Latinos and the Nation’s Future

By js, 17 January, 2010, No Comment

I can’t decide yet what to think about this book.

In some sections, I thought I was the audience of the book, while in others I thought I was NOT the intended audience.

The arguments weave back and forth using the term “American” and “Latino.”

I think it would be fascinating to do a study to see how different readers react to this book. Who considers herself “American” and who considers herself “Latino” and what happens when a reader identifies with both labels.

That schizophrenia was exactly my dilemma as I read it. At what point was I being addressed and urged to “shift” my efforts and when was I urged to “understand.”

Ultimately, I’ve concluded that as a Latina I must do both.

According to Henry Cisneros, the editor of the book,

“The central thesis of this book is that the Latino population is now so large, its trajectory of growth so rapid, its contrast in relative age to that of the general population so stark, that it will not be possible for the United States to advance without substantial, and so far unimagined, gains in the economic, educational, and productive attributes of the nation’s Latino community” (Cisneros, 4).

I was pleased to see this thesis stated so directly. In stating the thesis in this format, as a Latina, I can understand the power which is possible if harnessed. At the same time, I can understand the fear which this realization may cause in those who are unprepared for this truth, who think that the US must be cleansed if it (notice I did not use the term “we”) is to prosper.

He continues: “This thesis requires Americans to achieve an unprecedented awareness, that is to see the relationship between the general population and Latinos in new ways, revealing an interwoven future demanding action as well as understanding” (Cisenros, 4).

“Revealing an interwoven future demanding action”… I remember the first time I heard the US Census presentation in which the new demographic  numbers and projections were made. On more than one occasion, the presenter said “They [meaning Latinos] will be the ones working and contributing to Social Security so we can still retire.” The argument here was, “We need them so we need to improve their success rates so they can sustain us when we are old.” At the time, this argument offended me greatly. (Of course, I realize I was not the intended audience.)

Cisneros does a much better job of presenting a very similar idea. At the moment, those in power can change the structure which perpetuates failure in our public schools which today is producing the workforce we need in the future. If we dont change our attitudes and recognize our “interwoven future” today, then we are doomed. Thankfully Cisneros does not place all the power in the “American” who may not understand.

“Third, these traits [population growth and youthfulness] can be converted into a much more powerful and contributory force if they result in Latino acceptance of self-determined responsibility, not only for the Latino community’s destiny, but for a decisive part in the future of America itself” (Cisneros, 7).

Cisneros does argue that the Latino community must take charge and accept responsibility. To take responsibility, though, requires a shift in focus. He argues:

“The Latino motive for activism and advocacy must shift from asking America’s help for Latinos out of fairness, justice, or humanitarian instincts, to an agenda of reinforcing our capacity to help build the nation in which we have such a stake” (Cisneros, 7).

This counters the idea of affirmative action and equal opportunity in which we wait for strategies which will level the playing field. The implied argument is that that strategy has not worked and more than likely will not work.

We must take action and that begins by maintaining our own sense of identity.

On Latino integration, he says: “Some have criticized the traditional model of assimilation as insufficiently respectful of Latino culture and requiring too many concessions of heritage, identity, and subordination to the dominant American culture. People who hold that view have tended to support a concept they label acculturation, which describes a process of relating to American culture as needed to function, but doing so on an equal plane with Latino culture. In this formulation, assimilation is an outmoded idea and acculturation is a concept more in keeping with respect for pan-national ideas that celebrate the rights of individuals, as against the rigidities wrought by the sovereignty  concerns of nations” (Cisneros, 9).

He critics those who focus on the separatist ambitions (or rhetoric) of some. He says: “no serious Latino leader harbors any such ambitions. No matter the levels of frustration bred by the slow pace of progress on matters of education or economics, credible Latino leaders recognize that the best chance of generating opportunity for the national Latino community is within the American social, political, and enterprise systems” (Cisneros, 9-10).

He argues that to understand the Latino’s “degree of integration” we must reframe the debate which “presents a false choice” of giving up one culture in order to integrate into another. He contends that we “do not require that one sphere of knowledge must be displaced in order to accommodate another” (Cisneros, 10)

“The push of Latino ambitions combined with the pull of American culture together create a powerful opportunity to integrate forty million Latinos in the United States” (Cisneros, 10)

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