Call Me Latino – Porque Somos Mas Unidos (Because We Are More Together)

This week, as I engaged all the election news and candidate projections and the slogans that try to engage my Latino heritage, I could not help but deliberate on why I willingly call myself a Latino. Amidst all the political jargon, I started remembering my background because some could argue it happened during a time of strong political divide.

I arrived in NY on September 18th, 2018, after living a year of devastation and solitude. Being Puerto Rican, it had been a year full of struggles without power and water on the island; the island was a place I hardly recognized. So, amidst depleted economics with no hope, I made a small bag and headed to the airport - all I knew was I had to put food on my daughter’s table. When I arrived in "Nueva York," I was confident of only two things. First, that I needed to stop at a “convenience store” to buy a Bounty Paper Roll – the quicker picker upper - which I did. As my Uber took me to 1st Central Park West, I took it out of the bag and on its fragile plastic wrapper the words “65 de Infantería” in honor of the more than 100,000 puertorriqueños that have served in US military conflicts. Then, I gently placed it on the steps of the Trump Plaza building (I could still hear my mother say: las cosas no se tiran – you hand things to people, you never throw it at them) I remember thinking, "thank you but no thank you.”  Then, I headed to the nearest subway station.

The first mission was achieved, yet it did not feel any better. I had gone from a 1st rate to a 3rd rate citizen overnight – how did that happen? However, amongst the weary and marginalized, I found a home; amongst the sad working eyes of 5 AM early risers, I found compassion and the will to struggle. A whole year went by before arriving at Hofstra University – a year that helped me to understand the struggles of Latino communities better; nearly 60 million individuals that trace their heritage to Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and Spain, each with distinct demographic and economic profiles (this is a small history lesson to you: the benighted, dark, illiterate, rude, simple, uneducated, ignorant power seeker who prefers to call as Latinos because that way we are easily marginalized and ignored).

It was here, amongst the weary and proud, I found a calling, and I'm better for it because I finally got it! We are not Latino because of a social-economic agenda. Even more, you don’t get to refer us as such. We call ourselves Latinos because, amid our humanity and compassion, we have helped each other rise when we fall, eat when we starve, and work when we need to provide. We rise, fall, swim, love, eat, and sleep together - a cohesion you will never understand.

Those who came before me understood this struggle very well – That is why today, we are a “Familia.” My Dominican brothers are that playful-spirited sibling that constantly teases you into submission. “Oh, you like salsa, merengue is better– You came up with Bachata, well here is Regueton. Dance that!” To my Nicaraguan brothers, we will always be joined by an angel in the heaven with number 18 on his sleeve. May God bless Roberto Clemente’s legacy! To my Mexican brothers, you're militant, but I love you. Who would have been Alli without Frazer? Who would have been Frederic without Nadal – We always push each other in sports and life, but we make each other better.

My Venezuelan sisters will always argue about who has more Miss Universe, yet we are more beautiful on the inside because we share a common indigenous heritage - don’t give up; I am with you! To Panama, we thank you every time I hear El Cantante – we celebrate Ruben and honor your name. Cuba somos del pájaro las dos alas (we are the two wings of the same bird). Colombia, you will always be my young sibling, the one we taught to dance “Salsa” and now dances better than we do. Nothing but pride, my brother! And just like that, I could go on to name every country I consider part of “mi famlia.”

Even with our conflicts (brothers and sisters will sometimes brawl), we make each other better. Today, I can name myself a Latino, and I'm better for it. Reality check – let’s take a page from the Washington Post. “Latinos are the largest minority group in the country and make up nearly a fifth of the US population. That includes those who are not citizens. The Latino population is roughly triple the size of the Asian American community and about 50 percent larger than the Black population. Among those who are 18 or older and eligible to vote, Latinos now slightly outnumber Black Americans. Still, they vote in lower numbers and therefore account for a slightly smaller share of the electorate than Black voters.”

All this makes Latinos one of the most important constituencies in American politics. But the Latino vote defies easy categorization or simple description because it is demographically and geographically diverse. What might appeal to Latinos in one part of the country does not work in another. So as elections to my democrats and republican constituents, let me leave you with a parting gift. Learning to speak our language and finding terminology that references a collective understanding does not invite you to the dinner table. Even more, we never forget.

Latino advocates push for more Latino representation in politics because we are the fastest-growing demographics across the nation. In Illinois, they make up 18% of the population, and in Chicago, more than 28%, according to the US Census. Yet, despite the growth in population size, the Latino community is underrepresented in politics, with less than 2% of Latinos in elected positions nationwide. Let me hear you defend that political representation.

Do you want to talk about issues? Eight in ten Hispanic registered voters (80%) say the economy is very important in deciding who to vote for in the 2022 congressional elections. Health care (71%), education (70%), violent crime (70%), and gun policy (66%) are the next most cited issues. Meanwhile, half or more of Hispanic voters say abortion (57%) and immigration (54%) are very important to their vote in the midterm elections this year. So what does that mean if there is no trust, much less acceptance, diversity, and integration?

It is fair to say that 100% of Latinos feel that, although democrats and republicans want to engage us, they don’t want to invite us to a significant part of their social representation. Watch out, because I CAN attest to the increase of Latinos registered to vote (42% in March and 63% in August) in these upcoming elections. If there is something I predict different in these elections, it is a Latino community that understands and adopts the politics of representation; and, better yet, understands we are stronger together. Enhorabuena!