Remarks by IWF Director, Luis Moscoso at a Washington Hispanic Media event, Wednesday, Sept. 26.
Good evening. My name is Luis Moscoso and I represent Washington’s 1st Legislative District half of which is comprised of the suburban cities of Bothell, Brier, Mountlake Terrace (my home town) and a newly re-districted section of Kirkland. The other half of it being unincorporated semi-rural Snohomish County north of Woodinville. I am finishing my first term in the Washington State House of Representatives as the first person of color to ever run in the district and only the 2nd Latino male to openly serve in the Legislature. I am Vice Chair of the General Government Appropriations and Oversight Committee and serve on three other committees: Transportation, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Environment.
As a freshman legislator I am most proud of my work addressing growing street gang violence throughout the state. I was able to put together a bipartisan coalition of legislators who unanimously passed my bill out of the Ways and Means Committee to fund new anti-gang prevention and intervention programs. I was also instrumental on the Transportation Committee in stopping Arizona style anti-immigrant driver license bills from going to the House Floor. The US Supreme Court’s recent ruling against Arizona’s SB 1070 vindicated my position and will hopefully slow down further attempts to introduce such legislation in Washington.
I want to thank the Washington Hispanic Media Association for inviting me to speak tonight. The opportunity to speak about El Poder del Voto is something I feel eminently qualified to do after 44 years of active civic engagement. From participation in Anti War and Civil Rights protests during my college days in the 1960s to May Day marches in recent years. Now, as the only Latino running for re-election in the Legislature in 2012 I look out with a new perspective, from a different vantage point than I have ever viewed before. As I relate what I’m seeing now please understand the context for my particular point of view after living for the past 36 years in Snohomish County, while observing and interacting with Latino Communities in both Eastern and Western Washington.
I joined the Legislature in time to see Latino representation sadly reduced from three to one Representative, me. There is also only one Native and one Black in the entire Legislature too. Our Members of Color Caucus will likely be the smallest it’s been in years.
Thankfully last month Washingtonians elected their first Latino to a statewide office when Justice Steven Gonzalez was retained on our Supreme Court. I know how proud we all are of Justice Gonzalez and what a great role model he is for the Latino community. It was a historic election for all of us. But we must also acknowledge another issue that arose during and after that election.
You’ve probably read in news media across the state about the role of ethnic surnames in the Gonzalez elections: whether his name indicated he was “too Mexican” to be elected. How his unqualified opponent with a more “American sounding names” didn’t have to raise money or even campaign to mount an effective challenge to Justice Gonzalez.
These stories and other research on the growing Latino presence in Washington state put into perspective the significance of our under-represented population statewide and the difficulties of getting elected. The articles have additionally brought into focus three key issues for Latinos: discrimination, isolation, and a lack of participation in the public square. Most importantly, they have raised both the facts and the issues not as just Latino concerns, but as problems and opportunities our society and systems of government must face together.
For decades, Latino workers have been critically important for the economy in rural communities of our state. Now with an influx of professional and technical Latino workers over the past 20 years we are poised to be a key factor in the economic growth of the entire state. Beyond economics though, our Latino culture enriches the arts and strengthens traditional American values of family and community. But all of this can only be fully realized by our ability to participate freely and effectively in our democratic institutions. These recent articles point out the significant barriers we Latinos have to overcome in order for this to happen.
Though I am pleased that people and the Mainstream Media are asking questions about the role of race and ethnicity in elections throughout the state we must ask ourselves, “How is it that this question and the public conversations related to it do not contain any Latino voices?” When do we enter the dialogue? How will we help frame the debate and find answers that work for us?
The lack of Latino voices in this very important discussion is symptomatic of our inability to more actively engage in the body politic and to provide Leadership to our communities: both Latino and non-Latino alike. We leave ourselves, our families and our communities far short of the practical experience and insight needed to solve problems at all levels of civic and political life.
Much of this can be attributed to historic and systemic disenfranchisement of Latinos from civic life that is contrary to the principles of democracy. We need to address this fact squarely recognizing that the time is long past due for us to be represented in the affairs of government and the life of any community, city or county we live in. We have the right to participate and we should. When we hear commitments from candidates that are good for our communities we must make them fulfill them. Otherwise we will continue to feel taken for granted. We need to make ourselves heard.
The Latino community has not defended itself with the power available from participating in the electoral process and voting. The future of hundreds of thousands of Latinos in Washington state depends on us having a profound and truthful dialogue with the non-Latino population we live along side of.
How will the Hispanic Media engage? And not just in the Spanish speaking market. In a recent interview I just had with a Latino news outlet I talked about all this and then was seriously asked, “How do we get Latinos to stop watching soccer long enough to register to vote?”
I’ve heard enough disparaging comments like that from political adversaries and friends alike over the years. I didn’t want to believe anyone in the Hispanic Media would have the same point of view. But let’s examine this a little further. What is the collective mission of the Hispanic Media vis-à-vis its Spanish-speaking market? Does it report on how the Mainstream Media is talking about the Gonzalez election or this past year’s Voting Rights Bill? Is it helping further discussion of topics like these by engaging in a dialogue with the Mainstream Media?
I believe it is the duty of our Hispanic Media to educate and motivate our communities about the “power of the vote.” Given the apparent apathy you may even need to incite a political dialogue in Latino communities across the state to influence the outcome of political elections at all levels of government, civic and social institutions.
To truly speak for and about all Latinos, the Hispanic Media should understand that it must also engage with English speaking Latinos and the non-Latino residents of this state. While Spanish in its various dialects can be an indicator of one’s heritage it is not the pre-eminent marker it once was. Pride in being Latino in the United States today must be in overcoming all odds and succeeding in the acquisition of the American Dream which is why we are all here.
This Summer IWF staff, led by Director Luis Moscoso, visited the Yakima Valley. Our primary purpose was to meet with the President of Heritage University, Dr. John Bassett, and a group of staff and students in order to build our relationship and forge a vision for our partnership. We also took the time to meet with beginning and established Latino farmers in the Valley and several community groups, including Sunnyside Promise, an innovative gang prevention program in Sunnyside.
One of the high points of our trip was a visit with Adolfo Alvarez at one of his Cherry Orchards near Prosser. Adolfo took his experience and relationships from years of working as a farm manager and built his own farming business. He has over 20 years of successfully farming and is considered an important mentor for beginning Latino farmers, sharing his knowledge through outreach programs by the FSA and RMA. He is committed to organic farming and is currently involved in research on using predators for pest control in his orchards.
Adolfo gave us insight into the reality of farming, the small margins in yield and other aspects of production and marketing that can make or break a farming business. He also told us clearly that many Latinos across the state and the country, in counties like Yakima, now are encountering the opportunities that he had 20 years ago to access land and begin farming. He told us that the key to their success will be the array of personal and business relationships that they have and are able to form in the process of starting their business. In the end, Adolfo has no doubt that Latinos will be a majority of the farmers in Yakima and beyond.