by Suzanne Gamboa, @SuzGamboa
The study released Tuesday reported that nearly three quarters of Latinos in the United States believe their community needs a national leader. But about the same share of the 5,103 Latinos surveyed could not name one. The study was done by Pew’s Hispanic Trends and Religion and Public Life projects.
Mark Hugo Lopez, lead author of the study, said the finding that Latinos feel they need a national leader to advance the concerns of the community is a new one. Earlier studies only asked Latinos to name national leaders. That prompted questions of whether Latinos thought one was needed.
Lopez said the desire for a national leader was more important among foreign-born Latinos who prefer Spanish, which he said may be a function of getting news from media outlets that give more attention to issues within the Latino community.
When respondents were asked to name the most important Hispanic or Latino leader, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is Puerto Rican, and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, of Cuban descent each were cited by 5 percent of participants.
Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and immigration reform champion Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., were cited by 3 percent and 2 percent respectively.
The leading answer was “don’t know,” 62 percent, while 13 percent came up with other names and 9 percent said no one.
The lack of a name of a national leader on the tip of Latinos’ tongues reflects a cultural aspect of the community where years ago the leader was a mother, a father, a parish priest or a local wise person living in the neighborhood, said Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Chicago-based Latino Policy Forum.
“What’s happened with the Latino community as it has developed and matured is there are literally thousands of leaders at the local and community level,” Puente said.
Look at immigration reform, she said. “You can look at the community and see hundreds of people working to keep that issue alive,” said Puente, whose organization advocates on issues of education, immigration reform and housing for Latinos and works to build leaders in the community.
Puente said part of the reason Latino leaders are not better known is because as the community has grown and their issues have matured, the community is not given its fair share of coverage in the media. Latino leaders are not turned to by the media and “it’s the media who designates who those leaders are,” Puente said.
Ray Suarez, who compiled the stories of several Latino leaders over the centuries in his book “Latino Americans,” said the idea that a community of 53 million people can have a single recognized leader “seems a little bit of a long shot to me, but I can see why that has appeal.”
The idea of a single national leader does not seem that useful in the 21st century, Suarez said. “What we need in a disperse community growing in every part of the country is lots of people who come to mind locally,” said Suarez, whose book accompanied a six-part PBS series on the 500-year legacy of Latinos in the United States.
Suarez said a national leader – even a Latino president – is something that emerges organically, from being governor of Texas or a U.S. senator from Califorina. “It won’t be the kind of thing where everyone thinks you are a leader and therefore you are one. You have to have real influence over real events.”
Potential leaders varied by Hispanic origin for some groups. Rubio was most named among Cubans and Sotomayor most named among Puerto Ricans.
Hispanics of Mexican and Salvadoran origin were least likely to name a leader, with just a quarter coming up with a name. But Latinos of Mexican origin split at four percent each in naming Sotomayor and Villaraigosa.
Salvadorans named Gutierrez, 7 percent, and 9 percent of Dominicans named Sotomayor.
The need for a leader also became less of interest if the Latino surveyed was born in the U.S. While 82 percent of foreign-born Latinos said it was extremely or very important the community have a national leader, 64 percent of U.S.-born Latinos said the same.
The Pew study was conducted May 24 through July 28 by landline and cell phone in English and in Spanish. It carries a margin of error of plus or minus 2.1 percentage points.
Other findings of the survey included:
_ Four in 10 Latinos surveyed say that Latinos of different origins share a lot of the same values, while 39 percent say they share some and 19 percent say only a little or almost nothing.
_ One in five of the respondents say they most often describe themselves as Hispanic or Latino. A majority, 54 percent say they most often describe themselves using Latino origin descriptions such as Mexican, Dominican or Puerto Rican and 23 percent use “American” most often.
_ Half of the respondents say they have no preference for being called Hispanic or Latino. But when a preference is expressed, Hispanic is preferred over Latino by 3-1.