Elected offices are about reaching a finish line in a race full of hurdles, secret traps and compromises. For Latino community leaders to become candidates and later elected officials, it also requires a base of trust and investment. When we reflect on what has happened in the last year with the Los Angeles City Council leaked tapes controversy, the marker of Latino representation in Los Angeles was flipped upside down. It continues to raise questions for those inside and outside the ballpark of Los Angeles politics, in this state and beyond.
As an immigrant and undocumented teenager, coming of age during the Bush and then the Obama administration, grounded in me that being politically active was a priority. Looking at the leaders in Southern California, the state and country, I knew that Latinos had demographic and economic power but weren’t getting elected.
I knew then what I know now, there will never be enough Latino representation in positions of power and our leaders will have flaws like all others. Much of how Latino leadership, in its representation praxis, is measured is merely on namesake, neighborhood identity, and of course physical phenotype and even the performance of Latinidad. Across the state, California is represented by one U.S. Latino Senator, Alex Padilla, but still continues to lack a front runner for governor and mayors across the state.
How we measure impactful leadership matters. Earlier this year, I wrote about the need to look at the long history of leaders and also measure Latino leadership outside electability and traditional optics. I argued that Los Angeles has been at the center of this and continues to stand by that important optic.
Leadership across education, labor and criminal justice is vast in the city beyond electable office. A quick look at the Chicana/o & Latin American studies departments alone across our public universities for example should point to the fact that in our intellectual arm of our work, Latinas lead. For UCLA, Dr. Veronica Terriquez leads the UCLA Chicana/o Studies Research Center, Dr. Charlene Villaseñor-Black leads the department with Dr. Leisy Abrego was the previous chair. They are leaders in academia.
In the private sector, there is much work being done to transform the various ways financiers and banks see Latinos. The UCLA Latino Economic Recovery & Entrepreneurship Project has been releasing research on the various needs Latino entrepreneurs and small business owners have across the Southwest. The research continues to point to that Latinos are a strong reliable asset yet are not seen by lenders and banks as that. Latino researchers are at the forefront of this work.
This framing is important because a need-based analysis is how we structure funding and support.
“There aren’t enough leaders,” can be an important point to make to request more funding for leadership but its measurement neglects other forms of leadership. Can we look at funding opportunities from foundations and political parties that acknowledge current leadership and build from that?
The election of Karen Bass is another example. Latino leaders and voters supported her in ways that even surprised pollsters and traditional politicos.
This too, then is Latino representation. But the mayor’s race has and will always be a marker of Latino power in Los Angeles. Why have there been so few Latino mayors in Los Angeles where we make up half of the population?
What happens in the leadership pipeline that prevents more of Latino and Latina leaders especially in the state legislature from seeking higher office? Latinos make up more than a third of elected officials in the California legislature.
Having a Latino name and face isn’t enough. The secretly recorded conversation shed light on the racism, external and internal, by Nury Martinez, Gil Cedillo and Kevin de Leon.. This has left a Latino power void in the city council.
Our leaders must show solidarity in various forms. Latino leadership should reflect standing next to the most vulnerable and most forgotten in our community.