With a New Year starting, it is inevitable to look back and think about the importance 2012 had for the Latino community in the United States. The Latino vote that reelected Barack Obama two months ago sent a clear message to not only politicians, but also to the government and a business community that still struggles to accept that the demographic in this country changed. Diversity is part of the new norm and Latinos are a growing force that is here to stay. The "sleeping giant" has awoken and the fastest growing minority that today makes up 16.7 percent of the total nation's population (and 29 percent of the population by 2050 according to Pew Research projections) with a $1.5 trillion purchasing power by 2015, as well as rising political influence and business power combined with über-connected tech saviness, has become, without a doubt, a strategic part of the nation's future.
Despite the evident progress we have made in recent years in some areas, we still haven't overcome five fundamental barriers, key challenges at the personal level that are holding us back and condition our ability to fast track the Latino Agenda, as well as shine and prosper as a community. Only by addressing these issues first and developing a new mindset to better understand and accept the individual role we now play in the building of this new phase of the American society, we will be able to evolve, become a valuable power group and change the outdated, misrepresented Latino stereotypes.
1. Embrace a true culture of collaboration. As Latinos we need to learn to work jointly with others towards reaching common goals. Other communities have successfully made collaboration part of who they are, yet for us it is still a pending task. The Latino community is formed by a wide range of different, unique Hispanic cultures that have shown they (can) come together around topics of common interest when they want -- for example education, health care and immigration -- but unfortunately we still function as independent silos. Now imagine for a moment, the wide range of possibilities that arise if all Hispanic citizens, businesses, groups, associations and NGOs that coexist in the U.S. -- Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Colombian, Dominican, Salvadoran, among other -- put differences aside and join forces to push our common agenda forward. Powerful? You bet.
2. Make education a personal priority. In an open, interconnected world with a highly competitive marketplace that increasingly demands more well-educated professionals with new skills and updated knowledge, investing in our own development to grow and advance in this society is a must. Education is a national priority and has been already established as the foundation for a knowledge-based society that more sooner than later will power our nation. JFK once said it loud and clear "Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource." We need more Latinos in government and corporate America and the only way to make it happen is to change from being the largest minority to the largest educated minority in the country. Are you part of the future or the past?
3. Become financially literate and fit. When it comes to personal finance, our community fails considerably. In a credit-powered money culture that promotes a "pay-for-it-later" mentality, the lack of financial consciousness can be a dangerous time bomb. Let's be honest, we have never been disciplined savers. Instead we prefer to think short-term and accept the need for instant gratification over long-term thinking. As usual high-spenders that are not very "tax-smart", and don't apply basic budgeting skills to our daily finances, our bleak financial landscape is really concerning, BUT we change it. Becoming financially fit should be a top priority for us to progress as individuals and families. It all starts by accepting our financial reality (whatever it is) and developing a new, frugal mindset through financial education that should guide us to effectively manage our money, grow our net worth and yes, use credit wisely.
4. Promote positive cultural integration. Social scientists agree that cultural and socio-economic integration seems of paramount importance, given that such patterns determine how the expression of cultural differences is translated into individual behavior, multicultural community development and public policy. With the growing reverse acculturation phenomenon taking place among new generations of Hispanics, focusing cultural integration on similarities and complementary positive values rather than differences between the immigrant and the host culture becomes critical. It may be the starting point to facilitate an already complex process and debate that needs to be framed differently. In this context, the re-education of non-Hispanic Americans is necessary to help them understand and value Latinos correctly, and urgently deconstruct negative stereotypes encountered in news stories, entertainment programming or on the radio that are misrepresenting the Hispanic majority. It's a process that takes time, but we better get started. An amazing new American Culture "con Sabor" is waiting to blossom.
5. Productive use of technology. Yes, we excel other ethnic groups in technology adoption and use, spend an average of 7 hours online daily, and are mobile power users, BUT... the vast majority of our fellow Latinos still give technology an unproductive use, mostly for entertainment and basic communication needs. What if we now start using technology and the Web in innovative, productive ways to collaborate, create value, and compete?
To move the Latino Agenda forward and take our community to the next level, we need to acknowledge and embrace education, technology and collaboration as the three strategic levers that will empower us individually and ultimately fuel our community's growth. Now the fundamental question still remains... Are we ready to embrace change from within, assume the cost of developing a new mindset and commit to success?