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Latinos Are Poised for Greater Engagement


Hilda L. Solis, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, gave the keynote speech at the 2013 Latino State of the Union on March 7. Solis stressed the importance of education and immigration reform in empowering Latinos and lifting many out of poverty. Screenshot from LinkTV

By Nina Keehan

The 2013 Latino State of the Union address was held on Thursday, March 7. The message was clear: Latinos are powerful in numbers, but not in political or corporate influence—yet.

Currently 1 in 6 people in the United States are Latino, including 1 in 4 preschool-age children, making Latinos the largest minority community in the United States.

Yet no Latinos are in the presidential cabinet and few are in Congress. And while Latino consumers hold $2 trillion in buying power, they make up only 2 percent of corporate boards. Although Latinos comprise a quarter of young adults in the country, only 12 percent of college graduates are Latino.

Alarmingly, 36 percent of Latinos live in poverty.

At the same time, the 2012 election was a  turning point for Latinos, according to the panelists. With more than 10 percent of the total vote coming from Latinos, President Obama owes his second-term victory, in large part, to this group. As pointed out by the keynote speaker, Hilda L. Solis, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, the president’s promise to expand and renew the middle class requires continued Latino involvement.

Solis said that the nation must prioritize education at all levels and provide young Latino students with advanced training in the careers of the future including manufacturing, healthcare and renewable energy.

She also called for comprehensive immigration reform which would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, who are often pushed to emigrate to America because of poverty and hunger in their own countries.  Solis advocates cutting wait times for immigrants who want to come to American legally and granting citizenship to “Dreamers," the children of undocumented immigrants who came to the United States with their parents.

“It’s unacceptable that we don’t have a single Latino in the cabinet at a time when we are negotiating an issue as important as immigration,” added panelist Hector Sanches, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.

Solis recognized that the entire Latino community needs to engage in the process for it to be successful:

“We must take action by calling on our elected officials in Washington to pass a comprehensive immigration bill this year," said Solis. "It will require an education campaign that draws form all of our communities by holding forums, writing letters, and convening community briefings for everyone.

"This is the chance of a lifetime to change the direction of the country and Latinos have a lot to gain if we unify behind one another.”

Nina Keehan, a media relations intern at Bread for the World, is a senior magazine journalism and public health dual major at Syracuse University.



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