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Voices: Time for a Non-Partisan, ‘Latino First’ Agenda

The post-election Trump hangover the Latino community is experiencing has many of us up in arms and anxious, for numerous justifiable reasons. But the untold story about why this really hurts so much is this: We had no Plan B to a Trump victory.

Our well meaning but misguided leaders banked on Democrats' and Hillary Clinton's surefire win to solve our community's problems. Consequently today we are in the deepest crisis anyone could have imagined.

The great paradox about our community is that we continue to be the 800-pound gorilla who still thinks, walks and barks like a Chihuahua. On the one hand we are the golden child of many advertisers, with a constituency of more than 54 million and a booming buying power of more than $1.3 trillion.

Manny Ruiz

On the other, our population numbers and financial clout are not translating to meaningful advancements for us institutionally in the arenas of media, culture, politics, education and financial empowerment. The past election cycle only exposed how little bite our bark has and how unwise it's been to depend almost single-handedly on the singular act of voting (and robotically Democrat at that) to make ourselves heard.

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The knee-jerk reaction to Trump's victory has some in our Latino community calling for protests regarding the legality of the election. But I beg to differ. Mr. Trump won, fair and square. It's time to give him the opportunity to lay out his vision for our country, and for us to finally get our act together so we can be strong.

Right now our community needs to focus its full force and energy on what truly ails us: Our crisis-sized need to unify and organize into a coherent power that harnesses our strength and unrealized potential.

Do not confuse this call for unity with a call for war on anybody. This problem really has little to do with us and we only have ourselves to blame for what we're not accomplishing. Now we must unify because this will make our numbers count for something and because it makes us independent of the political machines that have repeatedly used and failed us time and again.

Detractors will say it's just plain impossible to unite the more than 20 nationalities that collectively make up the U.S. Hispanic/Puerto Rican community. But I believe in the power of trying with passion and imagination.

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Coming from a family that by birth and marriage includes conservative Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, liberal Mexican-Americans as well as moderate Chileans and Nicaraguans, I know full well the challenge of Latino unity. I am not suggesting that 100 percent of the Latino population will unite, but only that with imagination and determination it's highly possible to convince 70 to 80 percent of all U.S. Latinos to discover the common issues and goals that can bind us and help our families be stronger together.

My own history reflects the fact that different Latinos of various backgrounds can get along and even collaborate so long as we channel our energies, our vision and our ideas toward what we stand to gain from such unity. To my knowledge —and I've been in the field of journalism and marketing for 25 years — I don't believe our Latino community leaders have ever even attempted to create cross-Hispanic cultural dialogue and a consensus for unity.

This present disconnect explains why most Mexican Americans don't relate to or care about the Puerto Rico's catastrophic economic crisis and why Puerto Ricans conversely don't empathize with the problems that undocumented Mexican Americans are facing.

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It's also why Cuban Americans feel sometimes alienated from other Latino communities who celebrate Che Guevara and the other "Communist" devils of the Cuban Revolution. It's why U.S. Venezuelans are dealing with the pain of their own political displacement largely on their own.

Actively and creatively building bridges among these Latino communities starts with fostering a sense of empathy and connectedness, something which in this day and age of social media and Big Data is easier to achieve than ever. It also means we must find a leader.

Convening the equivalent of a Continental Congress of Latino organizations is one step in the right direction towards the later goal. We will need a process by which to identify a national leader and from which to support him or her at a scale and with the type of focus and discipline that is usually afforded to someone who is running for president.

This person is out there but hasn't and shouldn't raise their hand for this job until Latino leaders and our Hispanic media stand up to assure this person that they are serious about this unity process and that they will fully have their back. If you think this sounds pie-in-the-sky, know this: It's been done before. George Washington was the product of a similar leadership arrangement that was spurred by a colonial American crisis.

The Democratic Party is in shambles today and Latino leaders now reluctantly realize a new game plan and approach is needed. Let's take the lessons we learned through this very painful election cycle and convert our hurt into the currency for a Latino-first, non-partisan, inclusive agenda that commences immediately and won't let us down because it does not depend on tired and outdated politicians.

A united Latino community at even 70 to 80 percent of its full potential is a juggernaut that will help us forge real progress for our community. Prior to the election, this was something I advocated for. Now I believe it's a matter of self-preservation.

Unity and a unity leader is the only path forward for Latinos.

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