Choosing the right kind of leaders to lead the Latino agenda

By Jorge Ponce, NewsTaco

Hispanics are at a crossroads with their agenda to undo the underrepresentation that has prevailed in the federal workforce for the last forty-three years. And no one in the halls of power seems to care – not the White House, not the U.S. Congress, not the U.S. Supreme Court, and not the federal agencies.

When Hispanics asked an administration for which 67 percent of them voted for in 2008 and 71% in 2012 for assistance, it responded by issuing an executive order that addressed diversity and inclusion. Never mind that Hispanics have been waiting for an executive order that addressed only the Hispanic challenge. As long as the Hispanic agenda keeps getting diluted by diversity initiatives to the bottom of the pile, you’ll continue to have the anemic 0.2 percent growth that has prevailed from 2008-2012. We need an initiative and an executive order that aim a laser beam at it 24/7 with the words “Only Hispanic.” Nothing else will suffice.                                                                              

It pains me immensely when I see the National Council of Hispanic Employment Program Managers select national themes for the annual commemoration of National Hispanic Heritage Month that ignore the dire need of “embracing the fierce urgency of now!” Choosing Pollyannaish national themes sends out the message to our detractors that they can continue to ignore the Hispanic challenge with impunity for years to come. Forty-three years of turning the other cheek has only gotten Hispanics anemic increases of 1% or less.  This is no cause for celebration! We need national themes that clearly convey the message that Hispanics are aware of their underrerpresentation in the federal workforce, that they are most unhappy, and that they are willing to do something about it now.

 The National Hispanic Leadership Agenda has taken the bold step to ask the U.S. Office of Personnel Management at recent meetings in 2013 of the Hispanic Council on Federal Employment for assistance to get the White House to issue a Hispanic-specific executive order.  This is not too much to ask an administration for which Hispanics voted for in high percentages during the last two elections.  This is the right thing to do to bring the torch of progress to Hispanics. 

Rather than wonder aimlessly in a dessert of despair, I think that it is helpful to analyze the motives behind the leaders, both real and pseudo, who are or pretend to move the Hispanic agenda in the federal sector. To make a difference, Hispanics must have the right type of leaders.

Following are the various types who make up this distinguished group.

1) Mercenaries
— these are the ones who think first, what’s in it for me? They think that it’s advantageous to participate in the movement because it can help them to be seen as compassionate and committed, and, thus, with the roll of the dice, they just might get their next promotion. These individuals are those who, until they joined the movement, would not dream of self-identifying themselves as Hispanics. All of a sudden, they discover a distant relative to the famous Spanish conqueror Juan Ponce de Leon, and they embrace their lost Hispanic identity.  These are the chameleons of the movement, and they are lethal to the progress of the Hispanic cause.

2) My Group Only Advocates — these are the ones who are willing to support the agenda only if it is limited to their own ethnic group. Thus, if they are Mexican-American, they’ll support the agenda only if it includes items that resonate with Mexican-Americans — like immigration reform. If they are Puerto-Ricans, they’ll support an agenda that is Puerto-Rican centric — one that deals with the status of Puerto Rico. And if they are Cuban-Americans, they’ll support an agenda that addresses the restoration of democracy to a Cuba AC (After Castro). These are the short-sighted individuals who behave as if they were living in their countries of birth — not realizing that they are in the United States of America, home of the brave, land of the free, and a mosaic of heterogeneous communities. They ignore the fact that to embrace the famous Cesar Chavez chant of “Si Se Puede!”, they’ll need a coalition of Hispanics, rather than lone voices in the wilderness.

3) Lukewarm Supporters
— these are the individuals who do have certain commitment to the cause, but are willing to help out up to a point. They are the big thinkers — the Socrates and the Aristotle of the movement. They are big on using flip charts, PowerPoint presentations, and lofty speeches. In other words, they want to get the masses excited. However, when it comes time to shake the trees, they don’t want to get their fingers pricked, or their clothes muddied, or their backs hurt. So, naturally, they say that the execution of the agenda is meant for others. They adopt a Maslow hierarchy for getting things accomplished. Agitation is not in their job descriptions, even under the “other duties as assigned” section. So, they let the agitators be those whom they have labeled the “red-bandana” types. Naturally, when the latter are successful in getting positive coverage in the media, they are the first ones to want to get credit for the good deeds accomplished. You’ll see them positioned at the center of all photographs taken. However, when the red-bandana champions run into adversity, these luminaries are nowhere to be found.

4) Truly Committed Types
— these are truly an endangered species. Soon, the only place where you’ll be able to find them will be at the Smithsonian Museum in the Nation’s capital. They are the ones who are willing to move the agenda in good times and in bad times. They are focused on the agenda as a laser beam. There are no distractions. There are no mercenary motives. They are the doers and the executioners of doing whatever needs doing — without worrying whether their shoes get soiled or their hairs get out of place.

Following is a famous saying by German stage director and poet Bertold Brecht that he used to describe the different types of leaders.

There are men who struggle for a day and they are good.
There are men who struggle for a year and they are better.
There are men who struggle many years, and they are better still.
But there are those who struggle all their lives:
These are the indispensable ones.

Some of you have heard me preach before about the need not to waste any time and energy preparing voluminous diversity action plans that no one reads and that collect dust in file cabinets. My diversity action plan would be simple, but effective as it would be widely read. It consists of the following mantra — “Hispanics, ready for action! No more councils. No more reports. No more statistics. No more paralysis!” It’s action-oriented because it embraces the fierce urgency of now!

My plan is not that much different than the one prepared by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. His could be summarized in three little words. He claimed that they were not big words. He said that one did not need an extensive vocabulary to understand them. In today’s lingo, they would be written in plain English. They would include the words “all,” “here,” and “now.” He said that “we want all of our rights, we want them here, and we want them now!”

Wake up, Hispanics!! These are not the times to engage in quixotic and selfish agendas. These are the times to embrace “the fierce urgency of now” and select truly committed and “indispensable” leaders to steer our movement to victory!

Jorge E. Ponce is a Civil Rights Champion who has worked for the Federal Government for over 30 years. 

[Photo by SEIU International]

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