Estudiantes sin Fronteras brought Sylvia Puente, Executive Director of the Latino Policy Forum, to campus last Wednesday to discuss the power of the Latino community across the nation, specifically in Chicago and Illinois. In her speech, titled “A Call to Leadership in Challenging Times,” she focused on the American agenda from the Latino perspective.
“As the demographics of the country continue to shift, as the Latino community continues to grow, [general] issues are the same issues of concern to the Latino community,” Puente said. Citing the fact that 15 percent of Illinois’ population consists of Latinos, she focused on how Latino communities should use their growth to leverage power and recognition.
In relation to other demographics, Puente said Latino communities are lacking in education compared to other communities, and that this is the largest thing that needs reform. “Only half of Latino youth around the country are finishing high school. 11 percent of Latino adults finish college, [compared to] 30 percent of white adults.”
There are 45 million Latinos in the United States, with close to two percent located in Illinois.
“We are the labor force of this nation,” said Puente. “Most of us are citizens. 70 percent of our children are citizens. It really doesn’t matter what happens with federal immigration policy…Most Latino growth is because of births, not immigration.”
Puente’s main question that she pressed throughout her discussion asked how Latinos and other demographics could move forward together as a community. She also asked the audience to consider what it means to be a leader and if they defined themselves as leaders.
“We each have that responsibility [of leadership], and we each have the capacity to act out,” she said.
Puente believes the second biggest problem for Latinos is the income gap between Latinos and other groups across the nation. This gap keeps many Latinos from moving forward in society.
She asked the audience to understand the difference between leadership years ago and leadership in this fast-paced technological age in which no job or security is guaranteed for anyone. She also said it was important for previous generations to help those who come after them and change what leadership means to incorporate all demographics.
“While immigration is important, people on the right and on the left all agree that the immigration system is broken. If it wasn’t broken, we wouldn’t have [over] 12 million undocumented people in this country,” she said. Because of this, the Latino community must work as it is with other communities and find a way to bridge the gap between them.