The Politicization of US Hispanics
In a previous note, we discussed the empowerment of Hispanics as a political force in the USA. Now the word "empowerment" is somewhat abstract. To quote (out of context) from Paternostro's book,
"Empowerment" is the word of the nineties for groups working for women in the developing world and in the African American and Latina communities in the U.S. In "The Empowerment of Women: A Key to HIV Prevention," an abstract that discusses an AIDS prevention project for young inner-city women, empowerment is defined as "the belief that women own their lives, that they can know what is right for them, and that by working together, they can positively influence what happens to them." The world of foundations and of the World Bank is funneling billions of dollars into programs targeted to "empower women" in ways ranging from giving women access to bank credit to teaching them how to negotiate safe sex. Yet it is curious that, regardless of these efforts, there is still no word for "empowerment" in Spanish. Empoderamiento would be the transliteration, but it just does not sound right. It sounds unnatural. I have never heard anyone use it --- not even the experts. ... Is the word "empowerment" such a foreign and imported --- and uncensored --- concept for Latins that there is no space for it?
In that previous note, we attempted to deal with the issue less abstractly by presenting some survey data about whether US Hispanics believe that they "can make a difference in the world" and they "are aware and involved in matters of local or national concern." Now, even these attitudinal statements are still fuzzy and abstract. What makes a "difference in the world"? What does "awareness" mean? What does "involvement" mean?
In this note, we will show some survey data related to the participation of US Hispanics in specific public activities. By now, we recognize that the power of a group is not necessarily measured simply in terms of its absolute size. There are many examples of numerically small groups that are able to dictate the social and political agenda through a loud, unified voice (see the book by Noelle-Neumann), often by brilliantly manipulating the media. Conversely, large groups whose points of view are not articulated in the media are effectively powerless. In the calculus of politics in the USA today, public policies are determined by politicians elected to their offices. This means that politicians need to appear to be sensitive to the needs of large blocs of voters. The public realm is where the voices of these groups can be heard.
The data come from the Total Audience Survey conducted by Magazine Metrics in 1997. This is a mail survey of 18,100 adults (age 18+) drawn as a representative of the total population in USA. In the following table, we show the participation percentages for a dozen public activities. Across the board, the US Hispanics have about the same participation rates as the general population.
Participated in Last 3 Years
|% US Hispanic Adults||% Total US Adults|
|Talked or wrote to the editor of a magazine or newspaper||8%||10%|
|Talked or wrote to an elected official about an issue||13%||16%|
|Written something that has been published||6%||6%|
|Addressed a public meeting||16%||14%|
|Take an active part in any political or local civic issue||8%||10%|
|Worked for an environmental or conservation organization||5%||5%|
|Actively worked for a political party or candidate||4%||5%|
|Participated in other volunteer work (non-political)||25%||27%|
|Ran for public office||1%||1%|
|Served on a charitable or company board of directors||5%||6%|
|Donated to a charity||49%||55%|
|Worked to improve the quality of life in your community||23%||23%|
(source: Total Audience Survey, Magazine Metrics)
We recognize that the US Hispanic population is not a homogenous group. Just as in the general population, there are groups with different national origins, life experiences, religious beliefs, education, values, attitudes and lifestyles. The voice of a group does not have to be uniformly shared among its members, for it is often articulated by charismatic spokespersons. In turn, a spokesperson will gain greater attention and respect because politicians may ignore an individual's opinions but they would not want to offend an entire voting bloc.
We applied a segmentation algorithm (known as the K-means clustering method) to these 12 data items for the US Hispanics, and formed two clusters of persons. About 22% of the US Hispanics fall into a cluster that we call politically active. For this group, we show their participation rates in the list of public activities in the following table. Across the board, these people are much more politically active than the others.
|Participated in Last 3 Years||% US Hispanic Adults||%Politically Active
|Talked or wrote to the editor of a magazine or newspaper||8%||23%|
|Talked or wrote to an elected official about an issue||13%||37%|
|Written something that has been published||6%||19%|
|Addressed a public meeting||16%||54%|
|Take an active part in any political or local civic issue||8%||31%|
|Worked for an environmental or conservation organization||5%||18%|
|Actively worked for a political party or candidate||4%||10%|
|Participated in other volunteer work (non-political)||25%||77%|
|Ran for public office||1%||3%|
|Served on a charitable or company board of directors||5%||19%|
|Donated to a charity||49%||91%|
|Worked to improve the quality of life in your community||23%||78%|
(source: Total Audience Survey, Magazine Metrics)
Demographically, the politically active US Hispanic is more likely to be male, better educated and more affluent.
There is a sharp disjunction between the politically active segment and the other US Hispanics. We quote from Jameson's foreword to Retamar's book:
Silence today is generated by the seeming perplexity in the West as to what politics --- what a politics --- might be in the first place: a perplexity no doubt meaningless in the rest of the world --- very emphatically including Cuba --- where the political is a destiny, where human beings are from the outset condemned to politics, as a result of material want, and of life on the very edge of physical catastrophe, a life that almost always includes human violence as well. The peculiarity of First World life (and of the preoccupations of First World intellectuals) is then the possibility of repressing the political altogether, at least for a time; of stepping out of the "nightmare of history" into the sealed spaces of a private life about which the most remarkable, singular, historical characteristic is that we have come to forget that its very existence is a historical anomaly, and to regard it as sheerly natural, to imagine that it corresponds to some "human nature," and that its values --- the priority of "real" private existential life over public matters --- are self-evident and virtually by definition require no defense or examination.
Shall we scream, "ˇDespierta, América!"?
(posted by Roland Soong on 10/23/99)
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