As the Founder of the Center for Hispanic Leadership, I have been repeatedly asked to help bring Hispanics into the political process, in support of specific 2012 presidential candidates. The requests have come from PACs and the candidates' advisers and I am appalled by the blatantly self-interested tactics they have used. I have declined to help until they get it right. That is why I am writing this piece: to help the politicians and business leaders understand the real issues.
It is clear that the Hispanic voice matters. According to one recent report, by the 2012 election, the Latino vote will increase by 26 percent to 12.2 million voters, or 8.7 percent of the country's total. And the big boys are paying attention. President Obama made a recent visit to Puerto Rico and the GOP has begun charting a course of action under the leadership of Jeb Bush - the proclaimed GOP ambassador to Latino voters. Additionally, The Hispanic Leadership Network, backed by former Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman and his American Action Network, will hold its second conference in Albuquerque next month to lure Hispanic voters. Regardless of the attempts, it is fair to say that progress is slow and both the Democrats and Republicans are having a hard time forging a trustworthy relationship with the Hispanic community.
With over 50 million Hispanics in the U.S., it's time that our politicians figure out how to authentically include the voices of Hispanics in real ways. Failure to do so will mean missing out on relationships, loyalty, markets, customers, employees - and the future of America. Politicians can learn a lot from America's corporations that have made progress in recognizing the competitive advantage that cultural intelligence brings to their workforce. Corporations realize that developing Hispanic leaders gives them an opportunity to innovate in new ways by embracing their cultural roots. Corporate leaders have learned that in today's global marketplace, one size doesn't fit all anymore.
Corporations view their ROI in Hispanic leadership by the impact and influence they can create. Unfortunately for politicians, their ROI is only measured in votes.
Hispanics must be allowed to own their vote. And this doesn't mean that it's for sale. The conventional approach to attract voters does not apply to Hispanics. Remember that Hispanics have trouble trusting others, let alone themselves. There are many reasons why Hispanics are the fastest growing sector of entrepreneurs in the U.S. One reason is that they want to create opportunity for themselves because they do not believe that others are genuinely listening to them. What too many U.S. politicians fail to recognize is that Hispanics greatly desire to have a voice and make a difference. This alone is why Hispanics must own their vote. If they are not allowed to own it, they will continue to believe that their identity represents a liability, rather than an asset, to our country.
For years politicians have failed to create new policies and programs for Hispanics, because they don't see the value of investment in this community. As a result, Hispanics have been forced to assimilate just to be accepted and in many cases, get a job. Many Hispanics will tell you that assimilation represents their path to advancement.
Unfortunately, Hispanics fail to realize that assimilation accelerates their own identity crisis. As they begin to lose touch with their culture and values, Hispanics lose the ability to contribute in a unique way to the patchwork quilt of the American story. They lose their own language.
At a time where the U.S. is reinventing itself, our country would benefit greatly from the experiences gained and lessons learned from the immigrant past of 50 million Hispanics whose history in their mother countries have been fueled by reform and revolution. In fact, the economic impact of immigrants in the U.S. has already been proven to be significant. According to a report released in June, 2011 by The Partnership for a New American Economy, the U.S. economy is not simply helped but reliant upon the contributions of immigrants. As stated in the report, over 40% of the 2010 Fortune 500s where founded by immigrants and their children.
Can you imagine the types of new innovations and opportunities that would be discovered if the Hispanic voice was authentically unleashed?
The changing and powerful demographic shift in America requires that our politicians become more culturally intelligent about Hispanics and begin to empower their voice and encourage them to take action. The great thing about democracy is that it allows for freedom of expression and the sharing of new ideas and ideals. Unfortunately, our current political leadership is not taking the opportunity to create a new platform that empowers Hispanics, their cultural roots, unique capabilities and their voice in America (much like what my father did for me).
If America empowered its Hispanics, the cultural and economic boom that would follow would dwarf the Internet boom of the late 90s. This is especially important for the advancement of Hispanic youth who need to believe that Hispanics can play prominent roles.
Every week I get calls from school districts asking me to speak to their students. As one superintendent told me, "Mr. Llopis, 80% of our school district is of Hispanic origin and these kids desperately need mentors. They need to hear success stories from Hispanic leaders like you that never sacrificed their cultural identity in order to be successful. Our students need to know that they are just as capable of achieving higher level jobs and being leaders in their community and work force as anyone else."
Why continue to ignore the Hispanic voice when they will represent 30% of America in only the next 20 years? According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 1 in 5 schoolchildren are Hispanic.
The time has come to include Hispanics throughout the Presidential campaign process by allowing them to reveal their immigrant perspective, circular vision, entrepreneurial spirit, Latin passion, generous purpose and cultural promise -- the natural characteristics that can make them contributors and innovators to business and society in America. The next 14 months represents a unique opportunity in history to give Hispanics an identity that matters in America. An identity that allows them to become leaders and that begins to hold them accountable to the same standards of performance as everyone else. This would generate a tremendous increase in confidence throughout Hispanic communities all across America. It would create new competition both in the boardroom and the classroom. Hispanics would become authentic and well respected leaders in America.
Can you imagine the economic impact that would surface if 50 million people that were not taken seriously before were now empowered to compete on the same level playing field as everyone else?
I have often heard that just because there are over 50 million Hispanics, they deserve more. This mentality will not only hurt America, but will also further erode the credibility of Hispanics in the U.S. Therefore, the 2012 campaign must find new ways to awaken the sleeping giant by empowering Hispanics to own their vote so that they can become more responsible for the reinvention of America that gives them an identity that matters. If not, the leadership identity Hispanics long for may forever fade away and perhaps never return again.
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