Wednesday, July 24, 2024

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES: Gus West “Hispanic Leaders Must Step Up Against Attacks on Immigrants”

The legacy of Hispanic culture is intricately woven into the fabric of American history.  It’s apparent in the names of U.S. cities and states like San Francisco, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Nevada, Colorado and Florida, just to name a few.

In fact, by the time the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620, Ponce de León  had already arrived in Florida in 1513, more than a century earlier. So deeply engrained in American history is Hispanic culture, many non-Hispanics hardly notice it, and even some Hispanics – including many who are seen to be leaders – also fail to appreciate it.

And yet in communities around the United States, Hispanics find themselves targeted by the bigotry and xenophobia that swirl around the issues of immigration and the treatment of undocumented individuals and families.

Although non-Hispanics – at least those who aren’t willfully, arrogantly ignorant of Latino contributions to the American experience – might be excused, there is no justification for the lack of urgency on the issue among Hispanics who claim the mantle of leadership. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials counts more than 6,000 Hispanic-American officeholders, and their voices raised together would make a powerful sound.

Now, more than ever, when immigrants’ rights are under assault in jurisdictions around the country, and when local, state and federal legislators are failing to show courage against transparently anti-immigrant bills, Hispanic leaders have a special obligation to speak up.

The sad fact, however, is that many do not. They prefer, it seems, to focus on broader issues of the military, education, the arts, the economy and others, while distancing themselves from the plight of undocumented immigrants and their human rights.

The broader issues are unquestionably important, and Hispanics will benefit from progress in those areas, but the leaders’ voices are also urgently needed to confront the erroneous narrative that immigrants, especially the undocumented, are a drain on the economy, that they break the law and that they resist opportunities to assimilate.

The tactic isn’t new. The archives of newspapers from the 1920s are filled with similar stories – not about Hispanics, but about Italians, Germans, Eastern European Jews and others who came to America to make better lives. Those groups overcame the prejudices of the day, often with help from leaders from their respective ethnic groups, and so will Hispanics. But, it won’t happen as quickly or as effectively for Hispanics without support from the Latino leadership.

Hispanic members of Congress, state legislators, mayors and other elected officials must lead the way, and they must be joined by the leaders of national Hispanic organizations. They must not stand by as undocumented immigrants’ families are damaged or destroyed by misguided enforcement programs and politically motivated legislation.

To be sure, some Hispanic politicians have mouthed the right words when interviewed by the news media about immigration issues, but delivering sound bites on cue hardly qualifies as deliberate, planned and sustained leadership for change.

Those of us at The Hispanic Institute and others who work with issues of importance to the Hispanic community every day have concluded that more is needed. When we look out 50 years from now, we wonder how the Hispanic leaders of this time will be remembered: as dedicated, courageous leaders who fought for their community, or as ineffectual bystanders who watched these injustices unfold?

Politicians cannot expect to continue to enjoy the support of Hispanic voters while our economy flounders and Hispanic immigrant families are torn apart. Hispanic leaders must understand that patience is not an infinite resource and that action must replace promises if goodwill is not soon to be exhausted. Hispanics cannot, and must not, hitch their wagons to horses that cannot pull them.

Gus West is board chair of The Hispanic Institute.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of its author and do not necessarily reflect those of Latinovations or the Dewey Square Group.



  1. The entire Latino community needs to come together as one voice and fight against these attacks! If we do not stand together, we will all fall…

  2. While I agree with Mr. West that we must all do our part to fight back against these attacks on immigrants I disagree with how he talks about the important work plenty of Hispanic leaders and NALEO do on other issues affecting Latinos. He almost talks of this as if it isn’t as important and that is just not right.

    A call for action to step up is great…but not at the expense of dismissing the great work being done in other areas.