BY TONY CASTRO
Some time back, when I was lecturing at an Ivy League school about the then fledgling Latino civil rights movement, a student asked what would signal to me that Hispanics had arrived in America.
I talked about the undaunted American spirit I had read about after the two world wars and about seeing the hope and expectation on the faces of poor farmers in Appalachia when Bobby Kennedy went there to personally investigate hunger in America.
Even in the worst, direst moments, I told the student, these Americans – returning veterans with shattered bodies and indigent farmers with empty cupboards – maintained a believe in a promise they thought someone in power would keep.
When we see Latinos in those kinds of situations, I told the student, then we will know that Hispanics truly have made it in America – figuratively penniless in what they might have in their collective pockets, they would nonetheless believe in the promise of America and they would dance the night away on that hope.
Well, on the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, with Hispanics celebrating at unprecedented Latino-themed balls while believing that America is now theirs, we have arrived.
We have arrived, celebrating, even though the political messiah that Latinos have hitched their wagon to has never come.
Obama Inauguration 2013: Why presidents and would-be messiahs disappoint
There’s an uncertainly about Cabinet positions. The two Hispanics in the Obama Cabinet are stepping down, and there is no indication of their replacement by other Latinos – nor any Latinos among those the president has named to the Cabinet since the election.
The promise of delivery on comprehensive immigration reform, something that seemed so certain after Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Obama last November, now appears less certain with the administration preparing to fight first for fiscal stability and gun control.
No Latino leader wants to openly talk about these uncertainties. That’s one of the things that happens when you so heavily invest in one side over the other. In this political poker table, Hispanics are all in with Obama.
Of course, the political reality is that Latinos can’t do much about this any more. Obama will never be up for election again. His political machinery under a new banner is invested in campaigning for his legacy, not in putting together a campaign for the Democratic nominee in 2016.
What has unfolded in the weeks and days leading up to the inauguration is not what most Latino leaders and advocates thought it would be. Who could have imagined that the president wouldn’t have already tapped at least one Hispanic for one of the prized positions on the Cabinet – state, treasury, defense.
Is that to say that there is not a single Latino in America qualified to head up one of those departments? If there is not one Hispanic in this country who can match up Chuck Hagel in qualifications or competence, then how can Latinos go around talking about a Hispanic presidency any time soon?
I hate to put a damper on any Hispanic inaugural ball, especially at the thought of a dance with Eva Longoria, but the sad reality that’s setting in is Obama doesn’t think our Bill Richardsons or Antonio Villaraigosas measure up to his inner circle of the best and the brightest.
Even sadder is the fact that it’s taken four years of the Obama presidency, after broken promises to Hispanics during his first term, to come to that conclusion.