When I started the Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy (1) along with a small handful of fellow Latino students at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University now twenty years ago, Hispanic Americans were effectively an invisible minority. Though numbering even then nearly 10 percent of the national population, our people were effectively absent from the media-based national narrative of America, university faculties, corporate and foundation boards and staffs and leading institutions that govern U.S. public decision making.
Our purpose in creating the journal was to establish a space to comment on and address these disturbing realities on the public record at one of America's premier institutions--Harvard University. By elevating national attention to Latino community groups and institutions, their perceptions of the issues of the day and their still-untapped leadership and intellectual capital, we hoped to advance the civic good. We hoped to encourage Hispanic community integration into the national mainstream and at the same time to promote needed new governance models and perspectives that would strengthen American democracy by making it more inclusive of Latino--and other diverse community--experiences.
Twenty years later, Latinos, now projected to comprise fully one-quarter of the national population by 2050, constitute the United States' largest minority population. (2) Leading Hispanic Americans, moreover, now inhabit key positions in national and regional governance, media and industry. Important Latino community institutions, such as the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Hispanics in Philanthropy, have become part of the fabric of U.S. civil society. In addition, established mainstream policy-shaping institutions have begun to appoint Latino executives to top positions, including organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Texas Commission on Higher Education, Independent Sector, the Ford Foundation and the Service Employees International Union.
All of these developments underscore the happy fact that Latinos in the United States have finally arrived. They tell us that we have accumulated a degree of power and standing in American society sufficient to participate meaningfully in shaping the nation's future. Like many past excluded groups in the American experience--White ethnic Europeans, women, Jewish Americans and African Americans among them--Latinos have gained a position of public salience sufficient to play in the high-stakes game of power politics that shapes American public policy. And yet much still needs to be done to ensure that Latinos realize their expanding potential to affect the nation's political decision making.
Our continuing challenges as a community remain significant and should be of concern to all Americans given our population's growing significance nationwide.
Consider these unfortunate contemporary realities affecting the status and prospects of Latino people and groups.
* More than half of the Latino youth population drops out of the American public education system before attaining a high school diploma.
* Fully 60 percent of Latino families lack basic health insurance.
* Latino unemployment and poverty rates are nearly 1.5 times higher than the national average.
* Immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek opportunity and employment are being killed in record numbers by American vigilante groups and criminal smugglers.
* Growing anti-immigrant sentiment directed especially to Latinos is fueling poorly reasoned ballot initiatives in various states that seek to preclude Latino newcomers and their children from accessing public education and services.
Exacerbating these hard realities is the continued status of Latinos as citizens and residents of our nation who are largely politically disenfranchised. …