The Problems of Power and Identity

Consider efforts to stem Latinos’ growing influence via hard-line, anti-immigrant legislation such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56. This could have been prevented. In Arizona, Latinos make up about 31 percent of the population. Sixty-seven percent of this population is native born, with a median age of 25 years, a median income of $22,405 and a 57 percent home-ownership rate, all of which equals a potentially influential, voting-eligible population.

Outside Arizona, a lack of Latino political power has to do with age. With a national median age of 27, the Hispanic community is much younger than white, black and Asian voters, whose median ages are 40, 31 and 35, respectively. Traditionally, older citizens participate in higher percentages than younger ones.

Policy setbacks such as the stalled immigration reform, rising antagonism and racism are prompting some Latinos to turn their demographic muscle into ballot box brawn, however. A Latino-driven campaign garnered enough signatures to force a recall election for Russell Pearce, sponsor of Arizona’s SB 1070 legislation.

Further, results from the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections indicate that Hispanic voter participation jumped from 5 percent to 9 percent in battleground states such as New Mexico, Colorado and Nevada. As a warm-up for the 2012 presidential election, nearly 7 million Latinos, about 7 percent of all voters, participated in the 2010 mid-term elections.

Despite some activity, organizational and political fragmentation across the various nationalities has eroded Latino power. There is no single leader who appeals to the various subgroups. Territoriality prevents Latino organizations from creating a collective social and political agenda. Therefore, splintered advocacy groups do insightful, passionate, committed work, but not in a scalable way.

For these same reasons, Latino ERGs struggle more than black, LGBT or female ERGs to have a strong presence and influence in their organizations. This fragmentation is rooted in Latinos’ issues around cultural identity.

It’s tough to define what it means to be Latino in the U.S. Twenty-seven different nationalities, with various migration patterns, a plethora of different cuisines and social mores create a wide spectrum of Latino experiences for a variety of English-, Spanish- and Spanglish-speaking Latinos. Further, there are archetypical characteristics to the Latino worldview rooted in a special emphasis on family, spirituality and a holistic view of life past, present and future.

These issues play out at the border between assimilation and adaptation. What is the difference between playing the game and selling out? What part of people’s Latin makeup do they need to set aside to be better heard, understood and more influential? Where do they need to embrace that Latino essence to add differentiated value to their organizations?

One of the real and symbolic arenas where these issues play out is around accent. English-dominant European Americans often weigh words’ value by the density of a Spanish-dominant speaker’s accent. But why is it that a French or British accent is seen as a plus, but having a Spanish accent is a minus? Should Latinos who speak English with a Spanish accent work to reduce it?

For many Latinos their accent is part of their identity. It is a marker in the same way that Martínez, Jimenez and Castillo are name markers of a Latino identity so paramount that even when offered a choice of a more anglicized name, many refuse. Others do reduce their accents and anglicize their names, and some choose to reduce their accents and keep the Spanish lilt in their surnames.

This identity complexity is important when leaders develop the strategies and programs to source, attract, retain and develop Latino talent, market to Latino consumers and ensure that Latinos can contribute to corporate agendas at a high level.