In a country with 53 million Latinos, or 17% of the population and growing, only 34 of the 435 seats in Congress and four of the 100 seats in the Senate are occupied by Latinos. On corporate boards of directors, 4% of all seats are held by Latinos and less than 3% of C-suite level positions in Fortune 500 companies are represented by Hispanic individuals. In my home state of California, in Silicon Valley, the mecca of innovation and prosperity, the major technology companies report only 3.8% of their workforce are Hispanic.
As an executive in the media industry and as a director on the boards of large corporations and foundations, I have too often found myself as the sole Latina in the room. We have to work harder and create greater access for diverse voices and perspectives in those rooms, and across those institutions.
For our democracy and economy to thrive we need far greater representation in all aspects and at all levels of civic life. Thanks to the efforts of many organizations and inspiring leaders we are making progress, but now is the time to ensure our seat at the table. Only then will our voices be heard and only then will we become full participants in American society.
America finds itself on the threshold of a unique demographic opportunity. The explosive growth of the Latino population means Latinos are projected to make up 26% of the U.S. population by 2050. As today’s Hispanic population tends to be younger than comparable groups, Latinos literally represent America’s future.
With an aging white population reaching retirement, Latino youth are many of our future doctors, lawyers and schoolteachers. America’s future economic well-being and competitiveness is increasingly contingent on the success of the Latino population.
Latinos want what all Americans want: quality education, economic opportunity, affordable homes, strong and safe communities, good government and access to health care. Unfortunately, we have lagged behind other groups in most of these areas. If we are serious about bridging these gaps and translating population gains into growing influence on America’s institutions, we must work together across communities, with experts and thought leaders, to become part of the fabric of American society.
We’ve seen evidence of this success in such unexpected places as Northwest Arkansas, where growth in the Latino immigrant population led business and civic leaders to explore how they could harness the talent of this diverse community and strengthen their local communities.
To develop an innovative solution that took into account the unique needs of immigrants, Arkansas leaders turned to the Cisneros Center in San Antonio, which works to accelerate the integration of New Americans into local communities. Together, in partnership with the Center’s American Dream Initiative, civic leaders developed financial education, small-business planning support and microloan services to the region in support of immigrant families and entrepreneurs.
In Nashville, under the leadership of Mayor Karl Dean, the newly created Office of New Americans has led efforts to build a service delivery system that helps new arrivals integrate into Nashville civic life. According to city data, from 1994 to 2014, the foreign-born population in Nashville increased from 2% to almost 12% and drove more than half the city’s population growth in the last 10 years. In the year since it was announced in 2014, Dean’s Office of New Americans has made his city a model of economic advancement and community engagement for Hispanic immigrants.
One of the strongest ways Latinos will affect American society is through college attainment, particularly in the fields of science, technology, math and engineering, or STEM. In El Paso, Texas, Diana Natalicio, president of the University of Texas-El Paso has worked to increase opportunities for Latinos in STEM related disciplines, making UTEP the largest producer of Mexican-American STEM graduates in the nation. Natalicio’s vision for UTEP STEM students is not only focused on graduation, but also in securing careers in these highly competitive fields.
Hispanics represent an increasingly vital segment of the American economy. We also comprise one of the nation’s most promising consumer bases. If we are to make a meaningful impact, then we must reach higher and broader to work with everyone and anyone who has a stake in the future of this nation.
Latino success and advancement no longer solely affects Latinos. With the growing size and scope of the Latino population, Latino success will ensure the future competitiveness and success of the United States as a whole.
Monica Lozano is former CEO of the media company ImpreMedia and chair of the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society Program.