Assembly Speaker Núñez says that even though a significant portion of the Influentials said neither party best represents the interests of Hispanic Americans, he believes the issues Hispanics care about most – education, healthcare, jobs – are better addressed by the Democratic Party. Like a majority of Influentials, he is critical of the current administration's immigration policy, especially as it pertains to Mexico. Mr. Núñez recently traveled to Mexico to meet with President Vicente Fox and other Mexican leaders because of Mexico's importance as a trade partner with California.
He notes that Mexico is now California's leading trade partner, with the Golden State selling $17.24 billion worth of goods to Mexico in 2004, according to Census data. "Our two economies are joined at the hip and there is an inter-economic dependence that we have developed over the years," says Assembly Speaker Núñez. "The Mexican people need to feel that we welcome the relationship, that we want to continue to foster the relationship with them, and that they are important to us. When you ignore the relationship it doesn't help."
More than half of the responding Hispanic Influentials (54.8 percent) said they did not approve of the administration's immigration policies. A larger percentage (57.1 percent) said they did not approve of its international policy, and 57.1 percent said they did not approve of its foreign policy.
Victor Lopez, senior vice-president of field operations for Hyatt Hotels Corp. in Coral Gables, Florida, says the current administration's policies with regard to other countries have dampened economic relations.
"This country has turned off a lot of other folks," says Mr. Lopez, a Costa Rican native who travels internationally for his work. "A lot of people don't like us out there. When you talk to people, I think you hear a lot of that. If we had better relations, they think our economy would be much better than it is today."
The administration scored best among the Influentials on its policies regarding homeland security and Hispanic appointments. Almost half (47.6 percent) said they approved of the homeland security policies, while 59.5 percent approved of the policy of appointing Hispanics to federal positions.
Discrimination at the Top
A clear majority (66.7 percent) of Influentials say they have experienced discrimination during their career. In the critical area of education, nearly a quarter of the Influentials report discrimination. (For more information about education policy for Hispanics, see "Affirmative Action on Trial," September 2003.) Worse, in promotions and hiring, exactly a third have experienced unfair treatment.
In rating the effectiveness of government diversity programs to help Hispanics participate in the economy, 54.8 percent of Influentials called them "not very effective." In contrast, 45.2 percent called corporate diversity programs effective in helping Hispanic workers.
In the related issue of economic development programs, Mayor Villaraigosa wants to use public pension funds to invest in minority businesses to relieve the access to capital gap. The money issue appears the best way for government to help the U.S. Hispanic economy, as Influentials generally dismiss "lack of developmental assistance" as an obstacle to business growth (cited by 9.5 percent).
Media and News Coverage
Compared with last year, the Influentials have moved more toward English-language media usage. The largest shift from 2004 is an increase of 16 percentage points for use of English-language radio, from 15 percent to 31 percent. This corresponds with a 15.6-point drop in use of Spanish radio to follow community news, and a drop in the number using both English and Spanish radio from 20 percent to 11.9 percent. Similarly, there is an 8.8-point increase in use of English-language TV, from 25 percent to 33.3 percent, and an 8.1-point increase in use of English-language newspapers, from 30 percent to 38.1 percent.
But Hyatt's Mr. Lopez offers an international perspective. "I think Spanish media will continue to increase because of the large Spanish[-speaking] population in our country," he says. In Miami, many people who don't speak Spanish are learning the language. "It's a smart thing to do in the business world today."
One economic issue where the Influentials feel the federal government should do more is healthcare. Some 66.7 percent of respondents don't approve of the current administration's policies regarding this complex and costly service.
"Hispanics are disproportionately represented in diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure, and yet we're disproportionately underrepresented in health insurance," says AVANCE's Ms. Rodriguez. "I just, historically, have not seen the [Republican Party] taking stands on these issues."
Assembly Speaker Núñez says the federal government should do something to reform the managed care system. He says the current system is falling apart, with emergency departments and entire hospitals closing and employers unable to pay for health insurance premiums for their employees.
More than 90 percent of survey respondents find the political participation of Hispanics lacking. But a number of Influentials – especially those in elected office – hope to change that and in turn affect public policy.
"I think we need to do a much better job of creating new citizens," says Mayor Villaraigosa, who won the mayor's office thanks to support from Hispanic voters. "Oftentimes new immigrants aren't familiar with our democracy, and it's important to nurture that democratic participation that's so critical to elections."
With respect to the Influentials as opinion leaders, Ms. Nieves-Powell says it's crucial for them not to lose touch with the people they seek to influence, remembering that the majority of Hispanics don't enjoy the same level of education, income, and opportunities that they do. "It's the responsibility of each business owner, each person, each president of a company to reach out to that segment of the population," she says.
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