SEC Hosts Discussion About Whether Hispanic and Latino Representation Corresponds to Population Growth
The SEC’s signature Hispanic Heritage Month program, hosted annually by its Hispanic and Latino Opportunity, Leadership and Advocacy Committee (HALO), opened with one key question this year:
Why does Hispanic Heritage Month straddle two months, the latter part of September and early October?
HALO Co-Chair and Diversity Council member Juanita Hernandez explained the answer prior to introducing the event’s keynote speaker: Tom Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).
September 15 marks the independence of five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Mexico celebrates its independence on September 16, while Chile and Belize celebrate their independence later in the month. Additional holidays are celebrated in early October in Mexico and other Latin American countries to honor people with indigenous and European ancestry who are known today as Hispanics and Latinos.
Latinos are no longer a regional minority population, but now a national population with significant representation in every region and virtually every state.
Tom Saenz, President and GC, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
With that context, the program continued with Saenz discussing the origin and mission of MALDEF, which engages in litigation, policy advocacy and community education to promote the civil rights of all Latinos in the United States. “Our organization was born out of a lack of inclusion,” explained Saenz. Lead founder Pete Tijerina organized a group of attorneys and community activists in the late 1960s after representing a Mexican American woman injured as a result of company negligence. At the time, Mexican Americans were not allowed to sit on juries in South Texas despite Supreme Court precedent. Concerned that his client would not get a fair trial from an all-white jury, Tijerina challenged this longstanding pattern of exclusion.
Ultimately, the judge and jury commissioner identified two potential Mexican American jurors – one was deceased and the other was not a citizen and thus could not serve on a jury. Tijerina settled the case for “pennies on the dollar” compared with what his client was entitled to receive had the jury system in South Texas been more reflective of the significant Latino population in that area.
Saenz added that MALDEF was “consciously modeled” after the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), which had recently accomplished a campaign to end segregation in the Jim Crow South. With guidance from Jack Greenberg, director-counsel of the LDF, MALDEF obtained a signification donation from the Ford Foundation, which allowed it to open its doors and begin serving the Latino community.
The Latino community has grown and dispersed significantly since MALDEF’s formation in 1968. Saenz noted that most Latinos were concentrated in the Southwest, from California to Texas, with other population pockets in Chicago, New York and South Florida. He shared statistical data from the U.S. Census Bureau to underscore that “Latinos are no longer a regional minority population. We are now a national population with significant representation in every region and virtually every state.”
Data from the 2020 census showed that while Latinos are 19 percent of the nation’s total population, they were responsible for 51 percent of the entire U.S. population growth during the prior decade. The Latino community grew by 23 percent in that decade, while the non-Latino population grew by only 4.3 percent. Latinos now exceed 10 percent of the population in 27 out of 50 states. Saenz highlighted the importance of these statistics in connection with the citizen voting age population, which is used in civil rights circles as a proxy for potential voters.
“Our greatest challenge now is to seek and achieve representation commensurate with our population size in this country in all sectors,” Saenz noted. While the Census Bureau may have reported that Latinos are the largest minority group in the nation, Saenz asked whether that notion is reflected in media, leadership and other areas.
Saenz pointed out that Latinos have the largest gap between population percentage and representation on corporate boards of directors compared to every other community in the country. Emphasizing this year’s theme for Hispanic Heritage Month – Unidos: Inclusivity for a Stronger Nation – Saenz said that this inclusivity gap has to be tackled collectively in the broader national community. He noted that the lack of adequate and fair representation of Latinos is a challenge because inclusivity is critical to our country’s continued success, and he concluded by saying it will be difficult for Latinos to continue contributing to the broader success of the nation without commensurate efforts to address underrepresentation in too many fields across the country.
A recording of this event is available.
Modified: April 6, 2023