|CORRALES, New Mexico, Sept. 23 - Dr. Patricia D. López, in a September 16th commentary in the Rio Grande Guardian, posed this observation and question, "Rather than solely recycling stories about the somber trends of Latinos, a question we all should be publicly engaged in is: What is the state of Texas going to do about its demographic shift and what are the roles of leadership across multiple levels?"
In this commentary, I will pose a question that also needs to be asked: What is the Mexican American communidad going to do to develop its own leadership for the state of Texas? I contend that we, the Tejanos, are the future of this state. We are Texas!
The demographic shift is not the key or driver to our destiny in this state. One cannot do anything about the demographic shifts that are occurring; people are born, they migrate/immigrate, get educated or not, they marry, have children, get jobs, become consumers, and then they die. It is the conditions that they experience between birth and death that must be responded to by leadership. If these conditions are repressive and regressive, as they are in Texas, then the onus is on leadership, regardless of its origins to act to affect the quality of life of all citizens.
According to Dr. Steve Murdock, the former director of the United States Census Bureau, Mexican Americans already comprise the majority of this state's population, whether documented or undocumented. Nowhere is this most evident than in the Texas Education Agency's fall 2013 report that demonstrates that Mexican Americans now comprise 64 percent of all enrollment in this state's public schools. A forecast from the Office of the Texas State Comptroller, in 2005, asserted that this enrollment shift would be evident in 2040. The marker was missed by 23 years. The future is upon us and yet we wait for Texas "Leaders" to come forth and in their most altruistic ways invest in our shared future through the development of this state's leadership. My experience tells me that the majority white leadership is not going to make a 180 degree turn and invest in the development of this state's Mexican American leadership.
Dr. López's commentary poses several points of interest but I am hard pressed as to whom the target audience is. When the questions are directed to "leaders" is the reference to Mexican Americans, to the majority white leadership that is in charge of this state's social agenda or to the collective of both? The recent actions of the Texas Legislature, again led by the majority white GOP leadership, has demonstrated a lack of interest and commitment to allocating and expending the necessary fiscal resources to meet the needs of the growing Mexican American student population in this state's public schools. Secondly, there seems to be an attribution, by Dr. López, to the value of demography as having some currency in our communidad's destiny; I posit that it does not. As a communidad, Mexican Americans are the majority in every category of social participation but few in the outcomes that matter. We are first in obesity, first in diabetes, first in total school enrollment, and last in both public school and post secondary graduation and last in the acquisition of health insurance and also the most likely to be unemployed. Finally, who are these "Latinos" that are being to referred as being ready to lead?
This is a state that is populated by Mexican Americans whose roots are grounded in Mexico and as such there is a need to develop a leadership agenda that recognizes that cultural context. To me, being "Latino" means that one has no cultural compass or a history that is anchored on both sides of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. There is, sadly, a scarcity of young Mexican Americans who have been prepared to assume significant leadership roles in this state. When and if they rise to those leadership roles, it is imperative that these leaders understand the concept of communidad as a cultural extension of their Mexican roots.
Colleges and universities are not the institutions from where such leadership emerges. The need is for our "Mexican American" leadership to step up and recognize that we need a cadre of exceedingly well prepared leaders who are data based, bilingual, bi-social and bi-cultural and who are committed to the development of a sustainable quality of life for our communidad. There are fragments of such training going on but none in South Texas where I contend is the umbilical cord of nuestra communidad. It is time for MALDEF, LULAC and the G. I. Forum to take on significant roles, which they have occupied before, in the development of community based leadership-training centers.
The leaders that will determine our future are not found in the institutions that are run by white men and a select number of "Latinos." Just look at the membership of the board of regents of every major public and private university system in this state. These individuals know our demography but fail to acknowledge it. They have for too long ignored our language and culture. Of concern here is that the state's majority white leadership has never appreciated our communidad as one that needs to be invested in so that we may take on challenging roles in the development of our state's economic wherewithal.
The challenge to expanding our leadership capacity is grounded in our present status quo Mexican American leadership that is doing little to develop a pipeline that is laden with its successors. If you delete the Castro hermanos from the political landscape, we will only have a true "Latino" leader in Senator Rafael Edward Cruz. Hopefully, he is not the leadership standard that we are setting for our state's future.
Baltazar Acevedo y Arispe, Jr., Ph.D., is a Chicano activist who resides in Waco, Texas and Corrales, New Mexico.