Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Rising Latino population must engage with politics, business

This column was contributed by Adam Delgado ’12

As Latinos emerge as a growing economic and political force in the United States, we must also examine how the rise of Latino populations across the nation will affect the progress and future of our own communities. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos now constitute over 16 percent of the U.S. population, or over 50 million people. Latinos represented 56 percent of our population growth over the past decade, harness over $1 trillion in buying power and are one of every four children born in our country today.

At the same time, Latinos remain an under-served and underrepresented population in many sectors and institutions in our economy and society. We struggle with one of the highest dropout rates, and only one in eight Latinos will attain a college degree, despite the fact that these qualifications will be essential for most competitive jobs in the markets of tomorrow. Latino communities must also contend with issues of generational poverty, anti-immigrant policies and practices, and educational systems that are failing our youth. While Latinos may represent the largest demographic minority in the United States, the lingering effects of discrimination and marginalization do still affect the life chances of many Latinos today and represent barriers that must be overcome by the next generation Latino leaders.

This past weekend, I had the unique opportunity to attend the 15th Annual Harvard Latino Law, Policy and Business Conference. Along with three Latina student leaders at Whitman, I was inspired by extraordinary achievements that individuals have accomplished during their diverse careers in government, law and business. Many of the speakers, including the first Latino U.S. Attorney General and first Latina brigadier general of the Marine Corps, shared their experiences as minorities encountering obstacles due to race, gender and class before attaining positions of leadership. Just as impressive was the chance to connect with other Latino students who are equally passionate about issues of justice, equality and opportunity as committed community activists for change.

Whether here at Whitman, in Walla Walla or across Washington State, three imperative themes reiterated throughout the conference struck me as most salient to Latino students in our campus community. The first is mentorship. By identifying a leader with whom you share unique experiences, whether a professor, administrator or community member, you are empowered to cultivate a lasting relationship that will provide guidance and encouragement when you face key decisions during both your academic career and after graduation, as you endeavor to make a difference in our community. I see exciting examples of this in Club Latino’s volunteerism with the Children’s Home Society and Walla Walla Public Schools.

Secondly, activism is a powerful tool for rising Latino leaders. On campus, courses such as the “State of the State for Washington Latinos” conduct rigorous field research and public outreach in issues such as education, immigration and voting rights that directly affect Latino lives. These classes are innovative ways to bridge the ideas we grapple with in this classroom to address real issues in the world beyond campus.

Finally, sustainability is a term many Whitties are already familiar with in terms of environmentalism, but we can also apply this idea to creating new initiatives that parallel the growing Latino population at Whitman and in Walla Walla. Only a few decades ago, very few Latinos attended Whitman, and while numbers have increased in recent years, we still have work to do. The establishment of a Latino Studies program at Whitman would reflect national movements, including at Harvard, towards establishing academic programs and institutional spaces that support the enrollment, retention and success of Latinos in higher education.

As I graduate this May and begin a professional career in Washington, D.C., I hope that future Latino students will continue to engage with these values and realize their full potential as active members of a rising and inspiring community in the years to come.

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