Leaders from American Jewish and Hispanic communities last week spent two days
discussing ways to work together to make sure that minorities have a say in this
"It is now time to go beyond the intellectual steps" and move into the action phase, Henry Cisneros, director of CityView and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, told a group of 70 people who gathered in Washington March 20 and 21 to talk about joint advocacy between the two groups.
"We need to step right up there" and make sure their combined voices are heard on such topics as immigration, education, economic empowerment and Israel, Cisneros said.
Both the Jews and Hispanics, many of whom said they have never been inside a synagogue, seemed to agree that the national scene will improve for both groups if the 50-million plus Hispanics speak out on issues important to Jews and the 6 million Jews in America are there speaking out for Hispanics.
The joint advocacy was organized by the American Jewish Congress' Latino and Latin American Institute. The time was ripe for this in light of President Obama's re-election and the part Hispanics played in the vote, said Dina Siegel Vann, director of the institute.
The group "explored together what areas we could work together on" both in America and abroad, she said. The two days were spent discussing immigration reform, philanthropy, foreign diaspora-homeland relations and coalition dynamics.
Participants also went to Capitol Hill for a private dinner with members of the Latino-Jewish Congressional Caucus, which has about 25 members.
It is important to show this country that the two groups can work together and succeed. Then, Cisneros said, much can be accomplished.
Cisneros said Hispanics have a natural predisposition to side with Jewish and Israeli causes, noting that both groups are considered underdogs and both "go back a very long way in our communities."
Hispanics proudly join the army and have earned "more medals than any other group per capita," Cisneros said, adding he believed they would willingly do what is necessary to help Israel. "They are real people put in peril for America's interest, and I know that includes the interests of Israel."
David Harris, AJCs executive director, said he was "very impressed" to hear that. "It should speak volumes for all of us."
Harris said many of the causes Hispanics hold dear also are important to Jews. "For us, freedom is everyone's business, and no one is truly free or equal until we all are." As Jews, "we are taught to pursue justice" and that all people are created in God's image, Harris said.
Also, he noted, as Hispanics move up and hold high positions in America's business and political scenes, Jews and Hispanics will "increasingly become neighbors and colleagues," he said.
The future of the 12 million undocumented workers living in America needs to be addressed far beyond whether they become legal on a fast or slow track, speakers at the conference agreed.
Cisneros wondered, "How do we borrow the Jewish cultural imperative on education in which rabbi itself means teacher?" He noted that Hispanics have high dropout rates and low acceptance to college rates.
It is to everyone's advantage to help or the Hispanic youth "will be a drag on American society," he said.
Harris said Jews can teach about the role of a minority group in America. "We were minorities in our old countries and are minorities here. This has conditioned us to understand how one fulfills the role of a minority" while living with a majority culture.
Hispanics should follow the Anti-Defamation League, which "has a wonderful track record of immediately attacking" any antiSemitic remark, Cisneros added. Hispanics need to shoot down stereotypes as soon as they hear them, he said.
"If people see Latinos as maids, then how do they come to terms with [Supreme Court Justice] Sonya Sotomayor? If people see Latinos as gardeners, how do they come to terms with" Hispanic members of Congress and business leaders? he asked.
America should look at the "demographic realities" that show young Hispanics are helping this country grow, unlike other countries whose populations have become stagnant. Hispanics "are the workforce of the future" and the military, Cisneros said. "They are, in many, many ways, the salvation of America."
When the undocumented workers become legal, "there will be a huge economic impact," Cisneros said, adding that he said "when, because it is going to happen." Then the 12 million legal Hispanics will be able to work and rent their own homes rather than living several families in one apartment. At the same time, they will need to learn English, financial literacy, nutrition and how to succeed in school, he said.
Harris and Cisneros led a 35-member delegation to Mexico City last November in cooperation with the Comite Central of the Mexican Jewish community. The group met with then-President elect Enrique Pena Nieto, Archbishop of Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Mexican policy experts and embassy officials from the United States and Israel.
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