Latinos and the Nation’s Future

At a Center for American Progress event yesterday, CAP Senior Fellow Esther Olavarria celebrated the release of Latinos and the Nation’s Future, which she described as an important new book that "takes a hard look at the obstacles of Latinos and provides recommendations on how to best marshall their energies and talents, develop their educational and leadership potentials, and help them move into the middle class and shape the future of this nation."

With the Census Bureau’s mid-range estimates for 2050 asserting that the nation’s Latino population will grow by 63 million people, and that Latinos will make up over 25 percent of the U.S. population, the event’s panelists noted that the Latino population is now so large, its trajectory of growth so rapid, and its contrast in age relative 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 for the nation’s Latino community.

Panelist Henry Cisneros, executive chairman of CityView, former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and editor of Latinos and the Nation’s Future, noted that the problems the nation will face in the future are inextricably linked to those of the Hispanic community. With nations like China and India emerging as major powers, many argue that U.S. dominance will soon be eclipsed, and what is known as the American Century will soon be over. Whether America surmounts its challenges or slides to the middle of the pack will likely depend on its fastest-growing segment: the Latino community.

Panelist Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, founder and director of Arte Público Press, asked those watching to “stop looking at Latinos as immigrants or foreigners.” Many Latinos, he noted, were in the United States prior to its existence, and many even helped fight for the abolition of slavery during the Civil War. American culture and Latino culture are therefore tied together, stated Kanellos, adding, “Just look at the southwestern cities with Spanish names.”

Janet Murguía, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, told the panel that the new book provides a blueprint for the future of Hispanic Americans, and she spoke about the “unprecedented mobilization of Latino voters” in the last election. Discussing the results of a Pew Research Center study taken of the November 2008 general election, Murguía noted that of first-time voters, 21 percent were Latino, compared to 8 percent of the total U.S. population. The panel agreed that harnessing this new sense of political power and using it to effectively lobby for issues that matter to the Latino community is the next step for the community’s inclusion in American society.

The panel agreed that the importance of education—specifically undergraduate and postgraduate studies—was the key to gains for the nation’s Latino community. Panelist Sarita Brown, president of Excelencia in Education, noted that the “cost of education is one of human capital.” In order to succeed, she said, “we must have trained individuals.” She noted that there is a myth spread among education administrators that Latino students and their families are not committed to their educational success. The truth, the panel agreed, was that countless Latino families regularly make sacrifices to send their children to college. They also noted that altering the discourse surrounding education in Latino communities would drastically improve the community’s dropout rates.

In terms of what the Obama presidency held for the Latino community, the panel agreed that it is both “symbolic and substantive.” Henry Cisneros declared that last Tuesday’s inauguration “introduced multiculturalism at the highest level.” This is important, they agreed, because it says to every child of color in America that they too can one day become president.

Pressed on what they would hold the new Obama administration to in the coming years, the panel agreed that it “was not enough to articulate big ideas.” The administration has to do its part to effect sustainable and significant changes in immigration reform, integration efforts, education, housing, and health care reform that benefit the Latino community. Our collective future depends on it.

Featured Panelists:

Henry Cisneros, Executive Chairman, CityView, former San Antonio Mayor and former Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Sarita Brown, President, Excelencia in Education
Dr. Nicolás Kanellos, Founder and Director, Arte Público Press
Murguía, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Council of La Raza

Moderated by:

Esther Olavarria, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Event Video Clips







Center for American Progress, 1333 H St. NW, 10th Floor, Washington, DC , 20005

Additional information

A light lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m.