Lewis W. Diuguid, Kansas City Star, Apr. 28
One clear message surfaced during last week’s three-day Latino Civil Rights Summit 2004: This country mustn’t ignore or suppress the needs or economic and political potential of Hispanics.
Jose Angel Gutierrez, a Dallas lawyer and author, said it best as Friday’s luncheon speaker: “We are the future of America. Unlike any prior generation, we now have a critical mass. We’re going to Latinize this country.”
People who were white, black, Asian American and Native American also attended the “Crossing the Bridge” summit to learn how the growing Hispanic population will affect the nation.
Gutierrez said people from Mexico, Central and South America are not immigrating to the United States. They are simply migrating because this land had been theirs. Spain had held it, and before that it had belonged to the indigenous people. Hispanics should never put up with others telling them to go back where they came from. “You don’t have to apologize to anybody,” Gutierrez said. But he urged Hispanics to develop a plan.
“We’re talking about crossing the bridge, but is it to get across or is it to come back?” Gutierrez asked. “Is it a one-way bridge or a two-way bridge? You’ve got to have a plan.”
On Saturday at the action planning session, Gutierrez pointed to Hispanic businesses on Central Avenue in Kansas City, Kan., as examples of America’s future. “The potential is tremendous,” he said.
“What we have at the moment is labor power and consumer power,” he said. “We work and we buy. Political power will come later.”
That’s because half of the Hispanics in the United States are younger than 21. “We’re spectators at the basketball game,” Gutierrez said.
However, that also means that for every one Latino who dies, five white people will die because they are older. But that leaves five empty houses and five vacant businesses, Gutierrez said.
“The vacuum has got to be filled by somebody; otherwise all our economy and neighborhoods will collapse,” he said. More people of color and minority businesses must fill the void for America to remain vibrant.
The third Latino Civil Rights Summit left Hispanics with a greater sense of empowerment than the previous ones. The numbers are in their favor.
In 2000, the nation had 35.6 million Hispanics, representing 12.6 percent of the U.S. population. Census projections show the Latino population will rise to 102.6 million people by 2050, amounting to 24.4 percent of the country’s 419.9 million people.
In 2000, African-Americans made up 12.7 percent of the population. By 2050 that will increase to 14.6 percent. Audiences at the summit were told Hispanics and blacks must form more alliances to increase their economic and political strength.
Each must leverage the numbers to their advantage, Rogelio Lasso, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor, said at a forum on collaboration. “We are thinking ‘Who is No. 1?’ instead of thinking ‘If we are 30 percent together, how are we going to get 30 percent of the pie?’” he said.
The summit included sessions on education and how the No Child Left Behind Act will negatively affect students of color. Resegregation also is occurring, stranding black and Hispanic children in poor schools, said Ruben Garza, an Austin, Texas, educator.
Patriot Acts I and II keep making life more difficult for immigrants. That’s occurring as the nation is enjoying a record 33.5 million foreign-born residents. They are 11.7 percent of the population, Steve Camarota, director of research with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, said in a telephone interview.
The foreign born represented a record 14.8 percent of the U.S. population in 1890 and 14.7 percent in 1910. “It’s very possible by the end of the decade we’ll pass the all-time high,” Camarota said.
But Lasso voiced concern about the rise in anti-immigration feelings since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“It feels like it’s acceptable in this country to be anti-immigrant,” he said. “I fear if we have another terrorist attack it will affect the immigrants first.”
But our intertwined fates may be our salvation.
“The state of the Latino community cannot be separated from the state of America,” said Elias L. Garcia, executive director of the Kansas Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs. “Our destinies are inextricably tied.”
I hope more people develop an appreciation for that.