The next few days or fortnight will redeem Charles Dickens’ it was the worst of times, it was the best of times for the HispanicLatino community. In a clear signal that it understands the political and fundamental role that HispanicLatinos play in developing the future of the country, the Obama Administration set the stage for the incorporation of 800,000 mostly HispanicLatino young men and women into the flow of American life. For them, it is the best of times, at least in the short run. They can think about how to proceed with their lives for the next two years and perhaps longer if they make the most of the time they have been allotted.
But depending on what and when the Supreme Court rules on Arizona’s anti-HispanicLatino law, the rest of the community could well be facing the beginning of the worst of times, starting now, if the Court announces its decision today or perhaps next week. The Court almost certainly will rule in favor of a law that targets HispanicLatinos specifically so that they any individual who appears to be HispanicLatino can be harassed at the whim of any local official. Indeed, almost any positive ruling by the Court will encourage local officials, including law enforcement and public school officials, to embark on dangerous self-enforcement missions that in some cases will provoke violence.
How the HispanicLatino community reacts will depend on geography. In most areas in which HispanicLatinos predominate, reaction to the ruling will be dampened. Local HispanicLatino officials – but not all – will be mostly oblivious to the need for new action. The most vulnerable HispanicLatinos, however, will be those who live as more marginal components of a local population. In these areas, the right-wing fringe will press local officials to do what many of them would not want to do on their own. If in fact reports begin to mount about attacks on HispanicLatinos who live in these areas, it will be interesting to see what the reaction will be from the rest of the community and from the rest of America itself.
In so many ways, America and its HispanicLatino community are at a crossroads. The nation needs HispanicLatinos in order to survive demographically and economically. Of that there is no doubt. Yet they have so much work to do to accelerate their social and economic progress in order to help the country meet its future fiscal and national security demands. For HispanicLatinos to end up having to fight a rear guard action while fulfilling the demands that history and demography are forcing on them almost certainly will condemn them to fail – and the country, too, will fail in the end.
The moment at which HispanicLatinos have arrived will be a time for real leaders to step up. The kind of leadership that has emanated from the young supporters of the Dream Act is precisely the kind of leadership that will now need to come from their older and more established brethren.
Having been through this fight and having forced the Obama Administration to listen to them, the Dreamers are going through the trial-by-fire experience that makes leaders. It is going to be instructive, indeed, if a negative Court decision leads to bad times for most HispanicLatinos and if the rest of the community finds its current leaders lacking.
And there is every reason for the Dreamers who have fought to make their own times better to begin to think of themselves as the leaders that they are, that their community needs and that the country – facing its own worst times – would be lucky to have.