Was the Mayan Calendar wrong, or was it just off a bit? We will never know and if we do find out the answer, well, it may not matter. But otherwise, 2012 was an extremely interesting year, especially for Latinos. The Presidential election heightened the importance of everything and revealed the political potency of a "new demography" that Latinos helped to define in significant ways. 2012 may, in fact, be the year that finally calls forth the 2010s as the "Decade of the Hispanic!" Maybe that was what the Mayan Calendar was really marking.
In any case, I thought I would blurt out this obligatory end of the year review of Latino political and policy developments. As I regurgitate and swish around all these event of the past year in my head to try to imbibe them with some meaning, I am painfully aware of my hubris in thinking that I could actually do so in ways that give some coherence to possibly disconnected occurrences. But then, I thought, what the hell, so here goes The NiLP Year in Review for 2012!
The Latino Vote
If we published our own magazine, the person of the year on our cover for 2012 would definitely be "The Latino Voter," as our friends at Washington Hispanic just did After decades of predicting that the Latino electoral sleeping giant was waking up, in 2012 it finally did and resulted in contributing to one of the most interesting election results for President in this country's history.
This election and the role of the Latino voter revealed the potential power Latinos possess. While continuing to deport record numbers of Latinos and other undocumenteds, President Obama instituted a deferred action program for Dream Act-eligible that for years he insisted to Latino leaders he had no legal ability to do. Even within the Republican Party, US Senator Marco Rubio and others (but not Mitt Romney) began seriously to talk about such an initiative legislatively, a development to which, some argue, Obama was responding.
The transformation of the Republican Party into an extreme rightwing machine resulted in a tone deafness to groups like Latinos that resulted in a rhetoric and policy positions that were insulting to this community. By the end of the year, the Republican Party was scrambling as a result of its stunning loss at the polls to regroup in light, according to the pundits, of its discovery of a new demographic reality in America. However, initial evidences points to this regrouping as consisting more of proposing , sadly, stylistic rather than substantive policy changes by this party.
The rise of significant dissent over immigration policies within the Republican Party by new groups like Somos Republicans and elements of the so-called Tequila Party was an interesting new development this year. This raised issues about the rise of conservative Latino groups like the Hispanic Leadership Network, Libre Initiative and others, as well as the potential role of Latino Republican rising stars like Marco Rubio, Texas Senator-elect Ted Cruz and Governors Susana Martinez and Brian Sandoval. But with the Latino vote share for the Republican candidate for President having shrunk in 2012 to an historic low, the long-term significance of this Latino conservative tendency (not yet, apparently, a movement) is in doubt.
It also became clear that although Latinos were among the most loyal constituents of the Democratic Party, many shortcomings in that party's responsiveness to the Latino community emerged as well. While the Republicans wound up this year with the only Latinos seated as Governors and two of the three Latinos in the US Senate, the Democratic Latino bench for national offices seemed wanting. After four years in office, it also appears that the Obama Administration continued the Republican record of Latinos as the most underrepresented racial-ethnic group in the federal government employment --- only 8 percent of the federal government work force despite being 15 percent of the civilian labor force. Latino leaders are watching to see what the President does with his political appointments --- will he go beyond the two Latinos he currently has on his Cabinet?
Latinos and Federal Policies
With the highest poverty rate of most of the major population groups, Latinos are also the most impacted by the current fiscal cliff negotiations, although with the legislation passed just yesterday and ye to be signed by the President this will take some time to figure out as we prepare for the Great Sequestering Debate two months from now. The nature of this process, however, reveals how marginal Latinos appear to be in these closed door deliberations. We are largely on the sidelines waiting for the results of the political machinations of a largely dysfunctional Washington, DC establishment. Actually, in this sense, probably most Americans feel "Latino" these days as they hang on this fiscal cliff by their finger tips.
In 2012, we not only learned that the Latino poverty rate remained high at 25 percent, but that a new way of calculating that rate, the Census Bureau's Supplementary Poverty Measurment, which takes into account noncash benefits and additional expenses, actually resulted in a higher poverty rate for Latinos, 28 percent. The most high profile economic indicator of the year, the unemployment rate, showed some progress for Latinos by the end of the year, but the unemployment rate for Latinos remained at double digits throughout the year, ending up at 10 percent, compared to 7.3 percent fo the nation as a whole (and not counting the 14 percent or so unemloyment rate in Puerto Rico). While it was never clear how President Obama's approach to the economy would address these problems, what was clear to the majority of Latino voters was that the Republican plans would be much worst for Latinos.
With the Supreme Court review and largely supportive decision concerning Obamacare, it became clear that , as the most uninsured community in terms of health insurance (over 30 percent of Latinos do not have insurance), this was a policy that Latinos supported. It also became clear that, according to polls, Latino voters are supportive of an activist federal government, which represented a major departure from the Republican rhetoric about small and limited government. Poll after poll (and the election results) seemed to call for a reparaphrasing of President Regan's famous observation about Latinos to something like, "They are not Republicans, and definitely know it." This is an issue that is currently at play as the Congress reviews the budget request to address the damage done in the Northeast by Hurricane Sandy and the emerging debate on gun legislation in the wake of the horrific slaughter of school children and adults in Newtown, Massachusetts.
With over 210,000 Latinos currently serving in the US military and 1.1 million as veterans it interesting that the war in Afghanistan received so little attention in 2012. In 2008, coalitions like the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda amd others in the Latino community came out against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but a potential peace movement in general, and certainly not in the Latino community, failed to emerge as Americans debated the future political direction of the country. The focus in the end was the marital indiscretions of General and CIA chief Patraeus in which, thank God, no Latinos were involved!
Latino Voting, Polling and Voting Rights
The Presidential election also raised many issues about the political participation of Latinos. The most disturbing issue was that of state legislation and regulations that appeared designed to promote voter suppression among Latinos and similarly-situated population groups. Photo ID laws, limitations on registration and voting periods, proofs of citizenship and other measures that were supposed to depress Democratic turnout and boost Republican voting may have had the opposite effect as it became an issue through which the Democratic electorate was mobilized. If anything, this development raised Democratic Party consciousness about the importance of the state level of government since the 2010 midterm elections and the need to focus more on these in 2014. The voter suppression efforts also resulted in greater Latino voter mobilization by coalitions of Latino organizations, such as Mi Familia Vota, and resulted in the optimistic projection by organizations like NALEO of 12 million Latino voters becoming a reality, despite more pessimistic reports by conservative organizations like the Center for Immigration Reform.
2012 was unique in the critical role that institutions like the Pew Hispanic Center and the newly-formed Latino Decisions polling organization played during the election. Pew was especially critical in consistently providing important demographic and polling information that affected in major ways national discussions on immigration and the role of the Latino vote. Latino Decisions was the first Latino-owned national polling outfit that brought solid academic credentials to its operations and, by partnering with key media organizations, was able to inject credible polling on Latinos into the national debates in a timely and ongoing way, clearly overshadowing older operations like that of Democratic pollster Sergio Bendixon and others. This has led to the rise of a new generation of Latino political scientists like Matt Barreto, Gary Segura and MSNBC regular Victoria de Francesco Soto as national commentators on Latino political and policy issues.
At the same time, there were ominous signs that the federal Voting Rights Act, particularly its Section 5 that requires pre-clearance of voting process changes in selected areas, would be under attack and probably weakenrd if not outright overturned by the US Supreme Court this year. Throughout 2012, Latino voting rights in Congressional and local legislative redistricting were protected to different degrees by the Voting Rights Act, with the case in Texas making the most news. At the same time, the voting rights case in Compton, California, and the redistricting of the 13th Congressional Districting around Harlem in New York City were among two that raised the issue of growing Black and Latino political competition and Latino population growth and Black population stability impacting politically at the local level.
2012 was also unique as probably the first time that Latinos as political contributors were taken seriously at the national level. Initially, an Associated Press study indicated that Latino political campaign contributions lagged significantly behind other groups, as has historically been the case. However, following the election results, the media began to cover a group of "Latino mega-donors" that were led by actress Eva Longoria,
San Antonio architect Henry Muñoz, a top Latino bundler for Obama who is heading up the effort, and Andres Lopez, a bundler in Puerto Rico who is a member of the Democratic National Committee, that had formed something called the Futuro Fund to support the Obama campaign by raising $30 million. This group made news as well for indicating their interest to continue to weigh in after the election on issues such as immigration and their intention to create a Latino issues advocacy organization to carry out this work.
Immigration was the issue in 2012 that largely defined the Latino political agenda, with Mitt Romney making the word, "self-deportation," one of the contenders for word of the year. Obama's failure to keep his 2008 election promise to deliver on comprehensive immigration reform became a sore point between him and the Latino community, forcing him to improvise his "deferred action" initiative for Dream Act-eligibles and keeping his Justice Department aggressively challenging punitive state and local immigration laws and ordinances throughout 2012. It was the Republican Party's overheated rhetoric on this hot button issue that resulted in Latino support for Obama last year topping that of 2008.
As Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio unsuccessfully tried to get his party to address the immigration issue with a Dream Act-lite version of legislation, the Obama Administration was being criticized by Latino and other immigrant rights advocates for his record number of deportations and the perceived abused of his Secure Communities program. His main immigration advisor, Cecilia Muñoz, once the lead immigration advocate for the National Council of La Raza, became the lightning rod of this criticism as she publicly defended these policies, with some calling for her resignation. In the end, the Administration was able to move the needle somewhat in the right direction on this issue, outmaneuvering the Republicans (especially Romney's pledge to veto the DREAM Act), and Muñoz was promoted to head up the White House Domestic Policy Council.
2012 also became significant for Latinos on the immigration front, as research from the Census Bureau and the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that for the first time in decades Mexican immigration had virtually come to a halt. This was the case because of a number of factors related to the state of the economies and demographic trends in the United States and Mexico, and punitive state and local policies. The result was that the frightening imagery for nativists of a "Mexican immigration tsunami" was no longer sustainable. What effect this would have on the prospects of immigration reform will have to wait until a but later this year.
Despite this, abuses against Latinos and Latino immigrants remained an ongoing issue. There was the case of the police abuses in East Haven, Connecticut and their mayor's insulting "Tacos" comment. There were also the attacks against Mexican-American studies in Tucson and the banning of ethnic studies and other books there. These and other issues related to Latino immigration were nicely captured in the critically acclaimed documentary of journalist Juan Gonzalez's book, Harvest of Empire that premiered later in the year. The other important voice to emerge stronger than ever in 2012 on immigration was that of Univision anchor and author Jorge Ramos, who forcefully and continuously confronted the Presidential candidates on the issue and spearheaded a campaign that raised eyebrows in some circles about Univision's and the other Spanish-language media's strong pro-immigrant rights advocacy during the election. But with Obama's deferred action initiative, it was the role of the student activists known as the Dreamers that stood out as the most promising source of new political energy in the Latino community on this and other issues.
Race and Civil Rights
The notion of the United States as a post-racial society was put to the test in 2012, especially for Latinos. The racist basis of much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and state and local policies like the Arizona SB 1070 immigration law, was evident throughout the year. Even the wildfires in Arizona were being attributed to acts by illegal aliens by the likes of Senator John McCain. There is, as well, the continuing racial profiling of New York City's stop, question and frisk policy, the racially charged (Latino racially confusing) and still unresolved killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida. There were even anti-Latino incidents on high school basketball courts in different parts of the country.
With the debate over marriage equality and anti-gay violence, 2012 represented another major turning point for the Latino community. Countering the usual Latino stereotype of machismo, polls and coalitions reveal majority support among Latinos for marriage equality and gay rights. This resulted in important coalitions between groups such as GLAAD, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and others in campaignd to stop such bias in the media, both in places like Los Angeles and in Puerto Rico. Another important event was the strong Latino backing and participation in this year's Selma to Montgomery March had, promoting a stronger Black-Latino relationship. On a class basis, Latino community support for the Occupy Wall Street Movement and its pro-99 percent campaign was evident in polls and the movement's outreach to Latino communities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico and Latin America.
However, study after study, and Census report after Census report, continued to document the disparities in a wide range of important areas, from health to housing to education to economic status, where Latinos were overrepresented on the lower rungs, along with other communities of color. During the Great Recession of 2007-8, it was documented that Latinos lost the greatest amount of wealth than any other major racial-ethnic group. When put together, these numbers pointed to the clear link between race and class as major factors underlying the increasing income inequalities in the United States. Despite this, major institutions continued to reflect these inequalities, as a 2011 report on foundation-giving to the Latino community revealed as the subject of a major 2012 conference by Hispanics in Philanthropy (HIP): over the last decade, foundation grants to Latino organizations remained at a dismal 1 percent despite the growth of this population to being over 17 percent of the country's population.
As the issue of whether or not the United States has become a "post-racial" society continues to surface, especially after the Obama reelection, the Census Bureau began to weigh in on the racial question. They began reporting on the findings of their Alternative Questionnaire Experiment (AQE) that is exploring ways to improve their counting of race and ethnic groups for the 2020 Census. Latinos being the only population group to have their very own question in the Census, the proposal to combine this Hispanic question with the question on race into one has raised some concerns. In addition, the Census Bureau also created in 2012 a new National Advisory Committee on Racial, Ethnic and Other Populations that will be addressing these and related issues. This Census research on these questions will no doubt generate a debate on the future of not only how the Census counts Latinos, but of the role of race in the United States.
The Other America
But given the realities of globalization today, Latino concerns cannot be limited to those of the Latino population in the United States alone. Along with the role of immigration, there is also the fact that the United States remains a colonial and neo-colonial power with its possession of territories such as Puerto Rico and its influence in Latin America and the Caribbean, as Juan Gonzalez has documented in his book, Harvest of Empire.
As all parties now agree (whether supporters of statehood or independence), Puerto Rico remains a colony of the United States since it took it over in 1898. In 2012, while the U.S. was voting for President, in Puerto Rico they were voting for Governor and on its future political status. The results on status were unclear as to whether there a mandate for statehood, and the Governor-elect was not a statehood supporter. However, the level of ignorance about the politics of Puerto Rico and the poor coverage of the issue by the U.S. media has resulted in a superficial and misleading debate over Congressional support for statehood for the island. The outgoing pro-statehood Governor has launched a campaign mischaracterizing the results of the status vote in ways that has taken in many editorial boards of U.S.-based newspapers and other media in an effort to influence a Congress dominated by a selective inattention to the issue. Instead of viewing the results as a mandate for a new and more inclusive process of determining Puerto Rico's future, there are many who seek to short-circuit such a process for immediate gain and at the expense of a genuine engagement with the people of Puerto Rico and their Diaspora.
As an illustration of the interconnections that exist, the campaign by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its NYC-born Puerto Rican President, Anthony Romero, to hold the police in Puerto Rico accountable, was a successful effort spearheaded by Stateside Puerto Ricans to accomplish something that those on the Island could not accomplish by themselves. By the end of 2012, the US Department of Justice intervened to reform the illegal and bad practices of the Puerto Rico police. In the process, awareness was raised of Puerto Rico being the "third border," alongside Mexico and Canada, for the illegal entry of drugs into the U.S. and the need for the federal government to provide the necessary resources to address this problem, which has raised havoc in a soaring murder and crime rate in Puerto Rico. The successful campaign to stop the proposed gas pipeline in Puerto Rico (the "gasoducto") is another development that may have lessons for the U.S. as it addresses the future of the Keystone pipeline.
During the Presidential election, the complaint was constantly heard of the Obama Administration's neglect of Latin America. With crises bubbling up in the Middle East, North Korea and elsewhere outside of the Western Hemisphere, President Obama made a trip to three Latin American countries and even dropped in on Puerto Rico. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton continued to inveigh against leftist boogeymen such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, papered over electoral irregularities in Mexico, and tolerated the coup against a democratically elected administration in Paraguay. The drug-based violence in Mexico, which spilled over at times into the U.S., was apparently viewed by the U.S. authorities as a new normal. Despite this, the movement in Latin America to legalize drugs as a strategy may prove to be a development the United States should be tracking closely for lessons in addressing its own drug policies.
But what was extremely interesting on this Latin American front was the Obama Administration's new direction in the appointment of U.S. Ambassadors to the region. There was a time when, fo example, it was made known by the Mexican government that they did not want a Mexican-American to be appointed as Ambassador t their country. However, today, there are three Stateside-based Latinos serving as Ambassadors: Raul Yzaguirre (Mexican-American) to the Dominican Republic, Mari Carmen Aponte (Puerto Rican) to El Salvador, and Julissa Reynosa (Dominican) to Uruguay. Because of the political complications invoived in the highly contentious confirmation of Aponte, the focus was on the individual appointments and not the fact that their appointments together represented a potentially new departure in the role of Stateside Latino in U.S. foreign policy.
Latinos and the Media
The role of the media in such an important election year proved critical, no less to the Latino community, and in 2012 there were some major developments in this area. In reaction to the growing Latino market share, the investment in different media targeted to Latino audiences was dramatic. Online news sites, television networks and other media proliferated throughout the year, as entities like Fox Mundo, NBC Latino, VOXXI, ABc News/Univision, Huffington Post Latino Voices and on and on, including Iran launching a Spanish-lanaguage satellite television station, grew like weeds fed by a contentious and well-funded Presidential election. These included Spanish-language entries, as well as bilingual and English-language ones in efforts to reach as much of the diverse Latino audience as possible. While in a general sense all of this attention is welcomed, it raises all sorts of questions. Is the Latino market being oversaturated beyond it capacity to support all of this activity? Are these Latino-oriented efforts serving to ghettoize Latino media instead of doing more to mainstream it?
Talking about the mainstream media, a host of problems emerged for Latinos in 2012. Hate speech on talk radio, anti-Latino and anti-gay programs like John & Ken in Los Angeles TV, the current controversy over homophobic commentary by the TV show "La Comay" in Puerto Rico, the insulting line about Puerto Ricans as drug dealers in the short-live ABC-TV sitcom, "Work It," and other developments spawned protests among Latinos in efforts to address these problems of stereotyping and hate speech. In Puerto Rico, the "La Comay" boycott and other developments resulted in Puerto Rico adopting new guidleiness on hate crimes by the end of last last year. There were also the efforts at exclusion by such major American institutions as the Grammys as they eliminated award categories disproportionately impacting on Latino and musicians of color, as well as the expose by the National Foundation for Hispanic Arts and others of the scandalous exclusion of Latino artists from the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors Program for more than three decades. At the Kennedy Center, their sole Latino tusteem Gsselle Fernandez, is no, as a result, spearheading a effort to address this problem from within the institution.
There was as well the continuing challenge of the further consolidation of media. There was the successful campaign to stop the merger of AT&T with T-Mobile, which was spearheaded in the Latino community by groups such as the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda and NiLP. Then there was the sale of impreMedia, owners of La Opinion and El Diario-LaPrensa, by a politically conservative Argentinian newspaper whose plans for this chain of Spanish-language newspapers is unclear to this day.
The increased attention by the media to the importance of the Latino vote also highlighted the absence of Latino commentators in the English-language media. Efforts by groups like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and the National Foundation for Hispanic Arts put pressure on the television broadcast and cable networks to include more Latino commentators and experts in their programs. As a result, in 2012 we saw the beginnings of a Latino presence in the pundantry, especially on liberal outlets such as MSNBC with personalities like Alicia Menendez, Maria Teresa Kumar, Victoria de Francesca Soto, Ruben Navarette, and others beginning to appear on a regulat basis.
While in entertainment media, some Latino stars began to shine more brightly, like Zoe Saldana, Sofia Valgara, Benicio Del Toro, Rosario Dawson, Eva Longoria, the late Jenni Rivera and others, the Latino image on the big and small screens continued to dim. Classic in this regard was the whitening of the Latino image by Ben Afleck in his movie "Argo," where he chose to play the lead role as a White man when the hero he played was a Mexican-American, a problem adroitly exposed by filmmaker Moctezuma Esparza and others. The National Latino Media Council released its 12th annual report card, since the 1999 brownout boycott, on diversity in broadcast TV and continued to find problems in the programming and lack of equal employment opportunity for Latinos by the industry. Research by the Motion Picture Association showed that despite the lack of Latino-focused films and presence, that Latinos were the most frequent movie-goers in the country, raising the issue of, if that is the case, why change anything?
The "Decade of the Hispanic" ---
Three Decades Late?
Does 2012 signal the arrival, finally, of the so-called "Decade of the Hispanic," which was originally and apparently prematurely scheduled for the 1980s? Certainly the combination of the 2010 Census count of 54 million Latinos (if you include Puerto Rico) and the impact of the Latino vote this past year finally made the connection between demography and political impact very clear for the Latinos for the first time. Even political pessimists like Columbia University political scientist and good friend Rodolfo O. de la Garza had to finally admit publicly that the Latino vote made a difference this past year after literally decades of saying it didn't!
If anything, 2012 reveals the irony that as the importance of Latino population in number of arenas is acknowledged by those in power, it is that long sought after recognition that can do the most to disempower this community. As corporate marketers and political power brokers seek to influence Latino buying and voting habits, the Latino community itself is at risk of losing its ability to define its own agenda. Will 2012 be remembered as the year when the Latino agenda began not to be our own?
Angelo Falcón is President of the National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP). He is the editor of The NiLP Network on Latino Issues and is currently celebrating his 30th anniversary as the head of NiLP. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.