Earlier this year, I was invited by Mayor Villaraigosa's office to attend LA's Best Hosted a Panel Discussion Event with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at the Edward R. Roybal Learning Center in Los Angeles in support of the TEACH.org campaign that is focused on inspiring people of color (and in particular Latinos) to consider teaching as a profession. Panelists also included Los Angeles, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, John Legend, Oscar de la Hoya and others.
While the panel discussion was inspiring, it was quite disappointing to watch Secretary Duncan struggle to answer questions from Latino high school students who wanted to hear the honest truth about their future. Instead, these students heard a confused, unacculturated leader who was disconnected with the realities of what Hispanics are faced with in the US. It was clear that Secretary Duncan lacked an understanding of the pain that Latinos are feeling in their schools, in society and in the workplace. But he is not totally at fault. Our own Hispanic community has not been effective at educating our government leaders. Secretary Duncan's lack of understanding is the same that exists amongst C-Level executives in America's Corporations.
One thing is for certain: Hispanics are experiencing a major identity crisis in the US. They don't know whom to follow, what to believe and what standards to live by. As history has shown us, Hispanics have experienced political crisis and societal change in their mother countries (much like we have in the post-2008 economy). Their families experienced reform and revolution and have wired them to anticipate false promises without preparation. As such, Hispanics understand survival and reinvention. They understand what it means to "turn themselves around."
The United States can learn a lot from Hispanics if given the opportunity. Hispanics possess the natural characteristics that make them great managers and leaders. Hispanics have a unique opportunity to emerge as the new leaders of America's corporations. Our government leaders can accept this fact now and begin to create the infrastructure to support their educational advancement by utilizing the leadership characteristics that are embedded in their unique cultural heritage. Or, we can continue to ignore the "Hispanic Factor" that continues to make itself more apparent each day and miss the tremendous growth opportunities that Hispanics can potentially bring as a community that will represent 30% of our great country by 2050. Can you imagine 30% of the US population largely ignored and certainly underutilized? Hispanics must be given the opportunities to be their natural and whole selves to propel new types of innovations and breed a new kind of economic prosperity for the United States of America.
Other considerations for Washington:
• Hispanics have been the majority minority since 2003. It's time for Washington to rapidly increase the number of appointed Hispanics in the White House; inspire Hispanics to pursue national political positions. Sonia Sotomayor's selection was viewed as tokenism by many (though she was more than qualified for the position). What can Washington do to assimilate itself to the growing Hispanic community?
• How does Washington create a two-way conversation so that Hispanics can begin to believe that our historical past, our struggle for independence and fight of opportunity matters in how Hispanics are perceived in the US? How can Washington help give recognition to more Hispanic heroes and get them involved in daily mainstream conversation? This is especially important for Hispanic Youth in America who seek more Hispanic role models in positions of mainstream leadership that embrace their cultural roots as strengths rather than barriers to advancement.
President Obama must stop the tokenism that has taken place in Washington for years and start to include Hispanic leaders in his agenda to reinvent America. Our new mainstream voice must be encouraged to start leading conversations that involve the advancement of America. So how can Washington help create this opportunity (on multiple fronts) for the Hispanic community - that we are ready to seize?
Hopefully this post will be addressed when the Huff Post Latino Voices team conducts their interview
with President Obama on September 28th. More than anything, I urge the team to get real answers from the President. I want him to admit that while there are efforts in place by the White House and good intentions to authentically connect with Hispanics and their voices - the system is still broken. If he is genuine and speaks the truth, Hispanics will rally around him to fix the problems - if given the opportunity. If he starts to "spin his answers" - be respectful, but explain to the President that this approach will hurt any chances he has of earning the collective vote and the voices of Hispanics in the 2012 election. Additionally, if he is not transparent this will create further division amongst the Hispanic community because we are so naturally skeptical. This is just one of many cultural nuances that politicians just don't understand about Hispanics. If we can "course correct" the President perhaps others will finally follow.