Recently my organization hosted the 2012 Hispanic Voice Town Hall on the campus of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In anticipation of the event there was doubt and skepticism from the local Las Vegas community and its leaders about what would be accomplished. The concerns revolved around what value an outsider (an organization that was not from the Las Vegas community) would bring and how they could conceivably lead a local community conversation. There was clearly a territorial dynamic in the air.
This is one example of why the Hispanic community is not advancing fast enough in America. We tend to silo ourselves rather than find ways to unite. The Hispanic community needs to stop fragmenting its voice and begin to find new ways to work together - so that we can learn to trust ourselves to lead. How can Hispanics begin to believe that the rest of America will begin to trust our community as influential leaders if we continue to lack trust amongst ourselves?
As the Town Hall commenced, there was curiosity and intrigue. The room of 100+ people that included state representatives and other local party leaders, advocates and university students were hungry to talk about the issues that they were passionate about. Every 15 minutes, the environment organically became safer; more people started to raise their hands and an objective conversation took place. It took 90 minutes for the conversation to really get started but it was a healthy, interactive and intellectually stimulating discussion.
Why did it take so long to get the conversation started? The audience needed to feel safe to share their opinions, attitudes and genuine concerns about policy making issues that included immigration reform, the economy, jobs, education, voting responsibilities, etc.
What broke the ice? Respect. And respect allowed us to trust one another in that moment.
Latinos seek respect so they can begin to trust. Not just from the Presidential candidates, but from those within our own community. Latinos in America have become jaded and excessively sensitive. We have become quick to judge and react to certain words and phrases (even initiatives that are genuinely intended to help advance our community). Remarkably enough, Latinos have grown to interpret certain acts of kindness as being offensive. This is because we have trouble trusting others let alone ourselves.
Hispanics have the innate ability to anticipate crisis before circumstances force our hand. Unfortunately, many times this survival mechanism comes alive more often than not with those people and organizations within our own community.
It is certainly easy to understand why Hispanics are naturally skeptical. First of all, we were raised to understand (or witnessed) the leadership corruption in our mother countries. Secondly, it's difficult to stay hopeful when you consider the poor acts of leadership that led to our current recessionary times. Third, it's tough to change our mindset when we continuously experience childish behavior from our current political leaders. Fourth, we create unnecessary territorial divide by wasting time comparing and contrasting our differences - rather than leveraging the powerful force that lies within our own diversity. Finally, it's difficult to trust when the majority of America (including Latinos themselves) overwhelmingly defines and associates the identity of Latinos with a lack of education, illegal (undocumented) immigration, the Dream Act and victimization - just to name a few.
In order for the Hispanic community to build momentum in the United States, we must begin to find new ways to respect and build trust within our own community. Our inwardly focused envy, dissension and ridicule is pushing us backward at a time when America desperately needs us to outwardly reinvent ourselves as leaders and influencers in the new global economy. What will happen to America if 30% of its voice is not responsibly utilized? A much bigger economic and political problem will arise than what we have experienced since 2008. 2050 is just around the corner and we have a lot of work to do, together!
The only way the rest of America will begin to trust our ability to lead and advance ourselves, is if we give them reason to believe that we have finally learned to respect and trust one another with our own community - not by words, but actions.