the drug wars in Mexico are crossing over the border and into the U.S. On November 16th, "federal agents arrested 13 people as part of a probe into the alleged multimillion-dollar shipments of drug money between the Chicago area and Mexico's brutal Zetas cartel", <a href="" target="_hplink">according to The Associated Press. </a> "The Zetas, formed by former members of an elite Mexican army unit, are believed to have been behind some of the most ruthless violence in a drug war that's claimed an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 lives". The problem extended far beyond drug trafficking this year. The brutal drug war is hurting civilians as well, leading to an increasingly complex situation as many Mexican students who go to school in the U.S. are <a href="" target="_hplink">facing serious emotional difficulties.</a> "As the war enters its sixth year, it's bringing a new problem to Texas schools: thousands of students suffering from emotional troubles not unlike those endured by soldiers returning from battle." "Many of the students were mugged or witnessed a shootout. Others have had family members kidnapped, or they have been extorted by gangs that run rampant in Juarez, a city of 1.3 million directly across the Rio Grande from El Paso". Some of these cartels' terror tactics include hanging people from bridges, beheading enemies and dissolving victims in acid, <a href="" target="_hplink">according to the article.</a> And as the war continues, more and more people try to flee Mexico. According to a study by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, about 115,000 Mexicans have taken refuge in the United States since violence spiked in their country in 2006.

  • HIGH: Sofia Vergara's Best Year... Ever!

    2011 could easily be called the "Sofia Vergara Year". Many other Hispanic entertainers and artists had very successful years - Shakira, Calle 13, Selena Gomez, Antonio Banderas, Jennifer Lopez, La Vida Boheme and Esperanza Spalding all come to mind - and major arts fairs such as Art Basel Miami continue to prove the <a href="" target="_hplink">value of a vibrant Latin American arts scene</a>, but no one captured hearts and minds as Vergara did in 2011. The emotive and sassy Colombian <a href="" target="_hplink">was nominated for an Emmy for best supporting actress </a>for her role as Gloria in ABC's hit series, Modern Family. She starred as the <a href="" target="_hplink">new face (and body) of the latest Diet Pepsi commercial,</a> alongside soccer -God-turned-celebrity-fashion-plate David Beckham. In September she introduced her <a href="" target="_hplink">new fashion and accesory line to Kmart</a>, proudly wearing items from this budget-conscious line to red carpet events such as <a href="" target="_hplink">the Latin Grammys.</a> Vergara also teamed up with Mexican-American boxing legend Oscar de la Hoya to <a href="" target="_hplink">launch a health website,</a> in 2012. FInally, as revealed in late November, next year, she'll join Ellen DeGeneres as the <a href="" target="_hplink">new face of CoverGirl.</a> All of this while charming the world with that thick accent. We're waiting to see what 2012 will bring to the Latina beauty. But we're prepared if Sofia Vergara actually takes over the world.

  • TIEBREAKER: Latino Terrorists

    Sadly, while there were certainly many achievements and advancements of Hispanics in 2011, the combination of the struggles faced by our community across education, unemployment, family welfare, immigration reform, health care, politics and more were a bit too much to overcome. Overall, 2011 has not been a great year for Latinos. The tiebreaker which pushed the year into a <em>low</em> was the appearance of an alleged assassin and an alleged terrorist in November, each fueling further negative associations with Latinos in the U.S. The first case came about with 21 year-old Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who was charged with <a href="" target="_hplink">firing an assault rifle at the White House</a> in an attempt to kill President Obama. Originally from idaho Falls, Idaho, Ortega-Hernandez is of Mexican descent and had exhibited a series of behaviors which raise doubt as to his sanity or mental stability, but was <a href="" target="_hplink">recently found competent to stand trial.</a> The second case revolves around Jose Pimentel, an American citizen of Dominican origins, who was arrested November 21st under the suspicion of <a href="" target="_hplink">plotting to commit a terrorist attack in New York.</a> Pimentel had converted to Islam and adopted the name of Muhammad Yusuf, and is believed to be a sympathizer of the terrorist group Al Qaeda. While these two episodes represented serious threats to the safety of others, there is nothing about them which should reflect negatively on the Hispanic community. As reported by <a href="" target="_hplink">Gabriel Lerner for The Huffington Post</a>, up "until 18 months ago, just 3 of the 139, about 2% of the homegrown terrorists, were Latinos, while Latinos are about 16% of the population." But as we saw throughout 2011, Hispanics live -- as do all other communities in the U.S. -- within a hyper-partisan environment where minor transgressions are often blown out of proportion and beyond common sense. The images of these two Latino men -- menacing, disheveled, bent on attacking the White House and New York City -- are fodder for future attacks against all Latinos. For this we worry.

And finally, since despite it being overall a 'minus' year for Latinos, it was a banner year for Sofia Vergara. Here she is wowing the world throughout the year. Enjoy!


Filed by Miguel Ferrer  |