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COLUMN: Recognizing Latinos' contributions to America

By: JOE BARRERA
October 5, 2017 Updated: October 5, 2017 at 4:05 am
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We are in the middle of an important event. Every year we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15-October 15, reminding everyone of the enormous social and economic contributions that Americans of Hispanic ancestry make to the United States. Contrary to the negative images projected by Donald Trump administration's anti-immigrant campaign, Latinos are a positive force, especially for the economy.

The reality is that only a fraction of Hispanics/Latinos are immigrants. Most of us are American citizens, in many cases the descendants of people who have very deep roots in this country. My own family, for instance, has origins in south Texas that go back to the 1740s, when the Spanish colony of Nuevo Santander was founded by Don Jose de Escandón, a Spanish nobleman from northern Spain. Like el reino de Nuevo Mejico, as New Mexico was called, and Alta California, Upper California, provinces of the Spanish Borderlands, the people of Nuevo Santander created a thriving colony of farmers and ranchers. Like many other Chicanos, I am proud to be a descendant of those pioneers. This sense of place that we have, the recognition of roots and identity, what we know as history, is one of the main reasons that we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month.

It's good to know history, I would say, because it leads to an objective view of the present. We can say the same about the economic realities in which we live. A big part of knowing economic realities has to do with who is here, what the demographics look like.

So, what do we need to know? According to the Pew Research Center, out of the 60 million U.S. Latinos, only 19 million are foreign-born. Out of this number, 11 million are undocumented. The presence of illegal immigrants is not a good situation, even if the economy absolutely needs the workers.

The present situation is the result of an outdated immigration system that is best replaced by a guest worker program. Walls and armed border guards are not the solution to illegal immigration. We cannot ignore the fact that illegal immigrants provide an indispensable pool of low-paid workers doing the kind of work that Americans will not do. But the situation can be changed. Using technology we can create an effective guest worker program that will allow for the orderly entry and departure of unskilled workers and at the same time ensure fair treatment, fair pay and good working conditions for the workers.

Illegal immigration is only one part of the economic reality. Latino citizens are a much greater proportion of the Latino population. It is a very significant reality that as the fastest growing ethnic group, Latinos made up 53 percent of the U.S. population growth in the years since the 2010 census. By the year 2065, Latinos will number 107 million, according to Pew.

This means that business must pay attention to this huge bloc of consumers, workers, and entrepreneurs that is shaping the future.

In terms of understanding social realities, there are other things we need to know. As I have pointed out many times, Latinos have always been heavily represented in the U.S. Armed Forces. In Mexican American culture, as in working class Anglo American culture, military service is an expected duty for young men and increasingly for young women. This readiness to serve and defend the country, seriously and enthusiastically taken on by Latinos/Hispanics, is another reason for Hispanic Heritage Month.

Hispanic Heritage Month is also about the much larger number of Hispanic citizens who have served honorably in the Armed Forces alongside their compatriots of many ethnicities in America's wars. No other ethnic group has volunteered in the same degree as Latinos/Hispanics.

Go look at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is the only place where Latinos are publicly honored for love of country. Every panel on The Wall of Honor has Spanish names.

On a lighter note, there will be some good fiestas and celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month in Colorado Springs. On Saturday, Oct. 7, 12-4 p.m., el Concilio Hispano de Empresas, the Hispanic Business Council, will put on a family-friendly celebration at the Playing Field Restaurant, 3958 North Academy Blvd. Everybody is invited. El Ballet Folklorico de la Raza, a folkloric dance group, will perform. The Legacy Band will play, and well-known balladeer and musician Ryan Flores will entertain. There will be many vendors and business groups, showcasing the arts and services that Latino entrepreneurs provide to our community. Please come out and support them.

Wednesday, October 11, the Latino Community Luncheon will meet at the Hotel Elegante, 2886 South Circle Drive. The lunch is a monthly event. This month, speakers will be discussing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program known as DACA. This is an important debate. The DACA Dreamers are the best and the brightest in the immigrant community. It would be a pity to lose them.

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Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.

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