As a Latina growing up in the Bronx, I loved baseball. I grew up playing softball and going to local baseball games that pitted neighborhood against neighborhood in New York City.  I can still name the full roster of the 1986 World Series Mets. It is that time of year where we celebrate another World Series. Yes, as a New Yorker it is a bit tough for me to say congratulations to the Red Sox, but they did play a great series.  A good game is a good game regardless of the team. Plus, World Series Most Valuable Player David Ortiz plays some pretty compelling baseball. A moment of Hispanic pride overtook my sense of city rivalry – just for a few seconds. How about this for Hispanic firsts? Did you know that Adolfo “Dolf” was the first Hispanic World series player back in 1919, where he was a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, against the infamous “Black Sox.” He later pitched for the New York Giants in the 1933 Series and was credited with the win in the final game. Many people can rattle off the name of their favorite baseball player, oftentimes said player being Hispanic. Baseball and Hispanics kind of go hand in hand these days. Sadly, however, most Hispanics can’t name a national leader.

In a recently released Pew Hispanic report, it was found that 62% of Hispanic respondents of a national survey, reported that they didn’t know of a national Latino leader and another 9%  said there was no one. Only four leaders were named by more than 2% of the respondents:

—    Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor; the high court’s first Hispanic

—    Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, recently considered for VP slot on republican ticket

—    Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

—    And Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat

I personally, am very much aware of three of these four Hispanic leaders. But there is also a slew of other Hispanic leaders. However, what you will find is that many of the Hispanic leaders in politics, let’s say, are very much local. While, the saying states that all politics are local; for Hispanics it is even more so.  You have for instance, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, who at 54 years old, is both the first woman and the first Hispanic to hold the position. She rose up from serving as attorney general for New Mexico for 14 years. What about Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval who had served as a federal judge, attorney general and chairman of the gaming commission before becoming the governor of Nevada.  Even when a Latino gets a national spotlight he or she is still in the local realm. Take for instance, San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julián Castro. He was given a prestigious speaking spot at the National Democratic National Convention which garnered him tons of media coverage. At 39 years old he is bound to keep rising and rising. Perhaps one day he will be giving a different speech at the Democratic National Convention.  Despite being a media darling and sharing the metaphorical stage with Obama, he is not well known amongst US Latinos.

Then you have those leaders that do get a lot of media coverage and may have wider name recognition. The problem is that for some their Hispanic credentials are at times questioned. For instance, many say George Prescott Bush is a rising star.  He is a 37-year-old lawyer running for Land Commissioner in Texas. You may wonder, so what. Another Bush running for political office. Well, his mom Colomba who is Jeb’ Bush’s wife, is a Mexican-American. George Prescott Bush could be considered Hispanic.  Now what about US senator Ted Cruz?  Ted Cruz was elected U.S. Senator in Texas last year. The son of a Cuban father and an American mother, he’s the first Latino to be a Texas senator. That’s right, before Senator Cruz, the state of Texas had no Hispanic in the Senate.  What about U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who became the first Latina to serve in Congress. She was born in Havana, Cuba, and arrived in the United States when she was 7 years old. These are all Hispanic trailblazers, but often get forgotten as being Hispanic.

Let’s go back to the Pew Hispanic report findings. Approximately 57% of Puerto Ricans, 55% of Cubans and 53% of Dominicans that were surveyed noted that they think of themselves as a “typical” American. On the other hand, just one-third of Salvadorans (35%) and other Central Americans (33%) noted that they were typical Americans. Here is where the rubber meets the road. What does it mean to be a typical American? I take this to mean that Salvadorans and other Central Americans still consider themselves an “other”.  Furthermore, of those surveyed of Salvadoran origin, half (51%) say Salvadorans living in the U.S. and Hispanics from different countries living in the U.S. share “a lot” of values. However, only 38% of Mexicans and 36% of Puerto Ricans say different U.S. Hispanic groups have a lot of values in common. If there are differences between feeling like a typical American and an “other” and there are differences in the belief that Hispanics have common values, no wonder there are differences in leadership perception.

Developing national Latino leadership is a desirable goal, but considering the Pew Hispanic survey results, reaching said goal will take considerable time and planning.  Leadership at the state and local level is already starting to emerge and is just as important as developing national leadership. The Latino governors and local representatives are involved in day-to-day operations and directly affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Hispanics.  Due to the local nature of leadership development, there is a need to develop what is referred to as “multi-contextual” leadership (Ibarra, 1999). Multi-contextuality addresses the individuals who are a mixture of cultures, languages and contexts eventually leading to the development of resiliency and adaptability.  Developing this type of national Latino leadership will be key to moving forward if we are to address the needs of Latinos, although they are not a uniform group. Back in 2010, More than 61% of surveyed Hispanics reported that discrimination against Hispanics was “a major problem” preventing Latinos from making it in the United States (Lopez, Morin and Taylor, 2010), up from 47% who felt this way in 2002 (Pew Hispanic Center, 2002). At the end of the day, there is a hunger for Latino leadership, but the tastes may be very localized.

Back to baseball. On ESPN’s website they list the current top 50 players. Guess what: 24% of that top 50 are Hispanic. Are they considered national Latino leaders? This story is to be continued.


Written & Photo By: Miriam Vega
Follow @miriamyvega

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The Institute for Latinx Health Equity is a growing collaborative of public health researchers, behavioral scientists, community leaders, capacity building specialists and social justice advocates. We strive to disseminate information about issues pertinent to health disparities and inequity. Follow us, join us, comment and add your voice to ours.

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