By Janet Murguia
Janet Murguia is President and Chief Executive Officer of NCLR. She sits on the Board of the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.
In addition, she is an executive committee member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and a member of the Merrill Lynch Diversity & Inclusion Council. In 2007, MurguÃa was named to Poder magazine’s “The Poderosos 100,” Latino Leaders magazine’s “101 Top Leaders of the Hispanic Community,” and Hispanic magazine’s “Powerful Latinos 2007.”
My organization, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), just held its 2007 Annual Conference in Miami. Being there and talking with Latinos from all across the nation reinforced my belief that — despite the recent defeat of the Senate immigration bill and the hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric that we hear daily — our destiny is in our own hands.
That’s not to say that I’m not troubled by what is happening in our country. It is horrible that, despite a national consensus that our immigration system is broken, a majority of senators would not even proceed with a debate on comprehensive immigration reform.
This cowardice has a message for us. It says, “You cannot rely on politicians, or opinion leaders, or the media, or even the large silent majority of Americans who support immigration reform to protect you. Your fate is up to you. You – and no one else – must provide a cure.”
The Senate’s failure to take action, and its surrender to the forces of fear and hate, have given some people the freedom to act on their worst impulses. This ugly atmosphere will produce serious consequences, and not just for the undocumented.
We are seeing as many as 1,000 proposed state laws — and thousands more at the city or county level — aimed against people “suspected” of being here illegally. The result is that public libraries, parks, and even our workplaces no longer feel as safe and welcoming for Latinos as they once did.
We’re clearly living in a time of great struggle; but moments of great struggle are always where significant progress is made. We must now step up and seize the day to help renew America. We must do what matters most — we must live democracy on a daily basis, visible and engaged.
Let’s renew America by graduating more students, increasing the number of Latino homeowners, creating more businesses, sitting on more boards, and running for office.
Let’s weave ourselves so deeply into the American fabric — into schools, neighborhoods, offices, industries — so that there is no longer any room for the Latino bashers.
And we must level the playing field with the most powerful weapon we have: the vote. We can debate, we can propose, we can argue, but until, as a community, we vote — in massive numbers and in order to control our destiny — we will give fear an advantage over hope.
There are four things the Latino community must do:
First, we must mobilize our young people. Every year, 400,000 young Latino citizens become eligible to vote.
Second, we have to naturalize every Latino who is eligible. All of us can encourage friends and relatives to become U.S. citizens and we can volunteer our time to help make this possible for others.
Third, we must commit ourselves to a massive voter registration program. Registering to vote is a rare demand democracy makes of us. Let’s live up to it. And, we can work to get more Latinos to register to vote before the next election.
Last, we must make our voices heard and vote on November 4, 2008. In 2004, only one in four Latinos who were eligible to vote did.
NCLR has just announced a partnership — ya es hora Â¡CiudadanÃa! — with our sister organization, the National Association for Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO); Univision; ImpreMedia; and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to accomplish all of these objectives.
Our goal is to have the largest Hispanic turnout in history next year.
Remember, the very essence of America’s promise — that our best days are not behind us, they are yet to come.
To get information on citizenship and voter registration or to become a volunteer for the ya es hora Â¡CiudadanÃa! campaign, please call 888-839-8682 or visit www.yaeshora.info.