Make room for Latinos in the Cabinet



The American Latino spirit ran full force throughout President Barack Obama’s recent inauguration.

Together we watched as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor administered Vice President Joseph Biden’s oath of office. Cuban-American poet Richard Blanco, the youngest inaugural poet and first Latino and gay poet to recite his work during an inauguration, stirred a sense of hope for the future. Among a crowd of an estimated 800,000 people, the National Mall was blanketed with many of November’s 12.5 million Latino voters and with Latino campaign staff and volunteers hailing from battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, Nevada, Iowa, and Virginia.

The Spanish language even rang in the ceremony’s closing blessing, welcoming remarks at the National Prayer Service and at the official Inaugural Ball, where Mexican rock band Maná performed.

Community members joined the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a coalition of 30 of the nation’s leading Latino organizations, participating in the “Futuro Talks” summit to discuss key policy issues and a star-studded Latino inaugural performance at the Kennedy Center featured a visit by Biden and headliners like Eva Longoria, Marc Anthony, and Broadway legends Rita Moreno and Chita Rivera who performed together for the first time in history.

Yet in the midst of wonderful inaugural events spiced with Latino sabor, an underlying concern emerged — what future will America see if we have zero Latinos serving in the Cabinet?

Recent resignations by Secretaries Hilda Solis (Labor) and Ken Salazar (Interior) are a major setback for Latinos, the nation and critical policy work on issues like immigration reform. As members of the Cabinet, Solis and Salazar were in the unique position to advocate inside the White House on behalf of the Latino community while implementing a presidential agenda for the nation.

Tradition says that departing members are offered the opportunity to purchase the Cabinet Room chair that bears their name and title on a brass plate. Should Solis and Salazar choose to take their chairs, the Latino community quite literally could be left without a seat at the table.

We insist that, at the very least, two, preferably three, Latino members serve in Obama’s second term Cabinet. We recently sent the president a letter that named just some of the many talented individuals that could serve the nation well, including administration appointees Thomas Perez of the Justice Department and Francisco Sanchez of the Commerce Department, elected officials Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and U.S. Reps. Nydia Velazquez and Linda Sanchez, and other high profile Latino leaders such as former Surgeon General Richard Carmona and former AFL-CIO Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson.

Beyond the Cabinet, Latinos should be better represented throughout the ranks of the federal government, which is why the NHLA is launching a new “Presidential Appointments Project” at LatinoAppointments.org to ensure our government and the nation benefit from the talent that our community has to offer.

While the president urges people to wait before rushing to judgment on the composition of his second term Cabinet, time is ticking and we cannot afford to be silent. We urge the president to demonstrate his commitment to having an administration that reflects America’s diversity — and to “moving forward, not back,” just as he said on the campaign trail.

As we head into a historic immigration policy debate, budget cuts and other related policies, 50 million Latinos cannot afford to be underrepresented on the president’s top executive team. Challenges such as economic insecurity, misguided immigration laws, and sparse Hispanic representation in government continue to limit the opportunities of a community poised to form over one quarter of the nation’s population by 2050.

At such a critical time in our nation’s history, the NHLA member organizations look forward to the president ensuring that Latinos not only have a seat at the table, but that we are seated early in his second term and at all levels of government — from the front desks of his agencies to the mahogany table with brass-plated seats in the White House Cabinet Room.

Hector Sanchez is chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda.

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