THE BLOG

American Latinos Speak

09/24/2012 09:42 am ET | Updated Nov 24, 2012

More than a decade ago, like countless other groups woven into the tapestry of our nation, a diverse group of American business leaders came together in an exercise older than the republic itself, citizen engagement. Such was the birth of the New America Alliance (NAA), an American Latino Business Initiative. Our mission was - and remains - to amalgamate, galvanize and leverage our human, economic and political capital for the benefit of our country and our communities. Implicit in that mission is the belief that, having achieved a measure of the American dream, it is incumbent upon us to enable others fulfill their own potential.

We reached out to like-minded organizations and individuals who understood then and understand that - now more than ever - our continued progress depends upon collaboration and a robust participation in American economic, civic and philanthropic life - across sectors, across political parties and across institutions that address issues of concern to all Americans: education, economic development, healthcare, immigration and public and private sector policy-making. In adding our voices and actions to the greater national discourse, HACR, NALEO, NCLR, USHCC and Miami Dade College, have been invaluable partners along with dozens of organizations that are convening at the First Biennial American Latino Summit in Miami this September 24. Mark this date. It will herald a heightened level of engagement of the American Latino business and civic leadership of this country. The times and our country demand no less.

The need to define ourselves and our lives as Americans has been made evident to us throughout history; a history shared, in part, with previous waves of immigrant groups. Today, this need has taken a greater urgency. In this, the age of instantaneous broadcasts with unprecedented reach, many in the public arena have found it expedient to fan the fires of economic insecurity, fear of demographic change, fear of immigration and globalization and even fear of anything or anyone even slightly different, to stoke the anti-foreign, anti-Latino animus full-force. And in acts of extreme reductionism, the patriotism, constitutional rights, rightfully earned opportunities, civic and economic value, and at times, physical safety of millions of Americans are being compromised. When American Latinos are the target, attitudes and actions are often informed by a toxic antipathy directed at 11.2 million undocumented persons, many of whom were brought here as children, and whose very humanity is routinely questioned.

"Show me your papers and prove your citizenship" ensnares us all, including those who may trace American Hispanic ancestry to 1565 Saint Augustine, forty-two years before Jamestown and fifty-five before the Mayflower. Or those families who have had a continuous presence in the American Southwest since the 1800s; they never moved, the border did. Or millions of Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens at birth. A fact not lost on American Latinos, is that our history - as well as our present - is always in full view: Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Antonio, Santa Fe, Montana, Colorado, Nevada, La Florida...

Since the NAA's founding in 1999, the U.S., Hispanic/Latino population has grown to more than 52 million. As a matter of perspective, this is larger than the population of the 25 smallest states and the District of Columbia combined and accounts for more than 56% of total U.S. population growth since 2000. The Hispanic median age of 27.6 (vs. national median age of 37.3) with Latinos comprising nearly a quarter of all American children under the age of 17, makes educational advancement and workforce development a national imperative. This is an economic necessity not only to support retirement of the baby boomers; but equally important, because it will determine our ability to remain competitive in an increasingly integrated global marketplace. Without improvement, our mediocre ranking 14th in educational attainment among the 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development makes competitive sustainability nearly impossible.

The U.S. Hispanic segment provides the economy more than one trillion dollars (of the $12 trillion total) in annual consumer purchasing power. And according to the most current Census Bureau Survey of Business Owners (2007), it also contributed the economic value of 2.3 million nonfarm Hispanic owned domestic businesses; more than 8% of all such businesses in the United States.

Beyond small-business entrepreneurs in traditional service sectors, there is another developing story...growth. Many Hispanic-owned companies have broken the billion dollar revenue mark. In fact, the top three companies heading the Hispanic Business 500 reported aggregate revenue of over $10 billion FYE 2011, with more than 16,800 employees; operating in the wireless industry, communications, utility/energy infrastructure and real estate development. As a standalone economy the domestic Hispanic segment would rank as one of the top twenty in the world. These job creators and tax-payers are a vital part of the nation's economic engine, as are an additional 243,000 businesses, owned 50%-50% by Hispanics and non-Hispanics equally, that are not included in the foregoing numbers.

Socio-economic issues are inextricably intertwined and more complex than facile pronouncements and twenty-second sound bites would have the public believe. As Mexico gets vilified in America's town square it might be prudent to consider that at more than $159 billion annually, Mexico is second only to Canada in imports of goods and services from the United States. It dwarfs China's $96 billion, and it tops Japan, the United Kingdom and Germany combined. Tourists and visitors from Mexico also spent $9.2 billion experiencing the United States in 2011.

Every day, there are one million legal border crossings supporting 1.25 billion dollars in daily two-way trade. According to the U.S. Department of State, "border states are not the only ones that benefit from this dynamic trade relationship - a total of 22 U.S. states have Mexico as the number one or number two destination for their exports, including California, Iowa, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin".

Yet Mexico is even more strategic to the United States in its exports. Again, next to Canada, Mexico is the U.S. second largest supplier of petroleum providing more than 400 million barrels per year. In 2011 it exceeded Saudi Arabia by nearly 40 million barrels. And while 18,000 companies with U.S. investments have operations in Mexico, Mexican investment in U.S. companies have also increased, rising to nearly $8 billion in 2008. Entemann's pastries, Thomas English Muffins, Borden's Dairy products, TracFone and Straight Talk are all Mexican owned. Mexican firm CEMEX, one of the world's largest building materials suppliers, is also the United States largest supplier of cement and ready-mix concrete, a market it consolidated through the purchase of Rinker Materials and its plants in 2007. Other Latin American stories are also compelling.

In summary, American Latinos in the United States are much more than the undocumented; yet they, too, are part of our story and of our concern. Comprehensive immigration reform need not be inhumane nor undertaken in a vacuum. Education impacts us all. Our increasingly interdependent economies require more cooperation than ever, and all policies have serious socio-economic ramifications.

We, American Latinos represented at the NAA and the other organizations at this Summit, embrace the responsibility of citizenship and commit to continue to do everything in our power to contribute to the progress of our nation and our communities, and to strive individually and collectively toward that more perfect Union.