The Vicious Cycle and Virtual Circle

 How can law and policy  contribute to a “vicious cycle” that leaves Latinos trailing behind the rest of the nation?

How can law and policy contribute to the flourishing and equality of Latinos through a “virtuous circle?”

Jessica Alcantara, Skadden Fellow Staff Attorney, Advancement Project

The U.S. Latino population is incredibly diverse, and has grown rapidly over the last sixty years. Law and policy changes however are notoriously slow — and this slow process also means that the implementation of those laws and policies is just as sluggish. The fight to provide an adequate access to education for English Language Learners (ELLs) provides a great illustration of this. In Denver for example, groups have sought remedies through the courts—since as early as the 1960s—to force Denver Public Schools to end discrimination against Black and Latino students and to provide language services to ELLs. Even after securing favorable court decisions and consent decrees, groups have continued to return to the courts over the implementation of those wins—leading to several updates to those favorable consent decrees. In practice, English Language Learners in Denver today (the majority of whom are Latino) are still not receiving the services they are entitled to under the law.

Law and policy can create a “virtuous cycle” in which Latinos can enjoy equal opportunity by serving as a powerful tool in the fight for that equality. We find ourselves in an era of rampant racism and xenophobia – particularly on behalf of those in positions of power. Across the country we have seen an increase in fear and bullying in public schools – with children and their families scared to go to school due to the risk of harassment and/or deportation. In the face of communities and school officials who would seek to deny our children an education, we at least have Plyler v. Doe, which guarantees all children, regardless of immigration status, with equal access to a free public education. Plyler‘s holding is meaningful not just for advocates seeking legal recourses, but also as a tool for empowerment for students and parents as well.

Aixa Cintrón-Vélez, Program Director, Russell Sage Foundation

In the “vicious cycle” scenario, current discriminatory policies and practices in housing, employment, education, and the criminal justice system contribute to disadvantage Latinos, particularly those at the bottom of the income distribution and those who are non-white.

Four examples of recent research help illustrate some of the unequal consequences of increasing inequalities by race and ethnicity and how this affects Latinos in the United States.

  • The disproportionate effect of mass incarceration on minority communities
  • The social (and income) gap in education
  • The polarization of U.S. employment, the growth of low-skill service jobs and the failure of real wages and benefits to keep up with productivity
  • The increasing role of legal status and race in immigrant integration outcomes

The recent explosion of imprisonment is exacting heavy costs on American society and exacerbating inequality.

Nationally, Latinos or Hispanics are incarcerated two times more than non-Hispanic whites (It is five times more in the case of African Americans compared to non-Hispanic whites). Compared to their share of the U.S. population, Latinos are disproportionately represented in federal and state prisons and receive harsher sentences. The overwhelming majority of incarcerated Latinos are convicted for non-violent offenses and/or are first time offenders. But the effects on these individuals, their families and their communities are stark and long lasting.

Becky Pettit, Devah Pager, Bruce Western and others note that, whereas college or the military were once formative institutions in young American men’s lives, prison has increasingly usurped that role in many communities. In fact, the United States currently imprisons a greater proportion of its citizens that any other nation in the world. But Steve Raphael, Michael Stoll an others remind us that criminal behavior itself account for only a small fraction of the prison boom. Eighty five percent of the trend can be attributed to “get tough on crime” policies that have increased both the likelihood of a prison sentence and the length of time served. Former inmates have particularly low levels of education, poor work histories, few social and economic resources, often face institutionally mandated barriers to work, education and residence, and often leave prison with fewer skills than when they were initially incarcerated. Thus, Bruce Western will argue, the most successful policies are those that keep young men out of prison in the first place.

While the racial achievement gap has narrowed, over the last few decades the economic achievement gap has increased. Nevertheless, what Sean Reardon calls “the racial neighborhood income gap” persists.

Among the disadvantages associated with residing in a lower income area is lack of access to high quality public education. Public schools are still extremely segregated; poor and minority students too often attend dilapidated schools with inexperienced teachers and no books, while financially better off kids and white kids more often attend resource-rich suburban schools.

Research by sociologist Sean Reardon, of Stanford University, shows that school districts enrolling large numbers of low-income students have academic performance significantly below that national grade-level average. This research also shows large achievement gaps between white and Latino students (and between non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black students) in U.S. school districts with substantial minority populations. Reardon suggests that racial segregation is inextricably linked to unequal allocation of resources among schools and that policies that do not address this are unlikely to have an effect on reducing education inequalities by race. His research, like the research of economists Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren and Larry Katz, convincingly shows that the racial gap in income and education vary considerably by where one lives, so that where a child grows up in the U.S. will have a profound effect on their chances of moving up in the income distribution.

Over the last two decades, high and rising rates of low-wage work have emerged as a major public policy concern.

According to the OECD, in 2009, about one-fourth of U.S. workers were in low-wage jobs, defined as earning less than two-thirds of the national median wage. If low-wage jobs represent a stepping-stone to higher paying work, then even a relatively high share of low-wage work may not be a serious problem. If, however, low-wage work is a persistent and recurrent state for many workers, then low-wages may contribute to broader income and wealth inequality and constitute a threat to social cohesion, argues Johns Schmitt. Schmitt and his collaborators in a cross-national comparative study of low wage work identify several lessons from that work: (1) economic growth is not a solution to the problem of low-wage work; (2) more inclusive labor-market institutions lead to lower levels of low-wage work; (3) low-wage work is not a clear-cut stepping stone to higher-wage work.

Wages of Hispanics lag substantially behind those of whites, with about 32 percent lower median weekly earnings for full-time workers. The gap is about twice as big for foreign-born as native-born Hispanics.

Field experiments on hiring discrimination suggest that Latino applicants with clean backgrounds fared no better than white applicants just released from prison. And recent survey data suggest that Foreign-born Latino workers had the highest minimum wage violation rates of any racial/ethnic group. But among U.S.-born workers, there were significant race differences: non-white workers had a violation rate triple that of their white counterparts (who had by far the lowest violation rates in the sample). Higher levels of education, longer job tenure, and English proficiency (for immigrants) each offered some protection from minimum wage violations. That said, even college-educated workers and those who had been with their employers for five or more years were still at significant risk.


Legal status contributes to slowing or even blocking the integration the estimated 11.2 million undocumented immigrants and their citizen children. Inconsistent and contradictory laws at the federal, state and local levels result in quite different integration trajectories across the country. Undocumented status has significant and negative consequences for the goals of integration. It affects adult outcomes, children’s outcomes, neighborhood and community outcomes, trust in government, and participation in American institutions.

Patterns of immigrant integration are also shaped by race. There is ongoing racial stratification for both immigrants and their children. Black immigrants and their children are integrating with non-Hispanic whites at the slowest rate, despite black immigrants’ relatively high educational attainment and employment rates.

Last, only 50 percent of eligible immigrants naturalize. That is low, compared to rates in other large immigrant-receiving countries and has negative implications for immigrant political and civic integration.

The virtuous circle

If we assume that income inequality is not the inexorable result of market forces, but rather the consequence of political preferences and political choices (see, for example, Atkins; Stigler), then, we should aim for the design and establishment of institutions (from more equitable schools and labor markets to a fairer criminal justice and health care system) that will produce better and fairer economic outcomes. But, here again, disagreement ensues. Some of our representatives (or aspiring representatives) in government would rather enact laws that prescribe parenting skills training and marriage for low-income parents, getting tough on crime, the merging of criminal and immigration law enforcement, and lowering taxes for the wealthy. Others will support progressive taxation, social protections and re-distribution (redistributing incomes after taxes are levied) or pre-distribution (more directly intervening in the labor market to reduce income inequality as through, for example, raising wages or the Earned Income Tax Credit) policies.

In the “virtuous cycle” scenario, policy makers face a tall order; one that begins with changing a culture and building the political will to redress inequalities in wealth and income that today disproportionately affect the majority of Americans. Targeting with universalism may be one road to explore (see, for example Skocpol’s proposal for a “family security” package of wage-tax-funded child support, paid parental leave, refundable tax credits, a federally administered job market and publicly funded universal health insurance).

These are some potential (short- and longer-term) policy goals:

  • Public investment in families via multi-generational approaches to improve the health, education, employment, and civic engagement of all American families, but especially those at the bottom of the income distribution.

The EITC and the Child Tax Credit are good examples of policies that help lift Latinos above poverty. As many as eight million Latino workers, who were parents to 12 million children, claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in tax year 2013. · About 7 million Latino working families with children claimed refunds averaging over $1,400 through the low-income (or refundable) portion of the Child Tax Credit. · If key provisions of the EITC and Child Tax Credit are allowed to expire at the end of 2017, about 5 million Latino working families will lose an average of about $1,000 each. · These provisions are particularly important to Latino families. In 2013, Latinos made up 17 percent of the U.S. population but 28 percent of the working poor. Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

  • Making work pay via live-able wages, strengthening protections for workers in the so-called “new economy,” and strengthening the social bargaining power of labor. If there is no room at the present moment for better federal policy, begin at the local and state levels providing “proof of concept” examples of viable policy approaches. See, for example, The Workers Defense Project in Texas.
  • A single-payer health care system and enforcement of mental health parity would be the longer-term policy goal. In the meantime, retaining and improving the ACA has the potential to protect this vulnerable population.

For decades, blacks and Latinos in the United States have been disproportionately uninsured and less likely than whites to receive the health care they need. But in the three years since the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) health insurance marketplaces opened and states began to expand Medicaid eligibility, uninsured rates among Latinos and blacks have declined significantly, making it easier for people to access or afford needed care. Source: The Commonwealth Fund.

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform: a path to legal status and citizenship would be the longer-term goal. In the meantime, mechanisms to protect mixed status families through “more humane” enforcement of U.S. immigration law may be the way to go (e.g., deferred action or administrative relief programs like DACA and DAPA; the protection of unaccompanied immigrant children feeling violence and danger).

There are silver linings in unexpected places. An estimated nine million US residents live in “mixed-status” households that include at least one unauthorized adult and one or more US-born children. These children are in a unique political position: they enjoy the rights of US citizenship but they are also confronted with the legal exclusion of their parents. How does political socialization work when the parents themselves do not enjoy basic civil and political rights and are subject to deportation? Do the children of the undocumented take advantage of their rights as citizens? Or do undocumented parents teach their children to avoid state institutions and refrain from making political demands? Political scientists Alex Street and Chris Zepeda-Millán find no evidence of lower political engagement among the children of undocumented parents. Instead, they find that the offspring of the undocumented are more politically active on immigration issues and more optimistic that popular protest can induce political change than their counterparts whose parents are not undocumented.

Eduardo Díaz, Director, Smithsonian Latino Center


My intervention in this confab is based on 35 years in the cultural field and my current practice at the Smithsonian Institution. I will have more to offer in some of the scenarios than in others. For the most part, I will focus on: (1) first-voice representation in cultural institutions, and (2) social, political and economic importance and impact of the arts, humanities and scientific sectors.

“In the twenty-first century demographic transition in American society positions Latinos as the largest ethnic group in the country. Yet for many Americans, Latinos remain like shadowy ciphers, notably absent from the narratives of American art.”

Tomás Ybarra-Frausto

From immigrant marginalization and exclusion to immigrant incorporation and integration

In September 2015, the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, NC, opened NUEVOlution; Latinos and the New South, an exhibition examining the impact of rapidly changing demographics in the South. Collaborating with the Levine were the Atlanta History Center and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where the exhibition will travel to, in that order. I was fortunate to consult during the exhibition design phase.

The growth of the Latino population in the South is now driven mostly by birthrate, and less by movement (immigration and migration). This trend implies settlement—many Latinx in the region are not leaving—they are holding onto their jobs, raising their families, buying homes, sending kids to college, and involving themselves socially and politically.

While involved in the project, I spoke with leaders from the three institutions, exploring what compelled the development of NUEVOlution. Some things became clear:

  1. Each viewed their city as a gateway city for immigrants.
  2. Each viewed their institution as a civic leader, an integral part of an overall strategy for creating a welcoming environment that integrates immigrants into their cities.
  3. Each saw developing NUEVOlution as a necessary and appropriate institutional response to changing demographics, and as a service to the Latinx immigrant, and larger, community. I will also note that Levine and Birmingham Civil Rights hired local Latinos to coordinate outreach and correlative public programs.

This mindset, this process, has helped each institution realize that they can become an immigrant, and more specifically, a Latinx-serving institution.

The lesson to be gleaned here is that museums, as civic institutions, can play pivotal roles in incorporating and integrating immigrants, and that, as storytellers, museums are duty bound to tell the stories of the diverse communities that populate their cities, especially those that continue to settle in rapidly increasing numbers.

From political disenfranchisement to political participation and representation

In 2015, the National Portrait Gallery opened One Life: Dolores Huerta, an exhibition highlighting the role of this iconic leader in the California’s farmworkers’ movement of the 60s and 70s. Everyone participating in this confab is familiar with the socio-political impact and ramifications of the UFW’s work, and of Dolores’ in particular. The Smithsonian’s traveling exhibition service is currently developing One Life as a traveling show, and has already attracted expressions of interest from several museums and cultural centers.

The role of some museums is to research, present and preserve the stories of political struggle and social movements. It is also their role to collect and care for objects and artifacts that represent these historical developments. These histories and archives become, then, part of the canon of American history. This is the process of de-marginalizing, or centering, the Latino experience as part and parcel of the American experience.

I would argue that this storytelling process—one that involves research, collecting, exhibition development, digital content, public and educational programs, and publications—inspires and empowers political participation and representation.

Last September, after 13 years of concentrated effort—preceded by Congressional approval and fueled by annual appropriations—the Smithsonian opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture. [How many of you have visited?] There is a lot to talk about regarding this project. My principal point here is that this initiative is essentially about the politics of value and worth. Creating this museum was an appropriate, long-overdue and well-orchestrated realization of public policy that implies and conveys political participation and representation. If you don’t believe me, ask Congressman John Lewis, former Senator Sam Brownback, George W. Bush and/or Barak Obama. When you visit/revisit the museum, I would encourage you to do so with this notion in mind.

From inadequate access to education and under-skilling to educational opportunity and attainment

There has been an abundance of research demonstrating the role of the arts education and arts in education in advancing cognitive learning ability, educational achievement and successful socialization. Despite these established and irrefutable findings we all know which programs take it on the chin when it comes to budget-cutting in public education.

At the Smithsonian I’ve made a commitment to our leadership and professional development programs, one for graduating, college-bound Latinx high school students, and the other for emerging Latinx scholars and museum professionals (graduate students). The Smithsonian Latino Center also manages a program at several science and children’s museums in Washington and around the country promoting STEM education and professions to Latinx youth and their families. Additionally, our office supports STEM-based programs at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and National Museum of Natural History that bring young Latinx students to these facilities for immersion into a range of scientific pursuits, including field and lab work.

I believe very strongly in creating educational, leadership and professional development opportunities for those in our communities who see the possibilities inherent in the arts, humanities and sciences, and the promise of work in these fields for the benefit of these same communities.

From economic discrimination, underemployment and unemployment to entrepreneurship and economic opportunity

In 2002 social scientist Richard Florida wrote The Rise of the Creative Class, a book which posited, probably for the first time, that there was a verifiable and impactful creative economic sector driven by, what else, “creatives.” According to Florida, head of the management school at the University of Toronto, all manner of artists and designers, and the industries that support their activities, are major factors in driving economic development in primarily post-industrial cities. The book was generally embraced by my field and helped set off the creative economy movement, which has been expanded to also include those individuals and industries that generally trade in information and knowledge. The economic construct is that these individuals and industries create jobs, wealth and cultural engagement. According, the public policy argument that follows is that governments, chambers of commerce and other public-facing entities should support this creative industry and the folks who comprise it.

Since 2010, the Smithsonian Latino Center has made it possible for nine units of the Smithsonian to hire 10 Latinx content experts, the most recent a Latina curator at the Cooper Hewitt, the Smithsonian’s design museum in New York. These are highly educated individuals (nine have Ph.D.’s) who trade in information and knowledge. In practicing their professions and simply living their lives these folks contribute to the economy, just like each of one of you. There is something to be said for creating job opportunities in the arts, humanities and sciences, but at the end of the day this is a niche market and economy. I don’t mean to downplay their significance, nor do I mean to deny that, from a public policy standpoint, our work is undeserving of public support. The Whitney Museum, one of this country’s arts bastions, just hired a new Latina curator to focus on Latinx art, and at the Smithsonian we will continue to provide opportunities for Latinx content experts. What I don’t want to do, however, is overstate impact.

Going forward, I would like to also see our work in the context of growing socially responsible entrepreneurship and economies within Latino communities.

I would like to end this scenario with video clips from the previously mentioned NUEVOlution exhibition, which I hope illuminate some of the points I have made in this and previous scenario statements.

Amaya Garcia, Senior Researcher for Education Policy Program, New America

“The Vicious Cycle”

In the realm of education policy, Latino students are often viewed from a deficit perspective. That is, Latino students are discussed primarily in terms of lagging academic performance and their families are often framed as not being active participants in their children’s education. For those who are English learners, their home language is often viewed as a hindrance rather than an asset for their academic achievement and integration. State level policies have supported this deficit perspective — particularly in Arizona, California and Massachusetts where English-only mandates consigned Latino EL students into segregated classrooms focused on teaching English in the absence of academic content. Moreover, Latino students are increasingly attending racially and socioeconomically segregated schools due the lack of affordable housing in many areas. Schools with concentrated poverty often have lower levels of academic achievement, less qualified teachers and are subject to strict accountability measures that prescribe a wide range, and ever changing, menu of interventions and restructuring. These realities work together to create a vicious cycle that leave Latino students behind in the quest for economic mobility.

“The Virtuous Circle”

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in expanding bilingual education opportunities for all students. Last November, California voters struck down the English-only law and paved the way for bilingual education to make a comeback in the state. Dual language programs, where instruction is split between English and a partner language such as Spanish, have been found to boost academic achievement, support English language acquisition and offered as a strategy for promoting school integration. Importantly, these programs allow Latino students to maintain and develop their home language which is an essential component of their identity and culture. Dual language programs bring Spanish and other languages into the mainstream and elevate the economic benefits that come with being bilingual and biliterate. State and local policymakers can support bilingual education with policies that lay out a vision for program creation and expansion and providing necessary resources. Additionally, these policymakers can support the growth of a bilingual teacher pipeline — which should include targeted recruitment of Latino teacher candidates —through policies to strengthen traditional and alternative teacher preparation and to innovate through Grow Your Own models that recruit directly from the school community. By building a strong pipeline of bilingual Latino educators, Latino students will have greater access to bilingual education and teachers who reflect the diversity of the community.

Marcia Johnson-Blanco, Co-Director, Voting Rights Project

Vicious Cycle: Political Disfranchisement

Rosa became a U.S. citizen in February 2013. A friend told her about registering to vote and told her how to get a voter registration form. Rosa requested the application from her local elections office, filled out the application and mailed it back as soon as she could. Throughout 2013, Rosa heard news about the Mayoral election and was excited to vote in her first election as a new citizen. However, she had difficulty finding information about all the candidates and their positions in Spanish. While she spoke some English, she was more comfortable getting information in Spanish. Also, Rosa had moved since her citizenship ceremony and did not know that she had to update her voter registration. And, while Rosa finally found out the date of the Election, she did not know where she should go to vote. By chance, on Election Day, Rosa was talking to a neighbor who told her she was on her way to vote. Rosa got the address of her polling place from the neighbor. However, when she got to the polling place, all the information was in English and there was no notice that she could get language assistance. As Rosa was standing at the polling place trying to figure out how to proceed, she was approached by someone who said they were a volunteer and offered to help her with any questions she may have. Rosa told the volunteer that she needed help and the volunteer offered to assist her in filling out the ballot. However, the poll work insisted that the volunteer could not help Rosa and told Rosa she would have to figure it out herself, asked her for a driver’s license and after reviewing the document gave her a ballot that was in English. In the voting booth, Rosa did her best to figure out the ballot, however, she was very surprised to find, in addition to the name names of the candidates running for Mayor, long paragraphs describing other things she could vote on but it was very hard to understand the descriptions and the choices. Rosa did her best to figure out what the other information was and vote. She left the polling place with mixed feelings about her first vote in the U.S. In 2016, Rosa was very excited about voting in her first presidential election but her job was far away from where she lived, and she was asked to stay late by her boss. Rosa got to her polling place just as it was about to close but there were people still in line so she got in line relieved that she seemingly had made it in time. However, a poll worker came to the door and told those waiting in line that they were too late and would not be able to vote. Rosa left even more disillusioned about the voting process in the U.S.

Virtuous Circle

Rosa became a U.S. citizen in February 2013. During the citizenship ceremony, she was given the opportunity to registered to vote. Throughout 2013, Rosa heard news about the Mayoral election and was excited to vote in her first election as a new citizen. In the mail, she received information in English and Spanish not only about all the candidates and the different offices they were running for but also their position on various issues. It also provided information on the date of election and a list of polling places. It also advised that if a person moved since they registered to vote, they would need to update their registration and gave information how this could be done online. Since she had moved since registering, Rosa immediately went to the elections website to update her registration. The website had several language options and it was very easy to update her registration. Within two weeks, Rosa received a voter registration card in the mail which included information about her polling place. When Rosa got to her polling place she saw information in various languages giving very precise instructions about the voting process. When she checked in to vote, the poll worker asked Rosa if she would need language assistance. In order to receive her ballot, Rosa only had to give her address and sign the poll book. Rosa felt very prepared and knowledgeable about the candidates and measures on the ballot. Rosa left the polling location determined to vote in every election. During the presidential election in 2016, Rosa’s boss told her that she would need her to work overtime on Election Day. Rosa realized that she would not be able to vote on Election Day so she made plans to vote early since her state allowed two weeks of early voting including on weekends. Rosa was happy to know that even though she would not be able to vote on Election Day, she would still have the opportunity to cast a ballot.

Jennifer J. Lee, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law, Co-Legal Director, Sheller Center for Social Justice, Temple University Beasley School of Law

Vicious Cycle

First, immigration law and policy creates marginalization, exclusion, and disenfranchisement because of: (1) insufficient timely pathways of non-liminal relief for immigrants; (2) “crimmigration” policies, including the civil detention system, the targeting of “criminal aliens” for immigration enforcement, local law enforcement cooperation in law enforcement, and the criminalization of reentry (federal) and document fraud (local); (3) employer sanctions and “unauthorized” work, including local e-verify mandates and licensing penalties; and (4) the prohibition on voting. Second, a number of laws and policies regulate the lives of immigrants, which create exclusion, inadequate access to education, and economic discrimination: (1) PRWORA specification that only “qualified immigrants” receive federal public benefits; (2) IRS exclusion of nonresident aliens from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); (3) IIRIRA and local prohibitions on in-state tuition based on residency of undocumented students; and (4) the 1965 Higher Education Act limiting federal financial aid to legal U.S. residents. Third, policies that are problematic for many underserved populations but disproportionately impact Latinos in terms of exclusion, political disenfranchisement, inadequate access to education, and economic discrimination: (1) antidiscrimination laws, which are limited in addressing both employment discrimination (e.g., employer “cultural” preference for Latinos) or housing segregation (e.g., white flight); (2) barriers to voting, including criminal disenfranchisement or ID laws; (3) inadequate funding of K-12 education; and (4) inadequate laws and programs to protect low-wage workers (e.g., minimum wage, occupational safety and health).

Virtuous Circle

The following laws/policies can support immigrant incorporation and integration (but cut across a lot of the other categories): (1) state and local efforts to encourage inclusion, such as state citizenship, providing access to driver’s licenses or municipal IDs, in state tuition equity, or state or local benefits; (2) state and local efforts to resist the federal immigration framework, including non-cooperation with ICE detainers and policies prohibiting officials from inquiring into immigration status; and (3) federal efforts to promote language and workplace rights or resettlement of refugees (e.g., DOJ, DOL, EEOC, ORR). In terms of political participation and representation, such favorable policies include: (1) providing/expanding voting rights to noncitizens at the state and local level; (2) supporting the acquisition of U.S. citizenship; and (3) removing barriers to voting. With educational opportunity and attainment, apart from in state tuition equity, we should consider: (1) K-12 school board and university policies that promote diversity and noncooperation with federal immigration enforcement; (2) increased funding for K-12 education (e.g., providing services to parents and students who are English Language Learners); (3) policies that provide state or federal loans for higher education regardless of immigration status; and (4) programs that increase housing diversification (which will impact K-12 school enrollment). In terms of economic opportunity, law/policy should: (1) address workplace inequality by expanding rights and promoting the enforcement of such rights (e.g., discrimination, wages and working conditions, retaliation, Hoffman Plastics); and (2) provide vocational training and language classes; and (3) expand the social safety net. The “virtuous circle” also likely includes a number of non law/policy efforts, such as organizing, that influence equal opportunity, upward mobility, and democratic voice for Latinos.

Marta Moreno Vega, President/Founder, Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute


We call ourselves Latino/a – Latinx, because we reflect a cultural history, legacy and aesthetic perspective that define, the experiences we contribute to our national identities. In the case of public policy regarding arts and culture the continued hierarchy of White dominance is sustain through the use of criteria either exclude or diminish our existence. The racial and discriminatory relegation of our cultural art legacies to folkloric and special categories that represent Native, African American, Asian, Latino/a-Latinx services to marginalize and underfund our cultural and educational institutions. The existing policies serve to sustain the White Elite Supremacist cannon presenting the stories of dominance that permeate the educational school system from early childhood thru higher education. The fact that these written and assumed policies predate the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s remain they service to sustain a mindset of segregation. This process translates into practices that underserve our communities, to limit the funding opportunities for Latinx cultural arts, education institutions social service programs in New York City and the nation.

Example: New York City Department of Cultural Affairs distributes 85% of its funding to 33 organizations located on City property. One organization is African American/Studio Museum in Harlem and the other organization is Latinx/El Museo del Barrio. Both of these organizations receive significantly less that their counterparts.


The fundamental need to focus on equitable distribution of funds is essential. Most of our organizations are under resourced developing a cycle of doing due with minimum resources unable to sustain high-level skilled employees and sustain operating costs. Our joint mission especially in this national climate and actions of White supremacy and ethnic cleansing must be to challenge and protect our most vulnerable. Our institutions and programs must be at the front lines protecting our right to culture and our traditions. Be the advocates for all our constitutional and human rights. Protect and advocate for our legal rights representing our communities. We must advocate for the funds necessary to fully implement our work. The cycle of underfunding at multiple levels of our work need to be broken assuring that we can fully advance the work that needs to be accomplished.

The idea of bringing diverse skills and expertise together at this gathering provide a strategic working framework and intersectional and cross sectional pattern than can lead to impactful local and national coalition building to further our work at the community to national level. The political crisis we are in demands it!

César Vargas, Co-founder, Dream Action Coalition

Law and policy cannot be separated from the political environment of its time. Thus, when politics, especially partisan politics, is the primary concern of any advocacy group, Latinos tend to be relegated to tokenism or an afterthought continuing a vicious cycle of secondary importance. Similarly, when Latinos confront the partisan politics, including challenging political allies and opponents, good policy and law emanate, catapulting Latinos in the virtuous circle of political power.