It was early one morning and I was on a press tour, just about to launch my now New York Times bestselling Book, SELF MADE: Becoming Empowered, Self Reliant and Rich in Every Way. My first scheduled appearance was on the Fox News morning show, Fox and Friends, because according to my publicist, “that’s a show that sells books.”
Anyone who knows me, knows that privately I am very opinionated; but it’s another thing altogether to step into the national press circuit, which then gets picked up on social media, and potentially have your words haunt you for a long time, particularly when you are not a political pundit.
I went on the show and spoke about my book, about the opportunities for women entrepreneurs, about a nonpartisan, private sector approach to growing the economy, and helping women achieve their self-reliance. Everything was going smoothly until I was suddenly asked the question about “illegal aliens.”
The term itself stung my ears, and I felt I had no choice but to correct the news anchors. “That’s not what they are called,” I said, with all the courage I could muster — “They are undocumented.”
My appearance on Fox News went viral. I received love mail and hate mail alike, and guess what? I lived. Not only did I survive the enormous backlash, but I also walked away feeling so empowered and proud for speaking my mind and standing up for undocumented Latinos. Thank God for a journalist like Jorge Ramos, who has spoken up loudly himself, and has helped me to become so much braver.
But the experience left me wondering why it seems we, as a culture, don’t speak up as much as we should and why we aren’t mobilizing peaceful demonstrations, just as we did in support of immigrant rights in 2006, in response to one particular candidate who continues to berate our community. And while there are a few individuals in our community, other than political pundits, speaking up and against him, I strongly believe that it won’t be until we go beyond our $1.3+ trillion purchasing power and actuallyVOTE we will ever be taken seriously.
Consider what I wrote in my book about this being the greatest time in history for Latinos financially, specifically for Latinas who are the number one emerging market and the number one purchasers in this country, and that our numbers and our birth rates are greater than every other group by a long shot. So why, I ask, do we seem to lack real political clout?
We should be taking cues from the African American, Jewish and LGBT communities, all groups who continually fight for their rights, who speak up when they are maligned or mistreated. Let’s defend ourselves and people in our community who can’t speak for themselves. Let’s not let our silence get the better of us. By not speaking up, we damage our power base and our ability to be part of the national narrative.
We Latinos need to come together and try to fully understand each other. We share a common language but our individual communities are different and it often feels difficult to comprehend and relate to each other’s respective plight. For example, Mexican and Central Americans are facing difficult immigration issues; Puerto Ricans are contending with the prospect of their country’s bankruptcy; Cuban Americans, not all, are disappointed that our nation is doing business with a communist and totalitarian regime; and most of us don’t understand what the future of Venezuela will be following Chavez’s death. With such markedly different circumstances, it’s no wonder we haven’t been able to find a common thread. But there is a common thread: WE ARE ALL LATINOS.
As a Latina immigrant, I will speak up for other Latinos in my community, especially those who aren’t able to speak for themselves. And I’ll do this because I want my son, Lukas, to see what a person should do for people from his same culture even though we may not all think the same or have the same ideology, even though we may not be from the same race or religion, even though we may not share the same sexual orientation and gender identity. I want Lukas to understand that history has shown us when people don’t speak up and stand up for each other, the darkness that lies in our nature can cause atrocities to occur. I will show my son that silence is the greatest perpetrator of hate.
Some of us may believe that we have nothing to do with those undocumented immigrants who many want to keep out by building a wall, but we don’t have to go very far back to remember that they are us and we are them. Smart minds can figure out what is right for this country and right for human beings, but as Latinos, we should be leading this conversation and not allowing others to determine that for us.
So I ask: is there something we can agree on, is there a common denominator that we can get behind that unites us and allows us to finally bring our potential power into the light, into action and into results that help us as a group? I believe that voting is one way, are there others?
How can each one of us be braver, be louder? How we can show our children that they are Latino, that their lives matter and we are willing to fight for their futures?
Who is going to pick up the baton and pass the torch of power and possibility to our children? The answer has to be: WE ARE. WE ALL ARE.