Pew research on Hispanic leaders is wrongheaded - East Valley Tribune: Columnists

Pew research on Hispanic leaders is wrongheaded

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Posted: Monday, January 3, 2011 9:26 am

Remember that decades old command from an imagined Martian arriving on Earth and saying, "Take me to your leader."

The set-up line was funny because, who is that leader? Actually, there are many, in every aspect of life -- religion, education, communications, opinion, politics -- local, state, national -- community, trades and professions, to cite just a few.

Besides, there is just a hair's-breadth of difference between leaders, mentors and influentials. A "leader is someone people choose to follow: PERIOD," says, and that person influences others to do things they may not do on their own.

But according to the formerly authoritative Pew Hispanic Center, Latinos don't have one.. The first line of its press announcement of Nov. 15 says so: "By their own reckoning, Latinos living in the United States do not have a national leader."

Pew Hispanic Center reached this conclusion from its 2010 National Survey of Latinos when it asked 1,375 Hispanic adults before the mid-term election the question.

Seventy-four percent of respondents said they didn't know of anyone or no one when asked "who is the most important Hispanic/Latino leader in the country today." For the one quarter who named someone, they identified Sonia Sotomayor (7 percent), Luis Gutierrez (5 percent), Antonio Villaraigosa (3 percent), Jorge Ramos (2 percent) and Other (8 percent).

There you have it: a Supreme Court justice, a congressman, a mayor and a news anchor, all trailing some unnamed "Other."

But clearly, that was not what the research was after, which was implied. Pew wanted to know who is the consensus leader, the Big Kahuna of Latinos, the one who pulls the strings and -- you know -- manages the flock.

They said as much: "At various times in U.S. history, groups that have felt aggrieved have rallied behind leaders who championed their cause." The report proceeded to talk about Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez.

In other words, on the whole, the Hispanic community is perceived as "aggrieved," sort of pissed off with a grievance that needs correcting, like a physical condition instead of citizens focused on social participation and the issues of the day.

Actually, the Pew research presumption can be considered a type of parochialism from an institution that had previously been quite sophisticated and insightful. For the life of me, I don't know why this research was not just simply canned, because it exposes how its researchers and political analysts can become ethnic- and racial-category and leader obsessed.

Not leaving good enough alone, the Pew report proceeded to assert that Hispanics need to fill the missing leader vacuum. The report said the Nov. 2 midterms, with the election of another Hispanic to the U.S. Senate and two state governors "conceivably could provide platforms from which any of the three could emerge as national Latino leaders."

The error lies in how Pew fails to distinguish leaders and leadership. Leadership is the social influence that a person can bring to enlist the aid and support of others for a common endeavor. Other definitions are more inclusive of followers, also in a kind of symbiotic relationship, instead of thinking about a leader as a kind of king or queen.

If Pew had looked for leadership, they might have found it everywhere. It was best illustrated in the week leading up to the U.S. Senate vote for closure on the filibuster over the roundly supported DREAM Act.

Beside the usual expected advocates, networks of new groups were recruited into a wide spectrum of civic, labor, religious and political groups -- of many ethnicities and backgrounds. That is the color of leadership.

And like good, persistent leadership, even in defeat they declared they were coming back until they prevail.

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