As I write this blog, my thoughts and prayers are with the family of Heather Heyer and the people of Charlottesville who were victimized by this tragic event. For those of us who wanted to believe that we were living in a “post-racism” era, that notion has been suspended, at least for a while. Racism in America may be alive, but its ethos is active amongst a vocal fringe element rather than within a growing percentage of the population. Most Americans agree that racism must be eradicated, and I believe that process is well underway. Notwithstanding the recent Tiki torch-bearing zealots, the Millennial generation’s diversity informs an enlightened perspective on matters related to sexual orientation, religion and race that seem to be debated constantly on the national stage. While some may think I am overly optimistic, I strongly believe the overt racism we saw this past weekend is the last gasp of a dying generation. There will always be outliers, but I believe history will note that these recent events are the beginning of the end. This is not to say we should just stand by and do nothing, trusting that the goodwill of others will prevail. We all need to work harder to purge this country of the hate groups that support racism and the inaccurate ideology of white nationalism.
The evolving story in Charlottesville is becoming less about the deadly antics of a mob of white nationalist groups, and more about the dissonant reaction of the president of the United States. Considering his divisive comments on the campaign trail and the fact he surrounds himself with advisors whose views on race are questionable, this would have been an ideal opportunity to decisively condemn the hate speech and actions of racist groups. Unfortunately, in the eyes of most Americans, the president failed miserably. Emphatically denouncing Nazis and white supremacists is pretty easy for most reasonable people, but President Trump couldn’t seem to do it without qualification.
History will judge the president, so I’m instead focused on issues that have a fundamental effect on American culture. I never experienced overt racism growing up in the southeast region of Los Angeles. In fact, I used to joke that I didn’t realize I was part of a minority group until I went to college. As a basketball player, I hung out with plenty of African Americans growing up; as a science major, my classmates were predominantly Asian; and in my career in financial services, I’ve spent a lot of time with older White guys. I have the great benefit of close friends and colleagues from a full spectrum of cultures and backgrounds which has helped shape my views on everything from civil rights to religion.
We live in a great country. Is it the best country in the world? I don’t know; but there is no place I would rather live, not by a long shot. In his controversial 2004 book “Who are we?”, Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington asserted that America had more than just a founding ideology, it had a culture instituted by British Protestants which has shaped it powerfully. Let’s give credit where it’s due, America’s founders, who were of English decent, did an amazing job framing our nation. I am not afraid to write that I love American culture, and I believe it’s important to preserve it as much as possible. I also believe that immigrants and diverse populations have made immeasurable contributions to our quality of life and have enhanced our culture by making us more creative, diligent and hard working. If you’re interested in how diversity provokes thought, please check out this Scientific American study. Diversity is our strength and immigration fuels our economy. These facts are why I know that the “RAISE Act” is a bad idea on multiple levels. People who are living here and contributing positively to our country are an asset whom we should value, regardless of how they arrived.
An assimilated Hispanic man, with a Caucasian wife and daughter, and two other bi-cultural children, would not be an obvious choice to lead a Hispanic business organization. Yet, having the capacity to move seamlessly from Hispanic and non-Hispanic environments has been an asset that helped me expand NAHREP’s big tent of members, stakeholders and partners. It also helped bridge the gap between the industry and the Hispanic market. As it says in the stage production of 53 Million & One, “…next to my family, my Hispanic culture is the greatest gift God has given me.” As much as I value my heritage, it is the combination of Hispanic and American culture that provides my family and me with the best opportunity for success and happiness in this amazing country.
Racism is real, but we can’t allow it to distract us from practical matters that affect our communities. In this country, our issues are primarily economic and can be solved with economic solutions; this understanding compelled me to create The NAHREP 10. The “us against them” mentality is an illusion produced by people who want us to buy their books and watch their TV shows. America is a great experiment of self-government, which is predicated on the concept of collaboration. It is not a zero-sum game. We all win by expanding the pie not by killing each other for the scraps. In my life, the power of that truth was never more profound than in the days following 9-11. All of us, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, felt a connection to one another – a powerful feeling that we truly had each other’s backs. Despite all of the sadness and fear, it was the feeling of connectedness I remember most when I think about 9-11. That experience is empirical proof that that we can get there once again. God Bless America!