There’s something regarding the Latino world that baffles. The spectacular growth in the Latino population in the U.S. is disproportionate to its influence. There’s a lot more of us, but we don’t seem to be making an impact on matters or events to reflect that phenomenon.
If we are growing so fast, why isn’t our influence and involvement in all phases of society keeping pace with our population growth?
That it isn’t happening is the challenge in trying to understand if and why we are the main culprits in undermining our status.
One hypothesis is extrapolated from a recent article in The New York Times that centered on one isolated area in an isolated jurisdiction in Florida that suggested numbers don’t necessarily equal power or influence and even produce the fear of retribution.
The Latino population in Orange County, Fla., home to Disney World and other famous amusement parks, increased 84 percent in the last decade to 308,244 residents out of a population of 1.2 million.
One of the county board members ignored this large ethnic population in her district and named two non-Hispanic Whites to a citizens board assigned to redraw political districts.
When confronted as to why she didn’t name any Latinos, she dismissively replied, “I wouldn’t say it was a priority.”
Fair enough, but realistically speaking and considering the explosive Latino numbers, it should be, particularly when it concerns a high-impact board with such a large and growing Spanish-speaking constituency.
In many U.S. jurisdictions, regardless of the increasing sway of the Latino population, the impact is still so minimal that you begin to wonder if it’s self-inflicted or endemic to this particular group.
The lack of impact given the Latino numbers, and as isolated or insignificant as they might seem, suggests that numbers don’t necessarily translate into power or influence by this minority on its way to becoming the dominant group in the U.S.
It also says that Latinos, apparently, are still not that well schooled in the art of community politics, and reflects apathy in the use of suffrage as a social tool and political persuader.
The U.S. Census data as of 2010 revealed there are now 50.5 million Hispanics, growing 46.3 percent from 2000 to soon become the largest demographic group in the U.S., overtaking the current dominant group, non-Hispanic Whites.
In numbers there is power, right? No, wrong. Judging from the history of U.S. Latinos, we seem destined to remain second bananas in most walks of national life, which is already illustrative in many areas, with some notable exceptions.
In the U.S. Congress, wherein lies our faith in constitutional governance, there are 24 Latino congressmen out of a body of 541 members, five nonvoting, and two senators in the 100-member body.
It doesn’t really matter, I suppose, when there are many U.S. Latinos who have trouble identifying their national leaders or simply reply that we don’t have any, suggesting a “who cares” attitude.
In one poll, Latinos were asked to name the Latino they considered “the most important leader in the country today.”
Almost two-thirds – 64 percent – said they didn’t know, and 10 percent said, “no one.”
In another poll, they were given names of eight prominent Latinos and asked if they had heard of them and consider them as leaders. Only four were identified as leaders, and by less than half of the respondents.
Our seemingly limited knowledge of representative government aside, the irony is that, like Native Americans, we can lay claim as the first inhabitants and settlers of this land, and this history permeates the entire fabric of this country.
Mexicans – Puerto Ricans and other Latinos weren’t around yet – were here before the first White settlers, and their culture’s imprint is evident throughout U.S. history. Mexicans fought on both sides of the Civil War – and some at the Alamo on the Texicans side that went down fighting Gen. Santa Anna’s Mexican armies.
Military history is filled with the heroic service of Latinos – largely Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans – in all of our world wars – including 12 Medal of Honor recipients in World War II, where up to half a million served.
Mexicans were panning for gold in California before the Gold Rush and supposedly taught the gringos the technique. There are countless cities with Latino names and customs handed down from the Mexican influence of these ethnic settlers.
California has more than 400 cities and communities with Spanish names.
Texas came from tejas, land of tile roofs; Nevada, land of snow; Colorado, the red land; and Florida, land of flowers.
A lot of our U.S. English vocabulary comes from the Spanish/Mexican influence, like chocolate, tobacco, rodeo, burro, corral, patio, mosquito, cafeteria, vigilante and countless others.
We are part of the American mosaic in so many ways, and the American nation has been built with many contributions by the Mexican influence and lately by the all-inconclusive Latino population.
Yet many of us still prefer our own cuisine, our own languages, our own traditions and our own entertainment.
It’s no wonder we trail other U.S. cultures and races in assimilation and participation and why, in some ways, some of us find more comfort existing in a separate society, opting not to pursue our just deserts and obligations as some sort of social escapism and rebellion.
The U.S. Black community has done an excellent job of integrating into U.S. society and claiming its rightful participation, although it came with a lot of struggle overcome by tenacity and an unshakeable faith in its pursuits.
Maybe we enjoy better a bifurcated society in which our community is still playing over other more viable options.