The designation of a particular time of the year to recognize, honor and acknowledge a group for their heritage can often seem hollow. It can be especially irrelevant for those who on a daily basis toil at their jobs, earning just enough to survive in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Their lives are consumed with the pursuit of the elusive sueño americano—the American dream.
Taking time to celebrate their roots is a luxury many Hispanics in New York City don’t have as we move through National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15. What they really need is acción—action.
The theme for this year’s celebration—planned and announced by the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers—is “Hispanics: One Endless Voice to Enhance Our Traditions.” Unfortunately, in many places around the country, including in New York State, the Latino voice often goes unheard. And when it comes to opportunity, professional success and prosperity, Hispanics often find themselves statistically behind other minorities.
In recent months at the Queens Tribune, we have dedicated inches of the newspaper to criticism of the de Blasio administration, and other organizations, for failing to hire more Latinos for top positions in city government. Beyond the high-profile jobs at City Hall and at the City Council, there is an absence of Latino representation in city agencies that goes back to the era of Mayor Ed Koch.
The late Angelo Falcón, the founder of the National Institute for Latino Policy, spent three and a half decades documenting the lack of Latinos at real jobs within city government and in the state dating back to the beginning of the late Mario M. Cuomo’s three terms as governor. As a researcher and unabashed defender and advocate of Latinos, Falcón used the government data to show how invisible Latinos were and how unfortunately underrepresented they were in the halls of government.
To understand the unwavering demands made by Falcón, one has to consider that the five boroughs are home to more than 2.3 million Hispanics. Queens alone is home to more than 600,000 Latinos, yet the borough’s Hispanics have struggled to secure economic and political power in the ways it has happened in the Bronx and Brooklyn. This is the type of problem that gets solved with political clout.
So, to honor Hispanic Heritage Month, we are calling on elected officials to take some extra time to listen to the “endless voice” of their Latino constituents. And we encourage advocates to use the recent data and the cumulative studies by Angelo Falcón of the exclusion of Latinos from governmental entry-level and mid-level jobs to claim their own seat at the table.
And most importantly, Latino elected officials should use their access to both the governor and mayor for more than press conferences and photo ops; they should demand the types of jobs that will make Hispanics feel proud all year long and not just during this month of celebration.