Aspen Ideas Festival: Being Latino in America today

Panelists discuss
Panelists discuss "Being Latino in America Today." From left to right: Monica Lozano, Maria Hinojosa, Henry Cisneros and Janet Murguia.
Riccardo Savi | The Aspen Institute

There are 55 million Hispanics in the United States, and demographers expect Latinos will account for half of America's population growth, and a substantial amount of economic growth as well.

Former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros says Latinos are the biggest story in the whole multicultural evolution of the United States — despite their exclusion from most history books, which tend to look only at white and black issues.

"Over the last 50 years we have made immense progress," Cisneros said during a panel discussion at the Aspen Ideas Festival, June 29, 2017. "(People) understand our economic contribution, that mainstream economics idea. This country's future workforce, its health of its social security system, its entrepreneurial new business formations is all about the role Latinos are going to play."

However, given the national narrative that has been pushed by politicians and members of the public in the past year, many people are missing the importance of the Latino population.

The media plays a negative role too, said Maria Hinojosa host of the public radio program Latino USA. When she was a reporter for CNN she often saw confused reporting on who Latino people were, resulting in journalists and editors falling into the same old narrative of characterizing them as a minority, whose presence in the country is detrimental to the "American dream."

"I would go a little bit further," said Janet Murguia, president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. "We've had, not just some people, but the person who holds the highest office in this country who entered and campaigned basically stoking that animosity toward immigrants and Latinos." Many people blur the line between those two groups, she added.

This narrative of fear makes Latinos a scapegoat in times of economic downturn and turns all undocumented immigrants into vicious criminals in the eyes of the public.

"And it's not consistent with our American values in terms of how we've seen immigrants and Hispanics contribute to our economy," Murguia said.

The panel was moderated by Monica Lozano, chair of the Latinos and Society program at the Aspen Institute.

To listen to their discussion, click the audio player above.

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