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America needs inclusion to remain strong, innovative, and successful. Photo: Depositphotos
America needs inclusion to remain strong, innovative, and successful. Photo: Depositphotos

Not Backing Down from Diversity

Former U.S. Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte discusses why Latinos are such an integral part of the country’s push for more inclusion.

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As a Puerto Rican woman, I have often been the ‘first’ or ‘only’ of my background in a professional setting. This was the case throughout my career as a lawyer, a White House fellow, and eventually ambassador representing the United States of America abroad. 

Far from holding me back, this sense of distance, of being unique, often gave me a better perspective on problems that bedeviled more traditionally-minded colleagues. With my different point of view, I often could see what others had missed, and identify a problem that no one else had figured out. And with my unique upbringing, I had the strength to insist on my views — often helping the group reach a better outcome in the process.

Where did this perspective and strength come from? 

For me, there was no diplomatic academy or “right” education at a prep school — there was my own family, and especially Titi Carmen. 

Carmen Dalisa Aponte always knew when and how to let someone know she was on to them. In controlled anger and melodious cadence, she took on a neighborhood bully when he “pleasantly” came to dissuade her from pressing charges in court for indecent exposure.  There would be no backing down, only more emboldened neighborhood women as devastating witnesses in court. 

This upbringing came in handy for me as an ambassador, where I often had to stand up for America’s interests in ways that some might call “undiplomatic.” 

During my tenure as Ambassador to El Salvador, I could take the leftist President aside and tell him — with Spanish that showed I meant it — that we could see through his actions trampling the Salvadoran constitution and his abuses to institutions, such as the Supreme Court, in an effort to conceal wrongdoing. 

On the world stage, just as in my childhood community, there is no backing down.

America has always been able to draw upon its breathtaking diversity and its genius for inclusion. 

What do I mean by inclusion?  

People from diverse backgrounds may look physically distinct, but important differences could also be below the surface: how they were raised, and how they think.  

From the start of American history, diversity of thought was key to our greatness.  Even if the first Americans were from the same demographic, they represented hugely opposing points of view on issues from slavery to the separation of powers.  

The tough fights they held over our Bill of Rights made us a better nation. More recent fights over slavery, immigration, and equal rights have at times been scarring, but the soul of America has always trended toward an inclusiveness that lets people like me — those educated in the school of Titi Carmen - have a shot at success.

It’s not always been easy. As a child, I personally learned how hard vicinities could be when you are not wanted. 

On the matter of diversity and inclusion, there is a fear of change, and I appreciate that what seems unknown might be risky. 

But change is not new.  

We have always been a country that included diversity.  Failure to bring more people inside our civic and economic life will likely mean an end to our extraordinary success as a nation.  

America needs inclusion to remain strong, innovative, and successful.  

A 2018 study by the Boston Group shows 19% higher revenues in companies with diverse leadership teams compared to similar companies lacking diversity.  This country is the world’s engine of creativity and inspiration. In comparison, companies, political parties, and countries run by group-think, rule by a few, oligarchies — these are the ones that fail to properly perceive challenges or opportunities, and are doomed to run out of steam.  

Creativity and genius come in every color and from every state of the Union, and we need leaders who cherish, protect, and promote this rich American resource. 

The Latino community is a core part of the American community and our contributions are evident in every part of society. We need to make sure that we fight to have this contribution recognized — and not swept up in the inflammatory rhetoric the president loves to deploy.

Here are the facts. 

Today, Latinos are on the frontlines caring for and feeding their fellow Americans in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

There are 2.2 million Latino healthcare workers nationwide, including approximately 200,000 DACA recipients who are essential workers, while the Trump administration tries to rescind DACA. 

Latinos are also overrepresented in frontline professions like meatpacking, food delivery, construction — jobs that are not glamorous but absolutely essential to keeping the world’s largest economy functioning. This has left Latino workers uniquely exposed to coronavirus-related downturns even as they continue to go to work to support their communities - and their nation.

But Latinos are not just menial workers — they are an increasingly important engine of prosperity for the United States. 

In 2017, research showed that Latinos earned more than $1 trillion and contributed more than $250 billion in taxes to the American economy. Research shows that Latino immigrants have also been one of the most significant contributors to American economic growth in recent decades, and will continue to be key to the continuing economic success of the U.S. in the decades to come (by 2024, 1 in 5 US workers will be Latino). 

Increasingly, Latinos are catching up to overall rates of new business formation, helping to build the innovative, prosperous companies that will power the future.

Latinos are also increasingly prominent in the most powerful business and political circles in the country, helping decide the future direction of the United States — names like Bob Menendez, Nydia Velasquez,  and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are known to everyone, but a wide array of Latino business and political leaders now make some of the most important decisions in the country. 

And yes, not all Latinos are Democrats — and I celebrate that diversity too. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and other Latino conservatives are also helping define the future of our country, and our community, from across the political aisle.

Our community has important contributions to make to America. We all have a bit of Titi Carmen in us — and rather than hide it and try to fit in with the “right” crowd, we should revel in it as a strength and make sure that it empowers us to make real contributions to America. 

As a President, Latinos need a leader that will build our economy for Latino workers and families and end the current president’s constant attacks on Latinos and immigrants. 

Now…. there is something not to back down from.

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