By Jimmy Franco Sr./LatinPOV.com
The growing Latino population within the country has now reached 50 million people of which 24 million are registered to vote. This population is predominantly located within the large urban areas and in the key political states of New York, California, Texas and Florida. This is a generally young population which works and pays taxes that benefit all of our society and will do so for many years to come.
It is this youthful sector within our society that will play a particularly important role in the country’s future by working and supporting the growing number of retired and elderly persons by paying taxes into Social Security, Medicare and other government programs which will bolster the country’s social safety net.
It is then very important that this Latino populace be well-educated, trained and healthy in order to contribute to the economic and political vibrancy of our future society. There are a number of urgent issues which affect the well-being of Latinos that need to be addressed as well as certain government policies which hinder the resolution of these problems. These present policies need to be criticized and political pressure applied in order to change them for the betterment of everyone concerned. Otherwise, any negative laws and policies that are harmful to Latinos will be detrimental to the country as a whole.
Economic resources that will improve our communities
At present, over 10% of Latinos are unemployed or underemployed compared to the national average of 7.8%, and 40 percent of Latino children live in a household headed by a single parent. Developing the human resources of society and particularly that of Latino communities across the country will require an additional economic investment rather than the continuation of further cuts to the social safety net.
Just as with any investment, these human resources with sufficient economic funding and qualitative nurturing will yield a positive return in the form of future productivity and taxes paid. An economic foundation that creates strong communities and stable two-parent families is a result of the creation of qualitative and decent-paying jobs. The present surge within our economy that is producing low-paying unskilled service jobs will not be the principal contributor to this economic foundation.
In addition to decent-paying jobs, other factors that will enable Latinos to prepare for and develop this vital economic foundation are a qualitative education and a higher rate of secondary and college graduates. This especially holds true for Latinas who have seen their numbers in the labor force drop drastically due to the recession and who only earn 50% of what men earn which is an even lower rate than the inequitable 70% that female workers of other ethnic groups are paid.
Despite the current rate of unemployment, the current shortage of highly skilled workers in manufacturing could rise to over 800,000 within the next decade due to an extensive lack of vocational-skills training and the large number of skilled workers who will be retiring. In order to fill this looming shortage of skilled workers in the manufacturing sector, there is an urgent need for technical education programs that offer training in specific job skills for Latinos who have been laid-off, for high school graduates who do not wish to attend college and for returning vets.
Another necessary factor for developing this strong economic foundation within our communities is the need for sufficient health coverage. Even though the majority of Latinas tend to be generally healthier than most women of other ethnic groups due to a lower rate of smoking and drinking, the struggle for a national and universal health care system must be continued so as to ensure a new generation of healthy and socially productive families. This issue is particularly important for those who have lost their jobs and health coverage during this Great Recession.
In regard to housing, the recent real estate housing bubble and bank scandals have now resulted in counter-productive lending policies that are too restrictive in providing needed mortgages and small business loans. Low-interest loans that are more flexible and reasonable should be made available to Latinos and especially those that are just starting new families and businesses.
Deeply-rooted social problems that require concrete solutions
A broad-based community support for the campaign to restructure and reform our schools is in the best interests of Latino students who are presently being harmed by having to attend some of the worst schools in terms of academic environment and performance. The struggle to improve our schools requires sufficient funding and the creation of a strong national curriculum and standards which should be implemented in accordance with local conditions.
In addition, school employees need to be held more accountable and responsible to parents and students and this will require the development of new evaluation procedures that are more comprehensive and objectively accurate. We need to bolster the expansion of pre-school and after school programs that offer students enhanced preparation and remediation so that they may perform academically at their appropriate grade level or higher.
Policies for college affirmative action and increased financial aid for students need to be supported and expanded and any further increases in the cost of tuition needs to be opposed. Efforts to eliminate ethnic studies programs also need to be rebuffed. Bilingual and adult education programs have been proven successful and these should be funded and made widely available as they fill a critical need within our communities.
Child care and family planning centers for working women also need to be funded so that these services can assist families and their children to progress both financially and socially. In addition, a Latina’s right to have control over her health and reproductive rights should not be interfered with by male politicians who are guided by outdated religious agendas.
There is also a drastic need within our communities for more extensive drug and alcohol prevention and rehabilitation services. There has been an increase in the number of young Latinos incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses and this type of illness requires addiction treatment rather than harmful imprisonment.
Lastly, the present rate of police malpractice and abuse has spiked in Latino communities nationwide. The solution to this lack of police accountability and harmful behavior in these communities is the establishment of civilian review boards that have the power to monitor and evaluate the job performance of police departments and curtail any malpractice. These independent civilian boards are the only concrete measure that will ensure that such monitoring and accountability of police departments is implemented and enforced in an objective and independent manner. This democratic procedure will then provide these communities with a police service that is both professional and responsible.
Political rights that need to be defended and expanded
One of the present issues that requires firm opposition is the onslaught of voter ID laws being sponsored by Republican governed states. These laws are essentially voter suppression laws that have as their objective the obstruction of the right to vote by low-income minorities, the elderly, disabled persons and those who are not totally proficient in English. This regressive campaign to disenfranchise voters must be confronted politically and legally and thoroughly defeated.
In addition, the urgent need for comprehensive immigration reform has been ignored by both parties in order to appear “tough on immigration” and attract nativist-minded voters. Almost four years later with a close election pending and political pressure from Latino organizations increasing, Obama finally signed a directive to implement a partial provision of the Dream Act that assists young Latinos. However, this Act is only a fragment of what is required as a broad and comprehensive overhaul of our immigration policies is what is really needed.
The elimination of the unspoken economic agreement and system between the U.S. and Mexico that allows persons to be shoveled back and forth as exploitable labor commodities and which divides families and blurs the futures of undocumented youth is long overdue. A more comprehensive system that is both just and rational must be created to replace this present and exploitative system.
Support for the public financing of elections in this country is in the best political interests of the majority of Latinos. A system of public financing which is utilized in a number of other countries will break the banking-corporate financial stranglehold on the electoral system and the buying of politicians by creating a level playing field for both voters and candidates. Also, the system of at-large majority voting in cities and towns needs to be dismantled as it is a violation of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The creation of a system of voting by specific districts in its place will democratize elections and increase political representation for Latinos within their communities. We must also not forget the plight of the million or more farmworkers who are paid subsistence wages and labor in unsafe conditions along with their children who do not attend school.
The nationwide growth and organization of right-wing groups and their political agenda whose objective is the seizure of power at the federal, state and local levels, also need to be met head-on and defeated. The ideology of this regressive movement that spews hatred and scorns minorities, immigrants and the rights of women and labor, needs to be countered by a broad alliance and progressive agenda.
This well-funded right-wing movement is harmful to the fundamental interests of Latinos and other working people as its followers are attempting to roll the clock back on the hard-won political rights of the past. There is still much progress to be made by us in regard to civil rights issues and the path that we must take is forward, with not one step back.
Latino interests coincide with a foreign policy characterized by peace
It is in the immediate interest of all Latinos to struggle for peace and against future predatory wars and foreign intervention. Chicanos were 20% of the casualties during the Vietnam War while only comprising ten percent of the population at that time. They were drafted in proportionately higher numbers for military service and then sent into combat as the majority of these young men lacked college draft deferments which kept other affluent college-age youth out of harms way.
This unfair situation also affected great numbers of Puerto Rican youth in much the same way. The rate of Latino soldiers that were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan is again very high as are the ongoing casualties. This is a result of the lack of decent-paying jobs, educational opportunities and the rampant nationalism and militarism that glorifies war and encourages certain of these young men to want to join up and experience it.
There are thousands of veterans who have returned with severe physical and psychological disabilities which have disrupted their lives and that will require permanent medical attention for years to come. While respecting their service to the country, this is not the type of life and future that our youth needs nor deserves.
U.S. military interventions in Latin American countries such as El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile and Guatemala have forced many people to leave these countries and immigrate to the U.S. in order to escape the rampant violence, torture and death in their homelands. All of these wars and interventions which were accompanied by government sponsored propaganda such as that which paved the way for the invasion and occupation of Iraqi need to be opposed as harmful to Latinos here and in Latin America. Opposition must also be organized against the bloated military budget that has tripled since 1997 and which drains away vital economic resources from the urgent civilian needs and services required by our communities.
While peace-time service may have some merit, in essence, invasions, wars and militarism have not been in the best interests of our youth in the past and have actually caused harm to their lives. Perhaps, the only exception to these unnecessary military adventures and invasions has been World War Two which was a just war against fascism and racism. The present priority for our youth is to provide them with more books, qualified teachers, jobs and peace, and not more guns, violence, bombs and injuries.
We need to support an independent political agenda and action
The issues and socio-economic needs of Latinos across the country and the immediate demands required to resolve them need to be incorporated into an evolving political agenda. The right-wing forces all across the country have their comprehensive and regressive agenda which has now taken over the Republican Party. This regressive agenda is clearly opposed to our well-being as we need to unite and develop one that represents our own interests. Such a political agenda on our part needs to be further discussed and elaborated, but most importantly, it needs to be aggressively acted upon and forged into concrete changes.
During the last four years, neither of the two dominant parties have taken up the political banner in vigorous support of the majority of Latino-related issues nor have they attempted to honestly convert them into reality. The Democrats temporarily spoke in favor of a progressive agenda and Latino issues in 2008, but soon moved to the political center and ignored most of them.
Some of these issues that were ignored were the comprehensive restructuring of immigration policies and the cutting of the military budget. It is only recently due to political pressure being applied by Latinos and the need to “solidify” this vital voting bloc for the elections that the Democrats have made some progressive steps forward. The lurch to the extreme political right by the Republicans eliminates them from supporting such a Latino-based agenda as they are antagonistic and opposed to most of the issues and demands that are beneficial to us.
A progressive political agenda that benefits Latinos needs to be supported and organized from below through independent alliances and mass political action that will pressure the Democrats to take up and fight for these demands and implement them. If they don’t do this, then their party should be publicly exposed and criticized harshly. It is insulting to tell anyone how to vote and each person must do so based upon the issues that most affect their lives and those around them.
However, our vote on November 6, cannot be unconditional and again be taken for granted by candidates and political parties as in the past. Instead, the casting of our ballots and providing support to certain politicians needs to be tactical and conditional and based solely upon moving our issues-based agenda forward. Only such a strategy that demands concrete results and not just empty promises will determine what is best for the future of our families and communities.
Jimmy Franco Sr. is the moderator and writer of the blog site: “A Latino Point of View in Today’s World“. You may follow Jimmy on Twitter @xicanomc, and Face Book at: Latinopov.com