Semana Latina: Who Are The Latino Leaders Of Tomorrow?

Originally published in The Huffington Post, 06/02/2012


As recent elections in heavily Latino-populated states like Texas, Florida and California indicate, there is no shortage of Latino candidates running for office at the city, county, parish and state levels. There are Hispanics who submit themselves to the will of the voters for school and water districts and tax boards; for judges and district attorneys, and all the way up the ladder including state legislature races.

Here in southern California, dozens of Hispanic candidates are flooding our mailboxes with colorful electoral literature just in time for the June 5 primary and state election. While most of them are Democrats, a good number are also running as Republicans.

Some of the Californian candidates are well-known politicians, like Richard Alarcon, who is now a member of the Los Angeles city counsel and who previously served as state Assembly member (for three months), state senator, and prior to that, again, LA council member between 1993-98.

There is also Ian Calderon, the 26-year-old son of Assembly member Charles Calderon, who has to leave office due to term limit laws. His uncle is Ron Calderon, a state Senator. Another uncle, Tom, is trying to regain his seat in the state Assembly. An entire dynasty of Los Angeles County Latino Democrats.

On the other hand, some are fairly new to voters, despite often having a background as staff member for other elected officials. Just in California’s 51st district – my own – there are four new Latino candidates, who all identify as progressive Democrats: Jimmy Gomez, Arturo Chavez, Luis Lopez, and Oscar Gutierrez.

And not only here in California. In Texas, with two new «Hispanic» congressional districts created and four new seats in Congress following an increase in the state’s Latino population, Hispanic candidates are also vying for elected office. On July 31st, Ted Cruz, a tea party Republican who is also Latino will face Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in a primary runoff for the Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. And former state representative Domingo Garcia is on the runoff ballot with state Rep. Marc Veasey in the solidly Democratic North Texas 33rd District.

In Central Florida, new redistricting maps are allowing for more Hispanic candidates, that, some say, can change the solidly Republican and Caucasian legislature in Tallahassee, So instead of only «one Hispanic- and one black-leaning house seat in Orange County, the redistricting maps approved this spring have two of each. A new Hispanic-majority Senate seat in Orange, Osceola and Polk counties was created.»

More Hispanic candidates… Who knows, perhaps one day some of these candidates will become the next Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, or Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles, or Congressman Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill, or Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, or the former secretary of HUD, Professor Henry Cisneros, or former Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales…?

Or, maybe, maybe, the next Cesar Chavez or Dolores Huerta.

Last September, at a roundtable with Latino news outlets, President Obama told me that » «within my lifetime we will have a Latino candidate for President who is very competitive and may win«.

Yeaaah. Really?

Un momentito, por favor. Wait a minute.

Let’s stop the self-indulging narrative. The truth is that few of these candidates and leaders are qualified to stand in line for the chance to be like their great predecessors.

This week, Dolores Huerta was honored by the President of the United States with the Medal of Freedom, one of the nation’s highest honors.

And a thought sent chills through my spine: where is the new, the next, Dolores Huerta? While she is receiving a medal for what she has done decades ago, and for the work her foundation does currently, where are the future recipients of the Medal of Freedom developing?

Maybe they are not running for office. Not yet.

Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta (and Edward R. Roybal, Bert Corona, Rodolfo «Corky» Gonzalez», Reies Tijerina, etc.), were all products of the people’s struggle for civil rights. They fought for the working people in the fields and factories. This is how they were formed, and how they became known.

Where are the Latino leaders of the future?

Let me answer my own question with another question…
Do you know the legend of the Bluebird of Happiness?

My mother taught this to me and I have been telling it to my kids forever. The sons of a family leave their parents and go on a years-long journey crossing land and sea in search of the Bluebird that, they are certain, will bring Happiness forever. Decades later, as planned, all reunite at the home of their parents to confess to each other that their quest was in vain and none of them had found the magic Bluebird. They have all come to realize that the Bluebird is alive and well and living in a cage in their parents’ home.

The Bluebird is among us.

The Latino leaders of our future are with us, today, on our college campuses.

They are the DREAMers, the undocumented kids who fight for recognition and legal status.

They were brought from abroad by their parents as children. They don’t know any other country. Many of them barely speak, or write, Spanish. They could be deported any day, but they fight to become American citizens. They excel in class and they fight for their kind. They are strong and courageous. They left the shadows and jumped into the limelight. They march, carrying flags and banners for freedom.

The civil rights struggle of today is fought by them, by the DREAMERS.
Some of them, have found in the pages of the Huffington Post Latino Voices a platform from which to blog and to announce their credo and beliefs.

They are our dear, dear, sons and daughters. And our future.

Hopefully, after the November elections, Congress will discover common sense and approve the DREAM Act.

Let them be free. And let them take responsibility to continue their struggle, but for the entire community. To represent us all.

Let us give way to the emerging generation of Latino leaders: the DREAMers.