As a teenager growing up in the small West Texas town of Big Spring, I saw first-hand the power and impact of demographic change. When Congress in the mid-1960’s ended the so-called bracero program that legally sanctioned the importation of foreign agricultural workers, mostly from Mexico, our town immediately lost population. Not long thereafter, the local air force base closed, sending shock waves through the local economy. In short order, the town began to hemorrhage population. By the end of the demographic turmoil, the mostly Mexican-American community probably doubled in size, and Hispanics/Latinos now are nearing a majority in the city. In the upheaval, the small African American population practically disappeared.
Observing the impact of change at so close a range made me sensitive to the demographic changes that would transform the country in my lifetime, and it became the focus of my professional life. It was in fact a story I wrote — long before the growth of the Hispanic/Latino population became a national story — that got me my first meaningful job in journalism.
After attending Central Catholic High School in San Antonio and The University of Texas at Austin, I began a personal journey of discovery, living and working in Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Washington, D.C., always keen to the country’s changing demography. Working as a journalist in California and Texas, I began to realize that the Hispanic/Latino population poses an existential moment for the nation. Unless Hispanics/Latinos accelerate the pace of our educational attainment we will not have the economic strength to keep the country viable in the future.
I tried to promulgate my thinking when I served as editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman, wrote a column published statewide in Texas, produced a local television news program for the PBS station in Dallas, wrote speeches for members of the Cabinet in the Clinton Administration and worked as a political consultant in Miami and in administrative staffs in local and state government.
I believe the socio-demographic characteristics of the Hispanic/Latino population are a national security concern even though we form a geostrategic asset that must be developed to set the stage for the next American century. I believe that specific strategies and messages must influence the individual decisions Hispanics/Latinos make in their personal lives to improve their economic standing. That implies increasing our own self-awareness of our importance to the country’s future and thereby improve how we view ourselves. It is the lack of a clear sense of purpose and mission that so hamstrings the lives of so many Hispanics/Latinos who do not meet their full potential.