In my last blog I addressed the question: do Latinos need a national leader? I proposed that Hispanics are best served by multiple leaders who offer varying perspectives that reflect the richness of Latino internal diversity. It just so happened that I recently glimpsed a vision of that expanding leadership.
This past November 23, the University of California, Berkeley, Mixed Student Union, in which Latinos play an important role, held its fall conference, “Acknowledging the Other: Embracing Mixed Identity in America.” That provocative one-day conference drew students not only from Berkeley, but also from other UC campuses including UCLA and UC Davis.
It was my honor to give the conference keynote address, “Mixed Identity: An American Odyssey, The American Future,” in which I briefly discussed the history of mixed marriage in the United States and presented my own conceptual framework of the development of mixed identity in America. I illustrated this framework, in part, by sharing my own mixed background (Mexican Catholic father and Austro-Ukrainian Jewish mother) and reading brief excerpts from my memoir, Rose Hill: An Intermarriage before Its Time.
One of the day’s most impressive features was the inclusive leadership demonstrated by these Latino and other mixed-background students. Moving beyond the traditional singular focus on race mixture, the students have embraced a much broader view of mixedness that also encompasses ethnic and religious mixture. Moreover, they have also incorporated a recognition of the unique experiences resulting from interracial, interethnic and interreligious adoption. This refreshing, multifaceted twenty-first-century vision of mixedness, as role modeled by these young leaders, should be applauded and emulated.
The conference also reenergized an idea that I’ve been contemplating for some time: that one of the dynamics of the Latino future should be contributing to our nation in ways that draw upon our uniqueness within the American mosaic.
Latinos enjoy a long history of racial and ethnic mixing, although “enjoy” may not be the best word, since this story hasn’t always been pretty. That experience should position us to provide leadership as our nation adapts to a future in which intermarriage and mixed identity will almost certainly be a central part of the American story.
As the twenty-first century progresses we need Latino leaders not only for our community, but also for America. In the process, we should draw continuously, wisely, and proudly upon those elements of our culture and experience that can enable us to provide a unique type of American leadership.
Our dramatic demographic growth has given us continuously increasing recognition. It is up to us to build on that growth in a uniquely Latino way. Providing leadership in role-modeling the richness of the mixed experience is one example.
Dr. Carlos E. Cortés is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Riverside. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.