Hispanic Heritage Month: Why history needs a Latino president

What would Hispanic Heritage Month be like if there were a Latino in the White House? Would the president don a white guayabera and ride…
Hispanic Heritage Month: Why history needs a Latino president

Senator Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio are both of Cuban descent, and many say they might be Latino frontrunners in the 2016 presidential elections. (Getty Images)

What would Hispanic Heritage Month be like if there were a Latino in the White House?

Would the president don a white guayabera and ride in an open limousine at the head of a parade celebrating Latino heritage? Would one of his first accomplishment have been to use his presidential authority of executive action for sweeping immigration reform?

SEE ALSO: Go ahead, you can judge like Judge Judy for Hispanic Heritage

Or to expect that from the nation’s first Latino president belittle the significance of what would be his — or her — place in history?

So often, too, the symbolism of presidential politics overshadows the reality of the post. If John F. Kennedy had accomplished a fraction of what he came to represent, wouldn’t his legacy exceed the romance of his Camelot White House that immediately comes to mind at the mention of his name?

For, from that perspective, the importance of America, as Abraham Lincoln so simply put it, is in its people: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.”

How would a Hispanic president fare?

Thus, the election of a Hispanic to the most powerful office in the world would mostly likely first show how America continues to surprise — to renew itself and how it can beat all odds and expectations as a nation moves to becoming that more perfect union its founders designed.

Perhaps no one will find it as hard to grasp the significance of a Latino president than Hispanics whose overall mood is likely to be awash with pride but shaded with angst in trying to find a deeper meaning.

“The first Latino President of the United States is alive today,” Congressman Luis Gutiérrez has been so bold as to say, confident that a Hispanic presidency is inevitable – and more likely sooner than later.

Most notably, unlike the 2008 election of Barack Obama, the moment would not be about redemption for the 400-year-old sin of slavery, nor would it be a national catharsis coming at a time when the Hispanic population is retreating in numbers.

On the contrary, for many Latinos, and certainly for much of the country and world, the election of the first Hispanic president in U.S. history will be an extraordinary step toward the realization of America as the latest Latino nation in the hemisphere.

Hispanics come of age in the United States

Such a historical feat would also signal that Hispanics in the United States have overcame age-old racial, regional, religious, and political differences, as Americans of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Spanish-language origins will have managed to consolidate their political clout as never before and exerted their influence in the most powerful manner in a democracy — forging a shared identity in an America that has increasing become their own.

Certainly, the Latino boom of 54 million in the population already brings a welcome charge to the economy at a time when others’ population growth has slowed to a crawl.

In California, Latinos now equal the number of whites in the state’s population. It will not be long before the same is true in Texas. In New Mexico, 47 percent of the population was of Hispanic heritage in 2012 and soon likely to exceed being half.

In five other states, Hispanics make up at least 20 percent of the population. Even other states offer the latest harbinger for a more diverse America in regions where Hispanic migration has been a relatively recent development.

A Republican Latino president?

But perhaps the biggest surprise — should a Hispanic become president, especially in 2016 — would be for Latinos themselves, because it would likely be one of two Republicans — Senators Marco Rubio of Florida or Ted Cruz of Texas.

Because they are Republicans, Rubio and Cruz have made most Hispanics — the large portion of them Democrats — skeptical about either. They regard both men as somehow inauthentically Hispanic due to his upbringing as un-impoverished Cubans who pounced on some unique political opportunity.

But even Latino leaders who happen to be Democrats acknowledge gains made by Republicans in advancing Hispanic officials farther up the ladder: Today 32 percent of Latino Republicans serve at the state or federal level, compared to 17 percent of Democrats.

SEE ALSO: Tracing our rainbow of lineages for Hispanic Heritage Month

“Good for the Republicans that they have high-ranking Latinos in their ranks,” Rep. Xavier Becerra, the Los Angeles Democrat, told a luncheon sponsored by Univision, ABC News, and National Journal at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

“And shame on Democrats if we don’t see that better do the same thing real soon.”

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