Last week the Pew Research Center reported that three quarters of Hispanics living in the United States say their community needs a national leader, but roughly the same number either cannot name one or do not believe one exists. No one should be surprised that so few could agree on a national Hispanic leader. While Hispanics do share common values such as self-responsibility, hard work and love of country, the U.S. Hispanic population is diverse within itself. The culture, habits and traditions of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast are different from those of Cuban Americans in Florida or Mexican Americans in the Southwest. No one person can speak for all Hispanics, nor would it be in our interests as Hispanics to have just one spokesperson.
The U.S. Hispanic population is diverse within itself. The culture, habits and traditions of Puerto Ricans in the Northeast are different from those of Cuban Americans in Florida or Mexican Americans in the Southwest.
- Alberto Gonzales, Former U.S. Attorney General
However, many Hispanic families need help desperately as they struggle to deal with enormous challenges. We need champions who will fight for jobs, better education, greater financial security and safe neighborhoods. These advocates need not be Hispanic of course, but it has been my experience that there is an added layer of trust – a bond – between people and leaders who share experiences and a common heritage.
Hispanics who hold positions of power are role models for Hispanic children — whether they choose to be or not. A Hispanic serving on the Supreme Court or the board of a company, or one selected as Attorney General or corporate CEO, sends an unmistakable message of the power of opportunity that exists still today in America. Why is this important? It is important because projections of the future population growth in this country tell us that Hispanics are tomorrow’s workforce, tomorrow’s voters and, most likely, tomorrow’s leaders.
So, how do we develop more Hispanic leaders? First, we nurture our Hispanic children, ensure they get a quality education, teach them the value of hard work and responsibility, demand a standard of excellence and high achievement, and train and prepare them to assume positions of leadership. Second, on election day, eligible Hispanics have to vote for the most qualified candidates who will advance their interests. Hopefully, over time, more and more of those candidates will be Hispanic. This is how America – the land of immigrants – develops new Hispanic leadership.
Developing national Hispanic leadership is a desirable goal, but it is one that will take time to achieve. Leadership at the state and local level is more easily attainable, and I believe more important. For example, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval are making decisions today in their diversity-rich states that fundamentally directly affect the lives of thousands of Hispanics. However, even their ability to touch the lives of Hispanic families cannot match the impact of a single Hispanic role model within a family. Nothing would be more effective in developing productive Hispanic citizens of the future than preparing Hispanic parents today – particularly fathers – to be mentors to their children. If we are able to just do that, then inevitably we will see a new generation of national leaders for the Hispanic community.
Alberto R. Gonzales is the former U.S. Attorney General and White House Counsel in the George W. Bush Administration. Presently he is the Dean and Doyle Rogers Distinguished Professor of Law at Belmont University College of Law.