EL PASO — I was shocked to read in a recent article from the Pew Hispanic Center that 62 percent of U.S. Hispanics do not know who the most important Latino leader in the country is today. Mi gente, my people, without a leader? What a distressing thought.
The best explanation I found for this anomaly is in an article by Juana Bordas of The Huffington Post. In her article, “Latino Leadership Follows A New Model,” Bordas says: “Latinos are forging a new model of leadership. One that is people-oriented and community-based…is not concentrated in one voice or in only a few people. Instead, Latino leadership is inclusive. It is leadership by the many.”
The writer refers to a poll by the National Institute for Latino Policy showing that Latinos identified 27 distinct leaders, with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor receiving the most votes at 20 percent.
In a post-Cesar Chavez, post-Raza Unida era, history shows that Latinos know how to mobilize a community. It’s en la sangre, in our blood.
When I hear my mother’s stories of family members participating in the L.A. walkouts of the 1960’s over discrimination against Mexican Americans and unequal conditions in the public schools, or my Tía’s tales of caravanning through Texas to hear Chicano activist Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales speak, I share their sense of electrifying community cohesiveness.
And I know these stories of coming together as one for the greater good are not just shared by my family but by many Latinos. Whether we use a picket sign or a pen to stand up for the greater good, it’s clear Latinos come from an inclusive, people-centered culture. Nothing says this more than the popular phrase, “mi casa es su casa.”
In her article, Bordas also writes that an effective leader must create an environment that encourages diverse people to work together. “Leaders must hand over the reins and shift the control from ‘I as the leader’ to ‘We the people,’” she says. “This is in sync with how Latinos are leading their communities every day… They are natural collaborators, having learned to share and to contribute to their families and community at an early age.”
At an early age is right. I was lucky to live in a home that consisted of three generations of my family—my grandmother, my parents, my older sister and I. Our house always had visiting cousins, tías, and tíos coming over to see abuelita. My mother was one of seven children and so was my father therefore my extended family consisted of an uncountable number of relatives.
As a child I learned to negotiate for the things I wanted, for example the last of my grandmother’s homemade coveted buñuelos. This was usually settled by breaking the last of the buñuelos into enough pieces to go around. My mother was not shy about reminding us to share. With all the laughter, playing, and running around, there was always one table big enough for everyone to sit, eat, and talk, leaving little room for selfishness.
Bordas also points out that Latinos are inherently diverse. They are a culture mainly influenced by the Spanish and indigenous peoples. And many Latinos have mixed ancestry from other countries.
With Latinos coming to the U.S. from 24 unique national cultures and histories, how can we expect one leader who speaks for all? Some think Hispanic, Latino, Chicano are interchangeable. I am Mexican American and I see Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Guatemalans, etc. as my fellow brothers and sisters, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that we all look for the same qualities in leaders.
“Leaders have to motivate and guide people who come from many backgrounds and races…integrating immigrants into the American way of life has been an on-going leadership challenge,” says Bordas. “As minorities who have endured discrimination and have not reached educational or employment equity, leadership has entailed ardent community organizing and social action. Activist leadership requires the fuerza, or strength, of many hands and many voices.”
We all want someone to finally tackle Immigration Reform. We all want Capitol Hill to finally represent the actual America we live in with Latinos included in every professional aspect of the workforce, not just the service industries. But one person cannot accomplish this alone. It has to be the effort of the many.
Bordas ends her essay like this: “[Latino Leadership] holds the promise of a new America with inclusiveness, active citizenship, and people’s welfare at its core. Latino leadership is of, by, and for the people.”
All of these factors have redefined what an inclusive leadership style can do for our country. Latino leadership in the 21st century is a style that welcomes the contributions of everyone, raises the level of civic engagement and is exceptionally well suited for today’s diverse and global age.
Cesar Chavez, I think, said it best: “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community…Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.”