Opinion: A Debate Without the Latino Bashing

by Kristian Ramos /  / Updated 
Image: U.S. Democratic Presidential debate
Democratic presidential candidates Senator Bernie Sanders, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (C) and former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley (R) stand together onstage at the first official Democratic candidates debate in Las Vegas, Nevada on Oct. 13, 2015. e Blake MIKE BLAKE / Reuters

These are hard times to be a politically engaged third-generation Latino American who cares deeply about immigration and immigrants, but also cares about our economy, health care and education issues.

To listen to the hyperpolarized political debates occurring within the conservative movement, one would think that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and Latinos and immigrants are to blame.

I'm an optimist, but I'm also looking at the facts, and I come to a completely different conclusion. I believe America is doing better because of the contributions of Latinos and immigrants, not in spite of us.

Things aren’t perfect, but we are better off now than we were a few years ago in part because of the contributions of the 55 million hardworking Latinos in our country.

Our economy is recovering; American businesses have created more than 10.2 million jobs in the last 55 months, the longest streak of job growth in history.

Latinos are working those jobs; today our employment is growing faster than all other groups. We are expected to make up 40 percent of employment growth in America over the next five years.

Today, unemployment is lower than at any point during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Latino unemployment levels are already at pre-recessionlevels in Maryland and below pre-recession levels in Texas. The bottom line here is that when Latinos work, we drive national unemployment levels down.

While we are working, we are also spending our money on goods and services contributing to our gross domestic product a key driver of our America’s economic health. Latinos make up $1.5 trillion in spending, comprising 10.6 percent of all buying done in the U.S.

We are still catching up in some areas - Latinos are the most uninsured population in the country. But with Obamacare, we have been moving in the right direction. Today millions of Latinos who never had health insurance are covered - including those who were excluded in the past for pre-existing conditions. And the more insured Latinos pay into the healthcare system, the more we help lower costs for everyone.

In our schools, Hispanics make up one in five children in public kindergarten classrooms. There are educational challenges, especially for many of our low-income families. But there is also some very promising data which shows there has been improvement.

High school dropout rates are at an all time low, while high school and college graduation rates are at all time highs. Since 1990 we have nearly doubled the percentage of Latinos who are graduating from college.

All of these things are incredibly good, not just for Latinos but for our country. Are things perfect?

No they are not. We still have to fight rising income inequality, we have to make the Affordable Care Act better and more affordable and we must fight for fully-funded public education systems.

But are things going in the right direction? I say absolutely, unequivocally yes.

Which brings me to Tuesday night's debate. There's a real contrast between conservatives and progressives in tone, not just on Latinos and immigrants but on America.

It is not just that some conservative candidates have used derisive language about us, such as Trump's infamous "rapists and murderers" comment. There's also the "they're taking our jobs, they are stealing our social services, they are destroying our country” rhetoric.

By implication they are saying that our country is diminished, because of Latinos and New Americans.

For me, Tuesday night's Democratic debate offered a clear contrast between a group of folks who embrace America as it is today - including the contributions of Hispanics - and conservatives who are sowing fear and discomfort with our changing country.

But like I said before, I'm an optimist. And there's more debates ahead.

Kristian Ramos is a progressive leader who has worked in local and national non-profits and in government.