For Latinos, it’s been a great year (we are now the largest minority in the country!) and it’s been a bad year (immigration laws and deportations galore). As we say goodbye to 2011, here’s a look back at the biggest stories for our community. To a better 2012!
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Latinos reach 50.5 million in U.S.
Latinos accounted for half of the population growth in the country in the past decade, according to Census figures release early in the year and nearly a quarter of kids 17 and under. That means the future of the U.S. is indisputably brown.
Daniel Hernandez helps save Gabrielle Giffords’ life
He was just an intern who believed in Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona representative he worked for. But when a gunman shot her in the head, point blank, and killed six others at a January rally, Hernandez ran through gunfire to rush to Giffords’ side, applied pressure to the wound and made sure she didn’t choke on her blood. He was hailed as a hero and later attended Obama’s State of the Union address.
Marco Rubio, Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval enter office
Despite the fact that most Latinos vote Democrats, elected in the Nov. 2010 midterm elections were three Republican Latinos who made history—or lots of headlines: Martinez of New Mexico and Sandoval of Nevada became the first Hispanic governors of their states and silver-tongued Rubio became the crown prince of the Tea Party, who landed on the cover of various magazines and has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee (he has said he’s not interested). The three swept into office in January.
DREAMers come out as undocumented
Defying fear that they would be deported, undocumented students began identifying themselves as such in ‘coming out’ events mounted by student immigrant advocacy groups. With California passing its own version of the DREAM Act, making it easier for undocumented students to attend college, these kids have more hope than ever, and though a federal law has yet to pass, many feel that walking into the light was the first step toward acceptance and relief.
President Obama effectively stops deportations…
After receiving massive pressure from immigrants rights groups who demonstrated nationwide, Obama gave the order for ICE and federal courts to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who have no criminal records and focus on felons.
…But deportations reach all-time record highs anyway
Despite an order by Pres. Obama to effectively focus deportations on serious criminals only, 396,606 people were deported by Nov. 2011—the most ever. It is estimated that by year’s end, the number will reach 400,000.
More Latino children than others live in poverty
Nearly 38 percent of U.S. Hispanic kids live in poverty—more than any other racial group—a product of rising numbers, high birth rate and the economic downturn.
Federal investigation finds mass discrimination in Sherriff Arpaio’s office
The civil rights division of the Justice Dept. said in a 22-page report that a three-year investigation that Maricopa County Sherriff Joe Arpaio’s office—famous for its self-mandated crackdown of undocumented immigrants—engaged in unconstitutional policing that unfairly targeted Latinos for arrest and retaliated against those who complained. The office, the report said, nurtured “a pervasive culture of discrimination bias against Latinos that reaches the highest levels of the agency.” Unless Arpaio turns around the agency, it will be sued and lose federal dollars.
Several states enact their own immigration laws
“If Arizona did it, why can’t we?” seemed to be the rallying cry of the mostly Southern states—including Alabama, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina and Utah—who enacted their own immigration laws this year, with disastrous results for Latino families who fled those states for fear of harassment and deportation and farmers, whose crops were left rotting in fields because of labor shortages. The federal government has filed lawsuits to prevent many of the laws, and court battles are upcoming.
Three Latin American leaders reveal they have cancer
Are Latin America’s left-leaning leaders being targeted by nature? Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and former Brazilian president Luiz Ignacio Lula de Silva sported bald heads as they underwent chemotherapy for (rumored) colon cancer and throat cancer, respectively. In December, Argentina’s Christina Fernandez de Kirchner revealed that she has a tumor in her thyroid and will undergo surgery on Jan. 4 to remove it. Her prognosis is good, as is Lula’s. Chavez, while said he was cancer-free after treatment in Cuba, a report said it’s actually become worse in recent months. Maybe Bolivia’s Evo Morales should get a check up.
Cuba makes huge, awkward economic changes
This was a year of Cuba’s weird, piecemeal embrace of the free market. The government for the first time awarded some private business licenses, opened the real estate market, legalized the used-car market and extended bank credits to new businesses. All are things that have been embraced all over the world for centuries, but for Cuban people, it’s better than nothing.
Federal program provided guns for Mexican cartels
In the uber-bloody war against violent cartels in Mexico, whch this year has featured everything from public displays of decapitated, tortured bodies to the arrest of at least one town’s entire police force, this is possibly the strangest story: The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ “Operation Fast and Furious” let straw purchasers buy 2,000 guns for cartels with the intention of tracing the guns, but did not attach electronic devices or institute any other method to keep track of the weapons and did not tell the Mexican authorities about the plan. That means our tax dollars armed Mexican drug cartels, with deadly results. The guns have now been traced to 179 murders, including that of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata. Some 1,400 guns remain unaccounted for.
More Latinos attend college
Though Latino education challenges remain, there is a bright side. We are now the most-represented minority on college campuses. Hispanic enrollment in North American colleges and universities increased by 24 percent from 2009 to 2010, according to a report from the Pew Hispanic Center released in August. The reasons for the big jump: Increased population and more educational attainment. In 2009, about 70 percent of young Hispanics had finished high school. In 2010, 73 percent had finished high school. Way to go, us!