THE BLOG

From Immigration to Climate Change: It's All Part of the Latino Nation

04/11/2013 02:22 pm ET | Updated Jun 11, 2013

Latino Nation -- the title alone can elicit responses that can fill the discussion boards for days. But whether your response is positive or negative, there is no denying that there is indeed a Latino Nation within our nation and, "news flash" -- we aren't all undocumented immigrants. Nor are we only concerned about immigration policy. Yes, most Latinos care about immigration and we recognize it's a timely and important issue, but it is by far, not the only item on the "to do list" for U.S. Latinos.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, there are roughly 50.5 million Latinos in America, about 16 percent of our population. By 2050, the Latino population will double to 30 percent. And while Latinos represent a wide range of national origins, ethnic and cultural groups, with a full spectrum of social class and ancestry with roots in indigenous American, European, African, even Asian populations, we share a common cultural heritage that defines our American experience similarly. The same way Irish heritage defines Irish Americans or Italians their experience, we as Latinos, Hispanics, Chicanos or whatever we choose to call ourselves, share a cultural heritage that unites us culturally in a meaningful way.

I had the pleasure of participating in Tavis Smiley's Latino Nation: Beyond the Numbers, where PBS broadcaster Tavis Smiley, in partnership with the William C. Velásquez Institute, gathered some of the nation's top Latino leaders and influencers for a national conversation on the challenges and opportunities facing Latinos in the U.S. today.

Latino Nation: Beyond the Numbers, takes an important step towards exploring the Latino perspective on a broad range of issues that are priorities for the Latino community. The panel discussion artfully guided by Mr. Smiley, navigates issues from immigration to the economy to education to environment and how growing Latino engagement on these issues will impact our country. In doing so, Latino Nation dispels the notion that we are single-issue voters.

Environment, for example, is not often considered central to the Latino agenda despite the concern that Latinos have shown time and again on climate change, clean energy and conservation issues. Latino Nation, however, explores and reveals the often overlooked reality that like the momentum building on immigration reform, Latinos are ready to demand that the US show leadership on addressing climate change now.

Perhaps this is because here in the U.S. nearly half of all Latinos breathe air that doesn't meet air quality standards, or because we have watched family members in Latin America suffer the impacts of climate change. Either way, our concerns over the impacts of our rapidly changing climate are real and are motivating our community into action.

As Hispanics continue to gain greater recognition for the positive contributions we have made to U.S. culture, the economy and politics, we are quickly becoming more eager and ready to step up our level of civic participation and engagement. If we succeed in building upon this momentum with a renewed focus on education, empowerment and engagement, the Latino Nation will not only benefit Latinos, it will benefit our nation as a whole. Latino Nation gives us a glimpse into what we'll need to do to get there.

Tune in to Latino Nation on Tavis Smiley on PBS, April 10-12.