Where Are the National Latino Voices?
By Angelo Falcón
The NiLP Report
As the Trump agenda becomes increasingly concrete and despicable, the response by the national Latino political leadership has been, well, tepid. I say specifically "national" because every day we document valiant local community struggles to oppose ICE, fight gentrification, oppose colonial austerity measures in Puerto Rico, defend sanctuary cities in California, Texas and other states, and on and on. Plenty of great, creative and dedicated leadership in local Latino communities. However, this is clearly having trouble making it to the national level of policy and political discussions. Hence what we have called the "National Latino Leadership Vacuum."
As some react to this by calling for A Great National Latino Leader to emerge (aka a Latino Al Sharpton), where such a messianic figure is supposed to come from is not at all clear. While, upon a little reflection, this is not a realistic or even desirable solution, it leaves us with the question of how do we develop a strong national Latino voice or voices for our issues? How do we fully participate as a community in the national discourses on the future of democracy and healthcare, proposed changes in the tax code, addressing climate change, trade policy toward Mexico and Latin America and, of course, confronting current efforts at immigration deform and terrorism?
As the National Council of La Raza's rebranding to "UnidosUS" recently revealed, there seems to be considerable concern that our existing national Latino organizations like UnidosUS, LULAC and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA) are not successfully projecting themselves effectively at the national level on issues of greatest concern to our community. Even those that are viewed by Latino leaders as the most effective Latino organizations, MALDEF and LatinoJustice PRLDEF, both legal defense funds, have their hands full addressing local issues, mostly on immigration. If we asked regular Latino people about these organizations and who heads them up, I'm sure you would just get blank stares back from most and you might also get a "Lo conocen en su casa" or two.
One problem these organizations face is that they haven't been able to keep up with the dramatic growth of the Latino population. Most of these organizations are small and many struggle to generate the growth they so dearly need to maintain their core operations and keep meeting the demands of an ever expanding Latino community. Most of the heads of these organizations are overloaded in running what are essentially mom-and-pop operations relative to the size of the Latino community in having to simultaneously deal with day-by-day operations, fundraising, maintaining board relations, meeting payroll, filling out endless government forms and other mundane aspects of keeping a nonprofit or voluntary group in operation. The very few very large Latino organizations we have also have these problems magnified that keep their leaders more focused on organizational maintenance than on the type of outspoken advocacy that many in our community would like to see in the Trump Era. A Latino Al Sharpton, like the real one, would have to be available to fly all over the place on a moment's notice to give speeches and raise hell, something that we do not see much from our national Latino leaders who project more like corporate managers than fiery spokesperson and organizers.
One underlying problem is resources. We have all seen study after study documenting the scandalous almost nonexistent corporate and foundation support of our Latino organizations. This has serious consequences that we are currently experiencing. Yet there has been no movement to aggressively hold philanthropy accountable on this score. Why haven't the national Latino organizations through coalitions like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda taken on this issue on behalf of the entire Latino community? Why is it that while our Latino advocacy groups continue to struggle for basic resources, an organization that is supposed to be addressing this problem, Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP), is itself using its foundation connections to raise millions for itself, giving the impression through their limited efforts that they have somehow been effective in holding foundations accountable to our community? They have a new president coming on board next year, maybe this person will . . .
Another area where resources have become scarcer for Latino organizations is the result of a foundation's initiative some years ago, the Pew Charitable Trusts. Their creation of the "nonadvocacy" Pew Hispanic enter in 2001, now absorbed into their larger corporate body as the "Pew Research Center's Hispanic Trends Project," has had a deleterious impact on the ability of Latino advocacy groups to raise money for the research they used to do regularly and has moved the focus away from the Latino community in conducting such research, developing the capacity to produce surveys and analyze Census data and promote its work in the media all funneled largely through the body of the terrific data whiz, Mark Hugo Lopez, within a larger alien starship called the Pew Research Center. I love their research and adore Mark (you know, in a manly way), but their organization has had the unfortunte and, I'm sure, unintended consequence of weakening indigenous Latino community research capacity. Nobdy talks about this openly, but many voice this problem in hushed tones.
Then there is our absence from the national news media where most of the Trump atrocities are being litigated. The best barometer of this problem is the so-called liberal MSNBC. Where are the Latino commentators on their panels, not to mention their staff? Morning Joe, Hard Copy, Meet The Press, and the rest of the schedule seem to be all Latino-free zones (¡Que mucha gente blanca!). Whatever became of the silver-tongued Maria Teresa Peterson and that other Latina political scientist from Texas (you see, I already foegot her name!), who were regulars on MSNBC for a while? Did they dump them in the Disposable Latino Commentator Dustbin while we weren't looking? Similar things can be said of CNN and other news outlets, but they're not projecting themselves as "progressive." When MSNBC was once presenting themselves as "leaning forward," did that really mean MSNBC would do so with their backs to the Latino community? As the saying goes, "El que se dobla mucho se le ve el culo." All we get when we tune in to MSNBC these days is a lot of white butt posing a repetitive pundits and such. I know, this is a disgusting image.
So, how can organizations like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and others that focus on media address this problem? They've tried Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with the networks, boycotts, legal actions through the Federal Communications Commission, pickets, you know, all those tactics from Organizing 101. While we have seen some real results in the entertainment world (there are now Latino actors all over Netflix productions and even on NBC, ABC and Crackle,, except for CBS), but in the national English-language news media Latinos are hard to find.
What is troubling is that the few Latino commentaters on the seem to be overrepresented by Republicans and conservatives who are not at all reflective of mainstream Latino opinion. Ana Navarro, for example, is an excellent television personality, but the Bush supporter she is makes her a fringe political figure in the Latino community. And in terms of all of the Latino elected officials we have, why do Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz get all the media attention? Can the Latino media groups move their focus from the entertainment to a news media that affects the direction of social policy priorities so critical to the well-being of the Latino
Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.