Latina/o Politics in the 21st Century: Emerging Issues and Voices
On September 27th, 2010, the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) convened a workshop at American University on the topic of “Latino/a Politics in the 21st Century: Emerging Trends and Voices.” The workshop provided an occasion for leading scholars and practitioners to outline key features of their work and to generate debate about the likely directions of Latino/a politics as we enter the 21st Century. The workshop was organized into three panels in which presenters discussed a wide range of issues of importance to Latina/o politics in the United States.
Situating Latina/o Politics
Following words of introduction and welcome from CLALS Director Eric Hershberg and American University School of Public Affairs Dean, William LeoGrande, the opening panel established the broad context with presentations that reflected two notably different ways to approach thinking about Latina/o politics in the United States. First, Mark Hugo Lopez, Associate Director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington, DC, provided a detailed summary of trends in US public opinion about Latinas/os, public opinion and political behavior of Latinas/os and changing national demographics. Drawing on results from several Pew surveys, Dr. Lopez helped set the stage for the ensuing discussions by presenting a series of facts and trends about the growing demographic and political weight of Latinas/os as members of the US population and electorate. The second presentation on the was given by Cristina Beltran, Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at Haverford College. Dr. Beltran, a political theorist, delved into theoretical issues surrounding Latina/o politics, specifically focusing on “The Trouble With Unity” (the title of her 2010 book)–that is, the problem with defining “a Latino 'we'.” Dr. Beltran reflected on the inherent conflictiveness of Latina/o identities, and emphasized the inherent heterogeneity of Latinidad. Rather than conceiving political strategies to “awaken the sleeping giant” of the Latino voting-bloc, she advocated consideration of the category of “Latino” as contested and political rather than as merely descriptive.
Emerging Actors in Latina/o Politics
The presenters on the second panel focused on three specific cases of emerging Latino political actors in the United States. Chris Zepeda Millán of Cornell University discussed his work, which accounts for the mass mobilization of Mexican immigrants in Ft. Meyers, Florida during the nation-wide wave of immigrant mobilizations during the Spring of 2006. He stressed the importance of civic associations for generating collective action in what at first glance would appear to be an unlikely setting. Patricia Foxen of the National Council of la Raza presented her own scholarly research on the transnational migration circuit of K'iche Mayans from the rural Guatemalan highlands to Providence Rhode Island. Reflecting another dimension of Dr. Beltran's “trouble with unity”, Dr. Foxen argued that the subjective experience of violence during the Guatemalan Civil War was instrumental in shaping the transnational ethnic identity of the K'iche transnational community and that a pan-Mayan unity was inadequate to descriptively represent their identities. Finally, Laura Gonzalez of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania discussed her experience as an inaugural member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (CCIME) and her scholarly work as a participant-observer in this unique transnational body elected by members of the diaspora. The CCIME was established by the Mexican state to engage Mexican and Mexican-American leaders in the US in the design and development of policy toward the diaspora.
Equity and Justice Issues
The final panel of the workshop zeroed in on three important equity and justice issues affecting Latina/o communities in the United States, and the politics surrounding these issues. Diana Sen of LatinoJustice (formerly the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund) discussed new and old threats to Latino Human Rights in the American Southeast. After discussing some of the new threats across the country to Latino civil rights, such as an alarming 40 percent increase in hate crimes, Sen focusing on two LatinoJustice cases defending, respectively, the legal rights and the voting rights of Latinos in Florida. Marc Rosenblum of the Migration Policy Institute then described the politics of comprehensive immigration reform, outlining several indicators that the US immigration systems is “broken”. Despite a five-fold increase in enforcement spending since 2000, increased interior enforcement such as through the 287(g) program deputizing local police forces to act as immigration agents, and the consistent growth of formal deportations to an unprecedented level of 390 thousand in 2009, the undocumented immigrant population in the US continued to grow until the Great Recession and remains at 11 million. Despite the wide recognition that the US immigration system is broken, however, Dr. Rosenblum was not optimistic about the prospects of comprehensive immigration reform in the near future. Finally, Jayesh Rathod of the American University’s Washington College of Law discussed workplace injustice suffered by visa-holding workers in the Maryland crab industry. He reported on a recent AU study that documented wage theft and employment discrimination regularly suffered by immigrants, and summarized research that establishes that Latinos are more likely to suffer workplace injuries and fatalities than other groups.