Campus & Community

Conference to look at Latino leadership

5 min read

To consider growing political power of Latino population

The U.S. Latino population has grown exponentially; today Latinos are the fastest-growing group in the United States. U.S. Census Bureau estimates put the Latino population at more than 37 million. For the first time in this country’s history, Latinos are now the largest minority group. The census bureau estimates that by 2050, a full quarter of the U.S. population – about 100 million people – will be of Latino origin. That means that in just two generations, the United States will have the second-largest number of Latinos in the world, after Mexico.

The Latino population’s influence within U.S. society is becoming a force in American politics. For the first time, a Latino – Alberto Gonzalez – has been named attorney general. Latinos are now courted by both major parties. President Bush’s 2004 presidential campaign targeted the Latino population – which had traditionally been taken for granted by the Democratic Party. As a result, Bush got about 40 percent of the Latino vote, which analysts see as one of the keys to his re-election.

To consider the emerging power of the Latino population, the Harvard Center for Public Leadership (CPL) at the Kennedy School of Government organized a conference titled “Latino Leadership at a Crossroads.” The Harvard Civil Rights Project, the Harvard Latino Studies Interfaculty Committee, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS), and Harvard Divinity School are co-sponsors of the April 20 event, which begins at 12:30 p.m.

The conference will take place at the Kennedy School’s Taubman Building, 5th floor (Rooms ABC.) This conference is open to all professors, scholars, and students from the Harvard community who are interested in Latino issues. An RSVP is required. Those interested in attending this conference should send an e-mail to

David Gergen, director of the Center for Public Leadership and Kennedy School Professor of Public Service, points out that Latinos are reshaping American culture as well as politics. “One of the central commitments for our Center for Public Leadership is to work closely with those who deserve more seats at the table in the American power structure, including women, blacks, and Hispanics. That is why we took the initiative at first and are now pleased to co-sponsor this Harvard conference on ‘Latino Leadership at a Crossroads.’ It is our hope that this initiative will not only help us better understand the challenges faced by rising Hispanic leaders – but also help them advance.”

David Carrasco, the Neil L. Rudenstine Professor for the Study of Latin America and chairman of the Harvard Latino Studies Interfaculty Committee, said, “Too often depicted by the media as outsiders, illegals, and encroachers, Latinos have traditionally had a respect for rational leadership and inspired leaders. Among other things, this conference promises to help organize and communicate new knowledge about the many positive aspects of Latino communities, families, and local organizations.”

“Latino Leadership at a Crossroads” will include three panel discussions:

n “Latino Leadership and Politics” will be moderated by Gergen, who over the past three decades has served as a White House adviser to four presidents: Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. Gergen is author of “Eyewitness to Power.”

n “Latino Leadership and Education” will be moderated by Gary Orfield, professor of education and social policy at the Graduate School of Education and director of the Harvard Civil Rights Project. He is co-editor of “Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice” (1996), among other books.

Kim M. Williams, assistant professor of public policy at the Kennedy School, will be commentator. Her forthcoming book is titled “Race Counts: American Multiracialism & Civil Rights Politics.”

n The discussion on “Latino Leadership and Religion” will be moderated by Carrasco, a world-renowned scholar of Mesoamerican religions and contemporary issues in Latino studies. A member of the Department of Anthropology, he is also affiliated with DRCLAS. “Alambrista: The Director’s Cut” is his most recent book.

Barbara Kellerman, research director of CPL, will be commentator. Kellerman has written and edited many books on leadership including “Reinventing Leadership: Making the Connection Between Politics and Business” and, most recently, “Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters.”

Speakers include Ruben Barrales, deputy assistant to President Bush and director for Intergovernmental Affairs, and Gloria Molina, vice chair of the Democratic National Convention for two terms, and leader of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. They will talk about Latinos and politics.

The confirmed speakers for this panel on Latino leadership and religion are two world-renowned authors, Virgilio Elizondo, distinguished visiting professor of theology, University of Notre Dame, chosen by Time magazine as one of the country’s top 100 innovators; and Jacques Audinet, professor emeritus, L’Institute Catholique Paris.

Another panel discussion will be dedicated to the topic of “Latino Leadership and Education.” Moderator Orfield pointed out that “The Latino school-age population has exploded in the past generation and though 90 percent of Latinos live in metro areas where the good jobs require education, half of them are not graduating and only a sixth are making it through college. It is a massive social crisis.”

The guest speakers on this topic will be Juliet V. García, president of the University of Texas, Brownsville, and Tom Saenz, vice president for litigation, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF).

María Cristina Caballero is a fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University. As organizer of the conference, she is willing to respond to questions related to the agenda. E-mail: