latinx youth

Opinion

Equity, Unity, and Representation: Reflections on a Conversation with Latinx Leaders

Isaac Espinal

As I continue to grow both as a person and as a member of my community, I hear words such as “change,” “progress,” “reform,” and “equity.” These words are the words of educated minds that understand the complex nature of society and want to make the world a better place. The problem is that often, the people who employ these educated and elevated words that we hear today in news headlines, social commentary, nonprofits, and educational institutions are usually far-removed from those that are thirsting for the application of these words. The boys that I would play basketball with at the local park are more impacted by “equity” than the marketing team at the big firm posting a statement to their website. 

Selena-Quintanilla-Pérez, the queen of Tejano music and an immortal icon in the Latinx community, once commented: “We never thought we’d get this far, but now we’re here.” A couple weeks ago, America’s Promise Alliance and Communities in Schools honored Hispanic Heritage Month in a Roundtable with Latinx Leaders. This conversation was a celebration of our heritages, hosted by several youth and adult leaders from around the country. More importantly, it was a celebration of the momentous place in history that we find ourselves in. Never before have Latinos made up such a large demographic of our country’s population, nor have we been so represented in both our national and local governments. As a young Mexican-Honduran-American, it is an inspiration and breath of hope to be able to find leaders in both the corporate, political, and entertainment fields that have started from nothing and been able to climb the ladder of success for not only themselves, but for all Latinos. “We never thought we’d get this far”—from Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazolo, the first ever elected Latino Senator, to Sonia Sotomayor, a Supreme Court Justice. 

Though we have achieved much, we still have a long way to go to achieve real “equity.” However, the obstacles that we face are only insurmountable if we fail to overcome the threats and injustices that nuestro pueblo (our people) face. The cure: ensuring that our communities and community organizations are enabled and lifted up by putting young people at the center of our efforts. A take-away from this Roundtable with Latinx Leaders is that the problems facing our youth are not centered around their age, but rather, on the responsibilities and needs that they have. In the time of COVID, the struggles of young people have been exposed and highlighted as the delicate balance of making it in this country is knocked over by a pandemic, severe unemployment, and disrupted schools throughout the country. In our Roundtable discussion we also highlighted the impact and significance of the Black Lives Matter movement in the Latinx community. For a long time, people of color have stuck together under the umbrella of institutional oppression, disparity of opportunities, and poverty. The result is now a stronger uniting of Black and Latinx communities learning from and leaning on each other for support and raising a unifying voice demanding justice for our communities. Only through the establishment and promotion of youth leaders and leadership can we move past these cycles of poverty and oppression. Young people have always and continue to lead the way in the movement for positive change.

The conversation during the Roundtable is one that must be held often to not only continue this essential conversation, but also to keep our community accountable to the results that we must fight to obtain. The conversation also highlighted that the modus operandi of our community organizations must be to enable success and talent—not try to create it. Although an individual can achieve many things on his own, with a mentor by his side it becomes significantly easier, and creates a culture of partnership and collaboration within our communities. To that end, the importance of Latinx representation is key to continue to see our community rise in positions of power and influence. 

This Roundtable not only celebrated the identities and cultures of many, but also brought together some of the brightest minds that help guide the direction of this society and its values every day. From community organizations to nonprofits to the corporate sector, each one bringing their unique experience and expertise with them to the conversation. As a community and a nation we must continue to seek out and participate in opportunities such as these—especially those that include young people—to effectively use our right to assemble, speak freely, and advocate together for change. That is what real equity is about. 

Juntos podemos realizar el futuro que necesitamos y merecemos. Together we can bring about the future that we need and deserve. 

—Isaac Espinal