institutional and demographic barriers that prevent Latinos from meeting the sometimes unrealistic levels of influence expected of them. Finally, I assess possible trajectories for the Latino politics of the next two decades, arguing that this future Latino politics is highly uncertain and is itself under construction.

As a prelude to this analysis, I identify a cleavage that appears throughout this discussion. In all politics and certainly in Latino politics as well, mass and elite interests can diverge. Around the questions of the reality of a Latino politics, Latino mass and elite interests diverge considerably, though arguably this division is narrowing.

Over the past 20 years, Hispanic elites, particularly non-Cuban Hispanic elites, have organized primarily as Hispanics and not around their national-origin identities. While recognizing differences based on national origins and regions, these Hispanic elites have seen instrumental advantages in organizing to speak primarily with a pan-ethnic voice. Although there has been little scholarly analysis of Latino elite ethnic identification (Farkas et al., 1998; Márquez, 2003, particularly Chapter 6; O’Connor and Epstein, 1988), the organizational structure of the major Latino policy research organizations demonstrates this trend clearly. Each of the major Hispanic organizations—the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute (TRPI),2 and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, as examples—has a board of directors that reflects the diversity of the Latino community and focuses their energies on issues that unite Latino communities. The exception to this pattern of elite organizing around a pan-ethnic frame is the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), which has focused its energies entirely on Cuba and the needs of Cuban Americans and has not sought to build bridges to other Latino groups.

At the mass level, the primary ethnic identities of Hispanics remain focused on their national origins (see Chapter 1; de la Garza, DeSipio, García, García, and Falcón, 1992; Oboler, 1995; Suro, 2002). While these patterns diminish somewhat among immigrants with longer periods of U.S. residence and over successive generations, national origin remains the primary personal identity for the majority of Latinos. This pattern is even more remarkable considering the elite efforts to frame a Latino/Hispanic identity and a national Latino politics over the past 25 years. Certainly,

2  

In the interests of academic disclosure, I should note that I worked as a staff member at NALEO for three years and as a consultant for an additional seven years. I am currently a research scholar at TRPI.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement