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Opinion: We Latinos Can’t Be Complacent; We Must Stay Engaged

Image: President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters after a meeting at Trump Tower, Jan.13, 2017 in New York, N.Y.
President-elect Donald Trump speaks to reporters after a meeting at Trump Tower, Jan.13, 2017 in New York, N.Y. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

On Friday, Jan. 20, Donald J. Trump is being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.

After an unusually divisive campaign, Trump named a white nationalist champion as a key White House advisor. His Cabinet, so far, includes no Latinos. Trump already has contentious relations with the press, and is seeking roles for his family members in his administration. He has not shown any serious indication that he will absolve himself of potential conflicts of interest. Meanwhile, the heads of 17 intelligence agencies are certain that Russia played a role in influencing the outcome of the election.

This is not normal. The fact that our fellow Americans elected a reality TV star with a thin grasp of policy has left many Latinos dispirited and disheartened.

While these are understandable responses, the next four years will demand much more from all of us. Here are a few considerations to bear in mind as we enter the uncharted territory of a Trump administration:

We are not alone. Because so much of Trump's campaign rhetoric focused on immigrants and "the wall," this election felt personal to many Latinos. But most Americans did not vote for Trump. Clinton's margin of victory in the popular vote was nearly 3 million. Trump is assuming office as the least popular president-elect in modern history. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, a majority of Americans are feeling uncertain or pessimistic about a Trump presidency. So while we may feel anxious right now, we're not the only ones - which means that we have more potential allies than we think.

We are a resilient people. The history of U.S. Latinos is largely defined by endurance in the face of adversity. Many of our great-grandparents and grandparents made tremendous sacrifices to immigrate to this country. Many of our parents lived through a time when discrimination and racism were deeply ingrained in society. Now we must persevere despite challenging circumstances, and we cannot shy away from demanding our full civil rights.

We must be politically engaged. If you are upset about the results of the 2016 election, be sure you vote in the 2018 midterms. Better yet, vote in every state and local election in your area from now on. Historically, Latinos lag behind other groups in voter participation, and this figure drops during non-presidential election years. If you already vote regularly, find someone in your circle who does not, and bring them into the process. Our civic engagement is especially important because we have undocumented friends and family members who do not have the right to vote.

We must stay informed. What is the "Emoluments Clause" of the Constitution, anyway? Do undocumented people have any rights when ICE agents are pounding on the front door? Is it legal for a bystander to film suspected police brutality with a smart phone? These are things that informed citizens must know. Going forward, it is important to educate ourselves about our rights and responsibilities, so that we can hold the Trump administration accountable.

We cannot be complacent. Do not assume that somehow we'll all survive a Trump presidency. Thousands of Americans did not survive the Reagan years, due to his administration's neglect of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Thousands of Americans did not survive the George W. Bush years, because they died fighting in Iraq. Thousands of families did not survive the Obama years intact because of the record deportations. Consider such history as you figure out what your response to President Trump will be. And remember that someday, your children or grandchildren might ask what you did during this administration.

We cannot lose hope. Cesar Chavez is widely admired as the nation's preeminent Latino civil rights leader, and it has become common to repeat his rallying cry, Si se puede, Yes, we can. Chavez, however, had another signature phrase, one that is not as well known: Sigue la lucha, the struggle continues. Chavez took a long view of his fight for farm workers' rights, and during his life he actually knew more defeats than victories. Yet he never lost faith in his belief that all people deserved the opportunity to live and work with dignity.

Our Founding Fathers created a system of government that was designed to be greater than any one man. They believed in this ideal, and so should we. What's more, we are part of a legacy that runs from our indigenous ancestors all the way through to the DREAMers - and we've learned that there is great power in Latinos fighting for our families and for our communities.

If you believe that immigrant rights are human rights, do not give up on our country now. If you believe in equality and justice for all, do not be paralyzed by fear and uncertainty now. If you believe in the principles of American democracy, don't check out of the political process now. Lean in - with optimism, anger, and action. Sigue la lucha.

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