CHICAGO – The Latino voice must be recognized, valued and heard on the various issues facing a group that is the fastest growing minority in the U.S., noted Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum at the group’s first ever policy briefing held in downtown Chicago on Oct. 18.
The “Latinos and the Changing Face of America” event brought together various public and private sector businesses, individuals, politicians and leaders from Illinois Hispanic community, home to over two million Latinos, a 121 percent state growth since 2000.
This surge in population made 2011 the “year of the Latino,” said Ms. Puente.
Even if the U.S. borders were to close tomorrow, said Ms. Puente, the Latino population will keep growing based on the huge demographic shift and the increasing number of U.S. born Latinos, she explained, touting recent statistics.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 50.5 million people or one out of six is Latino, an increase of 43 percent over the last decade, more than any other racial or ethnic group. In Illinois, one out of every four children under five is Latino and Latino youth are the largest minority group in kindergarten through 12th grade in U.S. schools.
While the biggest percentages of growth are from Latinos of Mexican descent, those from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic and other countries from Central and South America also grew.
“This (Latino) community is now too big for America to try to succeed without it,” Ray Suarez, senior correspondent for PBS NewsHour told the nearly 400-member audience in his keynote address.
This tremendous growth offers diverse challenges that must be embraced by America, he continued.
Advancing and improving the conditions and challenges facing Latinos is a shared future for everyone, argued Mr. Suarez, a 30-year media veteran. He touched on the devastating impact the subprime mortgage crisis had on Latino communities, which plunged the median wealth of Hispanics by 66 percent from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,325 in 2009. The median wealth of White households is now 18 times greater than that of Latino households, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Because Latinos are so much more present in the United States than they were a generation ago, our successes and our failures will affect Americans far beyond our own kitchen tables for decades to come,” said Mr. Suarez.
The wider society will have to decide if it is a priority to break the isolation of Latino children in some of the most segregated schools in the country, he added. Latinos suffer from low high school graduation rates and receive inferior education, said the journalist. This is also reflected at the collegiate level where only 19.2 percent of Latinos are graduating from college while the national average stands at 41.1 percent, according to a recent report by the College Board Advocacy and Policy Center.
As the debate on immigration reform and securing America’s borders rages, the fact remains that Latinos are here and the often angry, vitriolic “anti-Latino” debate is not helping, said Mr. Suarez. Those who express such bitterness don’t realize their future affluence and security is tied to Latino success, he argued.
“Our future prosperity is this country’s prosperity and if we don’t make it, it just won’t be us that’s worse off for it, everybody will be worse off for it,” said Mr. Suarez.
The Latino Policy Forum is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to ensuring Latino involvement in all areas and levels of public decision and policy-making in Illinois in education, housing, immigration policies and other critical areas.