Our America

Before Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro promoted an ideologically driven Pan-Americanism, Cuban Independence-era philosopher José Martí dreamed of a united Latin America, an idea that was pulsating among the intellectual class from Mexico to Chile. Nuestra América -- the dream of one continent, one people, one identity -- was principled on the hope of the New World and was rooted in Simón Bolívar, South America's George Washington who inspired the 19th Century Independence Wars of the Andean vice-royalties, from Spain. But even the larger-than-life Libertador -- the Liberator -- and his dream of One America would be defeated by regional infighting, dying a broken man in my father's hometown of Santa Marta, Colombia.

Nearly two centuries later, I fill out a form for a mortgage, a job application, a government service such as the 2010 U.S. Census or a passport. I am faced with limits embodied by boxes that force me to check:



Chicano/a, depending on the institution and the cultural and political preference of a region.

Nearly two centuries later, my Yale-PHD-flawless English or my parents' immigration sponsored by my San-Francisco-State-economics-professor godfather on an Avianca plane, as opposed to swimming across the Rio Grande River/Río Bravo, is erased when a xenophobe calls all people of Latin American descent -- "illegals."

Nearly two centuries later, in a great irony of history, the values embodied in Martí's Our America has taken root further north in the United States, not driven by a lofty philosophical ideal of Independence, but by an umbrella term that heaps us into one bubbling, overflowing cultural cauldron -- one people, one identity defined by accelerated immigration due in part to extraordinary demographic growth and U.S. hunger for cheap labor, combined with continuing corruption and violence in other countries that have forced people to uproot their families seeking a better future.

Hispanic. Latino. I've even heard "onslaught of Latins" (to be clear, the only "Latin" of which I have knowledge is the dead language doctoral requirement that almost cost me my Yale degree. I failed the test twice). Several terms refer to the same ethnic group and have produced what I call "happy talk" -- the #1 minority in the U.S. continues growing, led not by immigration which draconian state laws have curbed, but by U.S. births. They wield an approximately $1 trillion dollar buying power; Latino-owned businesses are opening at a faster pace than any other group. Indeed, these statistics have an "onslaught" of marketers hungry to get a piece of the Latino action to grow market share as I just witnessed in the vendor Expo-palooza at the BlogHer '11 conference in San Diego.

The "Happy Talk" contains economic and demographic truths but not proportional political or social clout.

What happens when looking closer unmasks an emerging community whose frontier of possibilities is braced by significant liabilities? Educational attainment is shamefully low. Health disparities, particularly around obesity and diabetes, are setting off deafening alarms. Representation in politics, media, and at the corporate decision-making level is non-existent or eroding. Bigoted societal and community expectations turn into the reality of high incarceration and teenage pregnancy rates, instead of demanding all of us channel our inner Tiger Mother and demand educational superiority from schools, parents, government, and students so they can become the future's flexible labor force on which U.S. economic recovery and global competitiveness can thrive.

The time is now to no longer solely think and identify the issues but to mobilize ganas -- literally guts -- to act and lead by holding the stakeholders -- politicians, community leaders, families -- accountable for a paucity of vision, action, and civic engagement while we continue to support those performing small and large miracles every day, such as the National Council of La Raza, Voto Latino, or the leaders and congregants of Alabama churches who stand against that state's anti-immigration laws.

"Latino/a = Mainstream" is the motto on the back of my blog The Wise Latina Club's business card. This is where we are going demographically. It is crucial to our national, economic, and political interest to ensure that these most American of Americans buy into the idea and reality of this nation, as millions for centuries before them did.

This country belongs to all of us.

It is: Our America.

A former ABC News correspondent, Viviana Hurtado, PHD is the bespectacled Blogger-in-Chief at The Wise Latina Club.