Demographics and Destiny, de nuevo

It’s “update” week at Classroom to Capitol.

As I read through previous posts for my summer maternity break hiatus, I found a few that I really wanted to revisit, rather than repost. This is the second of the three that I have chosen for this week, with new thoughts and, of course, new questions.

One of the very first posts that I wrote for Classroom to Capitol, in May 2009, was about the disconnect between actual incidence of a given social problem (or the size of the affected population) and its prominence in policy debates. I called it “Demographics are not Destiny”, and it’s that title that drew me back in, more than anything, in thinking about where we stand today.

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, what used to be a very busy time for me, when institutions all over the place suddenly decided that they wanted someone to come to “talk about Hispanic issues” in order to fill a slot in their calendars (Rotary Clubs, church circles, even the IRS one year). And a lot of the media coverage and conversation this year is about the new U.S. Census data that show the growth of the Latino origin population (accounting for 56% of total U.S. population growth between 2000-2010), particularly in some regions of the country.

Source, Pew Hispanic Center, from 2010 Census data

I’m not saying that’s not a big deal. It very well could be.

Could be.

But, in itself, population growth doesn’t equal political power. History is replete with examples of that.

And, so, the story this month (and every month) should be about what those population increases mean for our country, and about what advocates for social justice are going to do about the implications. We need to frame the discussion about how Latino voters may impact the 2012 election–and register and turn out Latino voters to ensure that they do just that. We need to talk about how more Latinos means more poverty in the U.S.–and address the educational barriers and employment discrimination that contribute to those trends. We need to demand attention to real immigration reform, given that many of the more than 50 million Latinos counted in the 2010 Census are affected (themselves or through family and community relationships) by our nation’s completely dysfunctional and destructive immigration policies. We must insert into the federal budget debate the reality that young Latino workers and their young children are essential to our nation’s fiscal (present and) future, and insist on a budget that invests in them so that they can play those needed economic roles in decades to come. We should build continue the solid work that’s being done to build alliances with immigrant communities and their allies in parts of the country that have long seen significant Latino and immigrant populations, as well as in the southeast U.S., where policy institutions are grappling with how to respond to public pressures and new challenges. In isolation, the Census figures are neither our salvation or our downfall.

They just are.

It’s how we organize within those numbers, how we frame the conversations about them, and how we respond to the opportunities and needs they present, that make all the difference.

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