Seneca has been on hiatus, but he’s back with some great observations about Latinos in the Obama administration and in the federal government in general:
Obama has already demonstrated that he is the first US President to appoint more Latinos in his administration than any other President before him. His crowning achievement was to get Sonia Sotomayor on the US Supreme Court. It involved a first Latino appointment and a woman at the same time. Senate confirmation appointments of Latinos last counted was right under 50. These means Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor, Cabinet members Hilda Solis (Labor) and Ken Salazar (Interior), several Under Secretaries like Maria Otero at State, about a score of assistant secretaries; included also are ambassadors and federal judges. The non-confirmable slots reflect even higher numbers of Latinos have been given employment by the administration. Plainly, Obama and his team are betting that the Latino vote will continue to grow and thrive while the GOP tacks to the wrong side of a looming immigration reform legislative battle which many pundits suggest will turn ‘dirty’: anti-immigrant, then anti-Mexican and possibly racist anti-Latino. Yet it is difficult at times to understand the slowness of the recognition of Latinos by both parties.
One can readily surmise that for years in the affrimative action wars and the hard fought battles for equality significant Federal Court orders have been issued in favor of women and African-Americans, but judicial remedy for Latinos has been scarce or absent. The rap in Washington is that Latinos (now the largest ethnic minority in the country) do not sue in general, therefore the government or the private sector has not detected a real ‘penalty’ for not recruiting or retaining or promoting Hispanics. This has further exacerbated the insufficient numbers of Latinos in appointed positions and career status in the federal bureaucracies.
Nearly fifty years ago John Kennedy appointed the first two Hispanic US Ambassadors (both political appointees: Raymond Telles and Teodoro Moscoso) and the first Hispanic Federal Judge Reynaldo de la Garza (if one does not consider Sephardic Jew Ben Cardozo by FDR). Subsequently, we saw Lyndon Johnson name the first career Hispanic US diplomat as an ambassador (John Jova to Honduras). Later, in the seventies President Gerald Ford named the first Hispanic to be an Assistant Secretary (Al Zapanta to Interior). Earlier in the sixties, the first Latino with the rank of a four star officer Admiral Horacio Rivero of Puerto Rico was named. Richard Cavazos of Texas followed him as the first Latino four-star General in the US Army. Cavazos’ brother, Lauro Cavazos was named by President Reagan as the first Latino Cabinet (Education) member in the history of the US. Two civilian military heads of service named were Ed Hidalgo as Navy Secretary under President Carter and Louis Caldera, Secretary of the Army under Clinton. The first Hispanic National Security Council official (under Clinton) with the rank of Special Assistant to the President was Arturo Valenzuela (Valenzuela is now being named by Pres. Obama as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere). [CORRECTION: Valenzuela was not first Latino on NSC at White House. Jose Sorzano (Cuban-American) under Reagan was first.] To be certain, we have seen numerous Latinos appointed to key jobs and many other positions of influence not just token or symbolic positions. Yet Latinos continue to be under-represented in the federal bureaucracy.
A studied glance at the Pentagon will reveal the roster for general officers. One can readily notice that of the several hundred active duty general/flag rank officers in the US military, there are a handful with Hispanic last names, but only three of these general rank officers are Latino. The fact is that Latinos are not sufficiently represented in the career senior ranks of the federal bureaucracy and in the US military establishment. Clearly, the problem lies in recruitment, retention, job assignment and speed of promotion. Two underlining factors contribute to this less than satisfactory situation. First, the lack of any effective judicial or legal order court ordering or manifesting any vested interest in remedying Latino under-representation. Added to this is the discernible lack of understanding or knowledge by too many Latinos on how the federal bureaucracy (the corporate culture) works. Nor do they seem to possess an adequate appreciation of mastering the organization’s unwritten rules. Meaningful mentorship and Godfathers (padrinos) in the bureaucracy remain a scarce resource for Latinos. Some observers note that most university trained Latinos do not consider or go into public service. They tend to prefer the private sector or the non-profit type of organizations. It should be noted here that the numbers or proportion of Latinos in the private sector doing well or being better representative of the larger Hispanic population remains truly a more difficult challenge to rectify. Again, Obama has not short-changed the Latinos. Nonetheless, the Latino community must now ensure that the next generation of Latino appointees or career types are better equipped to understand and navigate the troubled waters of the tangled bureaucracy. The Latino community will need to brace itself for the on-going acrimonious health-care reform efforts, the looming immigration reform and the economic and tax adjustments. All Latinos will be stakeholders in these action items at one point or another…
Photo Credit: Miguel Alvarez, photo of President Obama at last month’s CHCI Gala