What is the political agenda for Hispanics in this country? Asians? How about African-Americans? We often have our political priorities fed to us by political institutions and that is problematic. It is also problematic, however, that those same institutions tell us what the priorities are for entire groups of people whom we might rarely even speak to. It could very well be that the priorities we typically associate with various groups aren’t necessarily their chief day to day concerns.
I was reminded of that this past week when I spoke to a lady from El Salvador. I thought she would be appropriate to speak to the priorities of Latinos because she does outreach to families for S.N.A.P (formerly food stamps). She speaks to vulnerable people, non English-speaking people and working people- in their own homes, everyday. I wanted to hear from her on what was truly important to Latino families in Maryland- a state that just last year passed the Dream Act, allowing children of undocumented families to pay in-state tuition at state universities. Was it immigration? Bi-lingual education? Actually, none of the above. She wanted to talk about unemployment. She was also concerned about people who emigrated with credentials from their home countries but had trouble transitioning those degrees and certifications here. Not quite what you might expect.
I’m sure the same is true for every identified group on some level but I can only speak to my experience as a black man. I routinely come across people who believe that affirmative action would naturally be my largest political priority. Yes, I’m very concerned about college access and affordability, particularly for poor, minority students. Yet, if honest, I’m more concerned at this point in life about the mountain of student loan debt I have and how my entire generation, with similar tales, are to survive with those debts when we continually look at stagnating wages. On a day to day basis, I’m far more concerned about the slow but steady trend that renders human labor and entire segments of our population irrelevant and unnecessary to the economy we have: we no longer need many workers to operate our companies because computer transactions only require a few people pushing buttons. What, then, are we to do with a population that is not decreasing but increasing?
Yes, I am a black man who cares very deeply about the peculiar issues of black people in America. Even so, if honest, no “pet issue” (as some may call them) of black folks rises to the level of immediate concern as do those types of issues. I’m concerned for our children when, in addition to battling historical impediments linked to race, these harsh realities exist. I’m concerned for our children as we are facing environmental catastrophe (the first American settlement- Jamestown, Va- will be underwater by the end of the century!) and no one seems to be in a hurry to do anything about it. Perhaps, as we approach the campaign season for the 2014 elections, we should all think very deeply about what our real priorities are and not be told otherwise.