Who speaks for Latinos?

lead photo Hispanic _optAbout seven years ago, when Wayne State University was commissioned to measure the economic impact of the Hispanic community in Southeast Michigan, the result was significant: the Hispanic community contributed $14.5 billion to the region’s economy. That report, sponsored by the Hispanic Business Alliance and released at the 2008 Hispanic Business Expo and Economic Summit in Detroit, underscored the economic power of the Hispanic community. The report also indicated how the Hispanic community is growing in the counties that make up the region.
Today, several Hispanic leaders on the heels of that report are working to harness the talents of the most talked about community in America. The 2010 U.S. Census showed that Latinos are becoming the new racial majority in the nation, an indication that their influence will continue to dominate conversations around political representation and economic empowerment, including entrepreneurship.
Lawrence Garcia, a prominent Hispanic lawyer of the Garcia Law Group and civic leader, and others like him are pushing for a new form of engagement with the Hispanic community in the region.
“Latino Leadership for Southeast Michigan,” is the name of a stakeholders program that Garcia and his wife, Laura; Fred Feliciano, vice president of external affairs at the Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council; Antoinette Fox, head of GM Hispanic Employee Resource Group; State Rep. Harvey Santana; former legislator Belda Garza and others are hosting June 10 at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA).
“Regular meetings of the stakeholders in our community are crucial to swift progress on the path to the next chapter in the immigrant story. No one meeting will turn any corners, but each time we get together to talk about our shared goals and our combined power, we are leaping ahead in making progress,” Garcia said. “The Latino community in Southeast Michigan is still in the early chapters of its version of the American immigration story. Like Irish immigrants in the middle of the 19th century or Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, the Hispanic population is currently growing in number, organizing and becoming more sophisticated. Although we still lack some of the solidarity and aggregation of wealth seen in other ethnic groups, the trends are all good.”
Feliciano said the program next week at the DIA is a “calling of leaders in our community to celebrate the broad leadership engagement of the Hispanic community from the civic, business and political standpoint.”
“We’ve made great strides in that we not only have visible leadership, but we have standing to develop pipelines and nurture and groom the best examples of future political leaders,” Feliciano said.
Fox said one of her goals is pursuing and identifying talents in the Latino community both local and nationally because “our success resides in our collaboration and in leveraging the Hispanic talent.”
The 2008 study which used the Regional Economic Model, also noted that the economic activities of the Latino community produced over 180,000 jobs in Southeast Michigan,
“We have to grow talent. We have to have Latinos in all types of industry and we need the right support at every level to do so,” Fox explained. “At the school level we have to make sure Latino students are taking part in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) and they are developing in that.”
Garcia agrees.
“Educational achievement amongst Latinos still lags behind other racial groups; however, the gap is closing fast,” Garcia said. “Currently, the high school dropout rate for Michigan Hispanics is a fraction of what it was 10 years ago, and predominantly Latino high schools like Cesar Chavez Academy and Cristo Rey show extraordinary graduation rates well above the national average for Latinos.”
Feliciano, on the other hand said, “We have a platform for leadership to not only develop a dialogue,” but also to see results through engagement. He said six Latinos are currently serving in the Michigan legislature.
Garcia said there are already examples of products of the Latino political struggle and representation in local and statewide politics. He wants to see more and further expansion of the reach of the Hispanic community in the various spheres of influence.
“In politics, we are enjoying a lot of gains as illustrated by the bright careers of young leaders like Rico Razo and Sandra Hughes O’Brien,” Garcia said. “Both of Mexican ethnicity, Razo is the head of the City of Detroit’s Department of Neighborhood’s District 6, and O’Brien is a Latina who won statewide office with her successful bid to gain a seat on the Wayne State University Board of Governors. Both continue to garner accolades and both seem destined to represent larger and larger constituencies.”
Regarding State Rep. Harvey Santana, Garcia said he has distinguished himself “in creating policy that affects the entire State of Michigan. But more than any of these individuals, there is a general sense that there is a new crop of young Latino leaders who will be exerting a growing influence on the levers of power in Michigan.”
Elias Gutierrez, president and editor of the Latino Press newspaper, said there is a need for Latinos and African Americans to bond together because “we face the same issues around justice, economic inequity.”
Gutierrez said a Black and Brown coalition of Hispanic and Black leaders would show the strength of numbers when communities rally together around issues of common interest.
“Both of our communities are politically marginalized. We need to form a commonality and work to address the challenges we face in the region. including poverty,” Gutierrez said. ”
Like the Black community, the Latino community faces many challenges reflected in the words of civil rights leader Caesar Chavez who said, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it is how we use our lives that determines what kind of people we are. It is my belief that only by giving our lives do we find life. “

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