(Editor’s Note: The below op-ed is part of the Capital-Star’s ongoing Latinx Voices series, aimed at elevating the voices and visions of Pennsylvania’s Latinx residents. If you or your organization would like to be included email Editor John L. Micek at [email protected] for further information.)
By Thaís Carrero
Pennsylvania’s Latinx community is the fastest growing segment of the population, accounting for more than 50 percent of the state’s growth in the last two decades.
We are the edge of reaching one million people. What does it take to lead such a diverse group of people, a blend of different races coming from 22 different countries with different customs and traditions? How do we craft an equitable democracy and a welcoming and understanding community?
My con la boca es un mamey (easier said than done — a Puerto Rican saying) answer: recognizing that diversity and inclusiveness in all aspects of life are indispensable to create a society that works for ALL.
Representation matters. Not only at the political level, but also in education, to make sure our kids feel comfortable in school; in the healthcare industry, to build trust and get people the help they need; in the nonprofit and business sectors, to truly understand the challenges of the people we intend to serve. For most Latinxs in Pennsylvania and across the country, it’s a challenge to find our population accurately represented.
Out of more than 20,000 elected officials in Pennsylvania, only 14 are Latinx.
Many private and nonprofit organizations that tout serving Latinos have little to no representation of Latinxs on their staff and boards. It is not necessarily on purpose, but it hinders the organizations’ efforts. How can we serve populations that we don’t know? Populations that we can’t communicate with because language and cultural barriers exist?
Diversity and inclusion go both ways. Institutions must provide us with the same access to opportunities, and we must be prepared to step up and take on those roles for the sake of our communities.
Organizations must embrace diversity to their core. Diversity expands horizons and helps increase the understanding of our differences. It helps Pennsylvania become a better place to live and it empowers all of us to achieve our maximum potential, which ultimately benefits everyone.
Likewise, Latinx individuals in power must create paths and open doors for emerging leaders. We must provide others the opportunities that were once given to us. We must create a leadership pipeline to ensure that young people continue to bring their deep roots, strong values, and multifaceted culture to infuse a fresh and diverse perspective into today’s society.
Organizations have begun to realize that Latinx leadership brings something different to the table. Latinos are becoming presidents and CEOs at a higher rate. We now have two Latino state cabinet members: Pedro Rivera, secretary of Education, and Robert Torres, secretary of Aging; both who have done a commendable job in their respective agencies.
They, along with other prominent leaders from across the state, embody what Latinx power really is. Not the traditional hierarchical structure, but a force that emanates from the community.
As Juana Bordas, an American-Nicaraguan author and activist defines it: “Latinx power is the power of we, the power that people have to change their lives for the better with an inclusive community spirit that fosters contribution and service.”
Latinx Pennsylvanians face unique challenges, but our position is similar to other minorities. Our history and experiences connect us.
Despite racism, bigotry and discrimination, we continue to focus on growth and advancement. We must identify common ground and work together to unleash our power and create social action.
The movement has already started in Pennsylvania, with more than 25 Latinx candidates running for office in the 2019 election and multiple grassroots organization making change happen themselves, but there is much more work to do.
We need state legislators to increase the minimum wage for our workers and promote fair funding for our schools. We need congressmen and women to pass the Dream Act and create a path for citizenship. We need Latinxs on boards and commissions to address community and economic development issues.
The only way to ensure we are ALL leading schools, conducting research, designing solutions and new technology, developing entrepreneurs, making decisions on boards, creating policy, etc. is getting involved and becoming leaders in our own communities –in our neighborhood, church, college, job or career.
Stepping out of our comfort zone and taking action. Opening doors for the rest of us. Bringing our own seat to the table.
Thaís Carrero is an activist from York County. A native Puerto Rican, she currently serves on the board of the Cultural Alliance of York County, Latinos Unidos of York and is a member of United Way’s Emerging Leaders Society and York XL.