The Hispanic Narrative Must Change in This Off-Election Year

Gustavo Cruz of Promise, Ariz. protests outside the Sandra Day O'Connor Courthouse in downtown Phoenix, before the start of t
Gustavo Cruz of Promise, Ariz. protests outside the Sandra Day O'Connor Courthouse in downtown Phoenix, before the start of the racial-profiling case against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office on Tuesday, July 24, 2012. Lawyers who say that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office disproportionately singled out Latinos in the patrols accused him of launching some sweeps based on emails and letters that don't allege crimes, but complain only that "dark-skinned people" are congregating in a given area or speaking Spanish. Arpaio has long denied racial profiling allegations. (AP Photo/The Arizona Republic, Nick Oza) MARICOPA COUNTY OUT; MAGS OUT; NO SALES

U.S. Hispanics are not valued enough by America's corporations, government and mainstream media. Corporate leaders, politicians and our society at large do not yet take the Hispanic community seriously, especially their leadership, buying power or political influence. Although the number of U.S. Hispanics is escalating rapidly, corporations, advertisers, government and society at large continue to underestimate the importance of U.S. Hispanics and their influence as trendsetters. The narrative about U.S. Hispanics must change in this off-election year. It's time for people, politicians and companies to genuinely become informed about who Hispanics are and what they represent as leaders, business owners and consumers with a direct connection to and impact on U.S. economic growth and global competitiveness.

Many people, politicians and companies have preconceived stereotypes about Hispanics and are uninformed about our culture and how it shapes the identity of the Hispanic community. This disconnection with U.S. Hispanics makes it difficult for people, politicians and companies to authentically engage with the community, build trust and begin to value Hispanics in America as a viable economic development engine.

While there have been many groups over the years whose mission has been to change this paradigm, they've lacked clarity and an understanding of the issues to have any measurable impact on the general market and, in fact, have probably hurt the Hispanic community along the way.

Many advertisers do not value -- or pay their fair share -- for the Hispanic audience. Politicians continue to marginalize Hispanics -- without even knowing it. Corporations have not adequately invested in culturally relevant resources to advance their Hispanic employees into more senior executive roles, thus stunting their professional growth. This strained relationship is negatively affecting corporate decision making and the development of new policies, markets, revenue streams and leaders. It has clouded the national narrative and heightened the negative perception that people, politicians and companies have about Hispanics. This becomes further exacerbated because U.S. Hispanics don't have a national voice or voices to defend, course-correct and educate people, politicians and companies about the real value of the Hispanic community. As a result, our value proposition gets muddied and controlled by those whose cultural insensitivity and ignorance makes it difficult for Hispanics to have an objective voice at the table. This is evident in the following video:

The Hispanic community holds the promise of being influential in pop culture, business and politics, but the narrative must change quickly!

Changing the narrative begins by educating people, politicians and companies about what diversity means to business, politics and the advancement of humanity. Changing the narrative means the media and the entertainment industry must begin to portray Hispanics -- and all multicultural and diverse groups -- as leaders, people of authority and influence. Changing the narrative also means business and political leaders must course-correct when given the opportunity. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently had this opportunity, and he didn't seize it. On Jan. 16 Sen. Rubio was interviewed by Bill O'Reilly to discuss his immigration reform program on behalf of the Republican Party. Watch the following interview carefully:

Did you notice the following cultural insensitivities?

At the 0:57 mark O'Reilly refers to undocumented immigrants as "12 million illegal aliens," and Sen. Rubio doesn't flinch and misses the opportunity to correct O'Reilly's poor choice of words not once but twice (it happens again later in the interview).

At 1:22 Rubio says that undocumented immigrants should "know English and be assimilated." You may be thinking, "What's wrong with that?" That depends on what your views are on the matter. However, earning a relationship with the Hispanic community requires one to know that cultural values are synonymous with the Hispanic identity. Sen. Rubio, with his choice of words, "be assimilated," suggests that one's Hispanic identity is irrelevant and that we therefore shouldn't be allowed to live our inherent cultural values and naturally be who we are as people as we reach for success.

While I am certain that this is not what Sen. Rubio, a Hispanic himself, intended to communicate, this is exactly how I (and I suspect many other Hispanics) interpret his message. This lack of cultural intelligence is hurting not only political party agendas but business strategies and the entire U.S. economy.

When the media does not appear to favorably allow for the narrative to change, it makes it impossible to educate the mainstream about the impact of today's rapid demographic shift. It also affects America's ability to objectively unite behind corporate strategies and policy making dynamics associated with this demographic shift.

When you consider that by 2050, Hispanics will represent 30 percent of the U.S. population, and that minorities as a whole will represent 54 percent of the population, forcing people to assimilate (whatever that really means) is an argument that lost its relevancy years ago. Key influencers like Sen. Rubio should take this opportunity to give "the new majority" more confidence in them by changing the narrative about Hispanics. Instead, missteps in the media are fueling the pundits to further pollute the narrative, like Ann Coulter recently did.

Such missteps can have enormous repercussions, such as when Mitt Romney practically gave the election away to President Obama with his infamous "47 percent" reference -- not to mention his 2012 NALEO speech.

While the Republicans are in the process of changing their own narrative (as Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal made clear at the recent Republican National Committee retreat in Charlotte, N.C.), they should also take this opportunity to change the narrative about their Hispanic constituents.

With or without them, a change in the national Hispanic narrative appears to be on its way. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, "Eva Longoria is taking on a challenging new role as a Hispanic activist and power player in Washington, D.C. One of her primary aims is to make the case that Latinos aren't a drain on the economy or criminals crossing the border." The article goes on to say that "Ms. Longoria is the most prominent among Latino leaders who are gaining political sway from the 2012 election, in which the Hispanic vote was a critical force in delivering victory to Mr. Obama."

While I respect Ms. Longoria as a successful Latina and philanthropist and for all the great work that she does for the advancement of the Hispanic community, this new role is a bit of stretch and can easily backfire, making it more difficult for the Hispanic narrative to change in a more objective or positive way. Her best role would be to discover and mentor the most viable Hispanic leaders in America to help them assume this activist role in Washington. She should take a more subtle yet effective approach like Jorge Ramos has (although his credentials warrant a more active, participatory role in Washington).

Ms. Longoria is an attractive, famous and wealthy public figure who co-founded the Futuro Fund and brought in more than $30 million in support of President Obama's presidential campaign in 2012. But does that mean she has earned her role and will be taken seriously in her new capacity? I hope so, but I have to ask: Is Ms. Longoria really setting the right example for U.S. Hispanics? Has her narrative been carefully thought through, or is it just being market tested in real time?

Hollywood has influenced the identity of U.S. Hispanics for too many years, and her new role may send the wrong message about leadership to a community that desperately seeks to be valued and influential in the mainstream media. Ms. Longoria's personal brand has already been defined, and her voice may put the Hispanic community at risk -- unless she dedicates herself full-time to the mission at hand.

Changing the narrative about U.S. Hispanics in this election off-year will take a full-time effort. Although diversity management is outdated and demands a new approach, it is evident that people, politicians and companies are now attempting to take a more proactive approach, because the changing face of America is too powerful to be ignored.