LATINA VIEW: How President Obama Can Reach Hispanics

When President Obama takes to the podium next week and delivers his annual State of the Union address, he will be trying to rally a country that, politically, needs Latinos more than ever before.

According to an analysis of 2010 U.S. Census data conducted earlier this month by the Pew Hispanic Center, a record 20.1 million of the 48.4 million Hispanics in this country are now eligible to vote. And our numbers are growing faster in the states (such as Florida and Nevada) that, based on the Census, will be getting additional seats in Congress.

And yet, as I have written in the past, I feel that the President has done little to reach out directly to Latinos—failing, for example, to include us as part of his big “Education Nation” summit last fall or to court Hispanic voters as he stumped for candidates in the midterm elections.

That is why I will be tuning in on January 25, hoping that the President’s speech will, in as many ways possible, reflect our growing power and influence. But I’d feel encouraged even if he only committed to these two ideas:

1) Restoring the American Dream. Put simply, the American Dream is our nation’s fundamental belief that every generation should aim higher, do better, achieve more than their parents did. And for several generations, this did, indeed, prove possible.

Today, Latinos remain ambitious for their families; just note a July Advertising Age article that claimed, “The Hispanic demographic closely resembles the idealized concept of the 1950’s America.  They are young . . .  and are community oriented and have high aspirations for their children.”

And yet the path toward achieving our goals for a better life seems to have grown more precarious. We are worried about finding jobs, educating our children and receiving affordable health care—the same things most other Americans are anxious about, yes; but for a myriad of reasons we still have greater difficulty attaining them.

Extending a helping hand to Latinos—by, for example, addressing the reasons why our students have the highest high school dropout rate among any group—is not providing “special treatment,” as I’ve heard some argue. It is, instead, identifying a problem that threatens the stability of the entire country—for as Latinos go, so does America. Let’s hope the President commits to improving life for us all.

2) Promoting greater tolerance. In his memorial speech honoring the victims of the horrific shootings in Tucson earlier this month, President Obama movingly asked the nation “to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

Nothing would please me more than to hear the President make a similar statement when it comes to the immigration debate. Now I know that there are many opposing viewpoints, even amongst Latinos, when it comes to how best to deal with undocumented immigrants in this country.

But I think one thing we can all agree on is that there needs to be civil, rational discussion on this topic—so we can come up with a civil, rational solution. Otherwise, we not only risk seeing more undocumented workers become the victims of hate crimes, but also of all Latinos being targeted as part of an anti-Hispanic backlash. Let’s hope the President commits to encouraging more respect for all Latinos in this country, not less. 

So often when I travel the country as part of my role at Latina, I’m asked by leaders, “How do we reach Latinos?” Mr. President, I know you haven’t been one of the people asking me that question—but I certainly hope you’re asking it of someone before you give your speech.

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