BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA Washington Post Writers Group
Are Latinos leaderless? According to a recent bilingual survey, three-fourths of Latinos could not name a national leader. I say it's no big deal. And apparently a lot of other Latinos agree with me.
The Pew Hispanic Center's report – "National Latino Leader? The Job Is Open" – got little if any notice in the mainstream media, most likely, I assumed, because it said what I thought was an obvious fact. Pew asked Hispanic adults to name "the most important Latino leader in the country today." Sixty-four percent said they didn't know, and 10 percent said "no one."
Of the 26 percent who did have an answer, the responses were scattershot: politicians such as outgoing New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson; organizational leaders such as Janet Murguia , president of the National Council of La Raza; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ; Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa ; and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos.
When Latinos discussed the findings on social networking sites and blogs – the place Hispanics go to read and write about themselves – it buoyed my spirits.
"I actually see this as a positive thing," said Cristina Lopez, president of the National Hispana Leadership Institute, an organization dedicated to developing Latina leaders. "The great thing is that our community is so large and diverse that we have so very many leaders."
And not to criticize the Pew Hispanic Center – it does a great job of putting its finger on the pulse of Latino issues in America – but let's flip this a little. As many bloggers noted, say your phone rings one evening and the person on the other end of the line asks: "Name the most important white leader in the country today." Or this one: "Name the most important female leader in the country today."
My guess is that you'd be overwhelmed by the vagueness of the questions. But more importantly, even if 64 percent of Latinos didn't name a national leader, it does not mean Hispanic leaders aren't making things happen. Just look at the midterm elections where Hispanics won two governorships and one U.S. Senate seat.
Another item in the report noted that Latinos don't have a champion such as Susan B. Anthony or Martin Luther King Jr. The 48 million Latinos who comprise the nation's largest minority are not an oppressed class forced to set aside such factors as diverse as native country, preferred language or citizenship status in order to back one leader pushing a single issue.
And don't let immigration reform cloud this thought. Recall that last month a Pew survey of registered Latino voters found that it came in fifth after education, jobs, health care and the federal budget deficit as a top issue of concern.
Like me and the Latino Twitterati and bloggers who scoffed at the Pew report, Juan Andrade, president of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, thinks the entire premise of Latinos lacking a singular leader is strange. "You'd have to live your whole life under a rock to believe that there is such a person in the white or black or Latino community – that person does not exist," Andrade told me. "Latinos will always transcend their differences for issues that matter, but a 'national leader' for all Hispanics? That just isn't going to happen."
That's not a problem. All around us are Hispanic teachers, librarians, lawyers, activists, police officers, executives, doctors and many others making strides in their work. Any perceived lack of power for not having a "national" Latino leader will continue to be overshadowed by these role models who address the issues that challenge Hispanics – and all Americans – every day.
Esther Cepeda may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.