Latinos are finding a voice in society after decades of being overlooked by demographics. Between the 1930s and 1950s, the “Hispanic” population was reported as Mexicans or “persons of Spanish surname.” The census did not take into account the segmented groups, instead, Latinos were thought of as one band without regard to ethnicity. Cultural differences we take pride in such as customs, religion, language, and nationality were not recognized. Thankfully, the rise in the Latino population is significantly impacting society in ways that were unimaginable decades ago.
In the year, 1990 there were 22.4 million Latinos counted in the United States. The number was not quite enough to get the attention of the political, entertainment, and the corporate world. Close to a decade later, an interesting event took place in the United States. The media saw a rapid-fire of change in the face of music, it was referred to as a Latin explosion. In 1999, we witnessed Ricky Martin’s “Living la Vida Loca become an anthem of sorts for the young and old in America looking for flavor. Latin-pop artist Enrique Iglesias’ rise to celebrity star status had ladies excited. New York natives from the Bronx, Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez “No Me Ames” entered the scene. Their collaboration on the love song included a crossover to melt the hearts of both Spanish and English speaking couples. In 2004, the Los Angeles Times wrote that the Latin madness had fizzled out – the boom was over. Ironically, we revisit this conversation today with the popularity of “urban” music beats of Reggaeton and Latin trap. In late 2018, Rolling Stone magazine reported that the “urban” style music had reached a new level of listeners around the world. The influence of Latinos in music is no longer being ignored by the industry.
While the number of Dominicans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Cubans, and many other ethnicities continues to grow, so do families. The money generated by the Latino market can sometimes be overlooked. However, the $1.7 trillion dollars in spending power that were reported by Forbes earlier this year is a number sure to go up over the next several years. Revenues that are enticing brands to target the population hoping to nab new dollars for their products. These contributions add up to the overall strength of the US economy. Ultimately, the financial health of the country affects everyone and can translate into votes.
The changing face of the country’s demographics has seen a slow progression in the overhaul of the government. During the presidential campaign of 2016, Democrats and Republicans acknowledged the growth of the Latino population. The parties made a visible effort to court the people in an attempt to get their support. Although there is a lot more work to be done, the body of elected officials elected to government begins to represent an improved picture of modern America. A report by the Congressional Research Service detailing a 2019-2020 profile of Membership of the 116th Congress states “There are 50 Hispanic or Latino Members (a record number) serving: 45 in the House, including 2 Delegates and the Resident Commissioner, and 5 in the Senate.” We have come a long way from the 1930s when Latinos were barely counted in the US Census.
There has been a wide range of areas where Latinos have broken ground but the movement has hit its limitations. A huge success in the fashion world has been acquired by the likes of Carolina Herrera (Venezuelan), Oscar de la Renta (Dominican), Isabel Toledo (Cuban-American) and Narciso Rodriguez (Cuban-American) but the tight-knit community has been complicated by recent complaints of racism. The arts, on the other hand, has been more forgiving allowing for dozens of authors to be recognized over the years. The treasures brought into American society by Latino artists are endless. The works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Julia Alvarez, Junot Diaz, and Isabel Allende are recognized by most of society. In 1945, we had the first Latin American winner of Nobel Laureates prize in Literature, Gabriela Mistral of Chile.
The list of influential Latinos run the gamut of experience and industries. We have activists, artists, public figures that are leaders in business, politics, entertainment, and media world. People like Supreme Court Justice. Sonia Sotomayor, former US Ambassador and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Bill Richardson; Congresswoman Ileanna Ros-Lehtinen, NPR’s Latino executive producer, and Award-winning journalist, Maria Hinojosa, and Chairman of the Board for US Century Bank, Aida Levitan. Her impressive resume also includes the title of President at The Levitan Group, marketing and consulting giant. The founder of not-for-profit, ArtesMiami Inc. is a strong advocate of artists and organizations in South Florida that spotlight the Latino culture. These pillars of society are individually making their mark directly and indirectly on society whether or not we realize.
Growing up in the 1970s did not offer the vast number of role models of the 21st century. The research for this article gave me the opportunity to learn about amazing men and women who look like me and speak my language. Reading about these accomplished persons does not only influence you. If left a strong impression on me filling my heart with pride. I will share with you a few interesting facts found while I gathered information for this story.
- Did you know we have a total of 12 Latino astronauts working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration? Yes, NASA has men and women with last names like Noriega, Lopez-Alegria, Ochoa, and Hernandez.
- Of the estimated 58.9 million population in the US, ten cities have over 1 million Latino residents. The state of California has close to 40 million Latino men and women followed by Texas, Florida and New York
- Between 2010-2013 Forbes ranked Mexican, Carlos Slim as the richest person in the world but there are Latina Boss,’ too. Jennifer Lopez and Sofia Vergara earnings get close or at $30 million in US dollars. How is that for contributing to America’s pocketbook?
These findings have further empowered me to continue the pursuit of knowledge about Latinos, as well as, embrace more of my culture. This effort helps encourage my daughter to understand the importance of owning her own heritage. It is our responsibility to better ourselves, pushing the population towards new heights. We are a rich group possessing an abundant share of achievements, not always found in the outer layers of society but if you lead with an inquisitive mind you will find a world of uplifting and positive truths that can teach you just how important we are to the American culture.