Quality of Life: Building a Community


This column is largely a shameless plug for the Ninth Annual Harvard Latino Law & Public Policy Conference. As Co-Director, I have no qualms about using whatever medium possible to spread the fact that if you are Latino and at Harvard, you should be at this conference, and if you are interested in law or policy, you, too, should be at this conference. You can check out our full schedule at www.latinolawandpolicy.com.There are those who read “Latino Law & Public Policy” to mean that only Latinos should come to the conference. However, those who enjoy construing texts will read it as focused on law and policy, with an emphasis on their application to Latinos, and that should make everyone’s ears perk up. The American Latino population is fast-growing and diverse in every respect: income, country of origin, even language, which is the common factor that many associate most with being “Latino.” It is a policy dream, at least for those who enjoy untangling knotty community dynamics. This would be an easy point to have an anthropology or sociology tangent on what exactly it means to be Latino. Here is my short take on it. First, it is tricky to even come up with a word to use when describing the amorphous population in question. The labels used range in political overtones, in geographic association, and in social preference. We have made the choice to use “Latino” to express our emphasis on all people who have ties to the Americas, including those who come from Spain, Portugal, or any colonies thereof, and including those who have been residents of the United States for many generations as well as recent immigrants.Last Monday, I went to a rally in Boston that, more than protesting any piece of legislation, seemed to be an affirmation that immigrants value America and want to work within the system, not sabotage it. I’m sure anyone who saw me at the rally thought I was there with the Irish immigrant contingent, when the closest I’ve come to that experience is watching “Far and Away,” which for some odd reason I used to like to watch with the Spanish language track, probably to avoid listening to Cruise’s attempts at Irish brogue.There were people of all races, ethnicities, and countries, but they all were there to proclaim that they were American. As I stood in the Common, surrounded by knots of people waving American flags and not just flags from their country of origin, and as we walked down toward Copley Plaza with people chanting “Today we march. Tomorrow we vote,” I saw the diversity and tenacity of immigrants in Boston. “The Battle for Immigration Reform: Values, Economics and Politics,” will be the Conference’s Keynote Address on April 20 at 6 p.m. in the KSG Forum. Maria Echaveste, former deputy chief of staff to President Clinton, could not have chosen a better topic, and we did not tell her to speak on immigration. When she came to us with this idea, we were struck by its timeliness. As the rally viscerally confirmed for me, immigration is about more than politics, it’s about the ideals people hold. Much of this may sound saccharine, so for those who object to my homespun, rosy account of the rally, I suggest you come to Ms. Echaveste’s speech for her perspective on immigration reform in the United States.The panels that we have decided on for this year’s conference focus on the growth of Latino communities in the United States and their relationship to Latinos abroad. We plan to highlight innovative solutions to traditional issues that face Latino communities, as well as those issues that have emerged as a result of growing transnational ties. Yet conferences are about more than learning. They are about meeting and discussing the issues with others, a goal that often gets neglected in the age of wireless Internet and blackberries.We seek to provide conference participants the opportunity to learn from panels featuring those active in law, politics, the media, business, community development, and higher education; to inspire and re-energize students towards careers in public service by highlighting the contributions of Latinos to U.S. society; and to afford student participants ample opportunities for networking and mentoring activities with fellow students, alumni, and professionals from a wide variety of fields. Finding out the facts is important, but being engaged with the issues requires rumination and conversation.Our first panel, at 10 a.m. on Friday in the Ames Courtroom, explores “Innovations in the U.S. Criminal Justice System,” which has often approached its work as incarcerate not rehabilitate. There are many who have shown that ability to design innovative alternatives, through a partnership of public policymakers, law enforcement, the judiciary, and the community can result in the development of new strategies to create a bridge to recovery and/or rehabilitation. These are the programs you wanted to talk about in criminal law, but somehow never had the time for in between accomplice liability and the 4th Amendment.At 1:15 p.m. we will discuss “Community Development in Emerging Immigrant Neighborhoods.” The panel will explore recent immigrant trends in the United States, including immigrants’ settling patterns, integration processes, and common challenges confronted in “portal” or entry neighborhoods. Common elements of immigrant-serving community development organizations will also be discussed, as well as an overview of the different types of organizations serving the nation’s newest immigrants. For any with an interest in the policy behind neighborhood creation and maintenance, this is the panel for you. At 3:00 p.m. we will start “Following the Money Trail,” to examine “The Effect of Remittances in Politics.” What I know about this topic could fit on an index card – remittances are money sent from the country of immigration back to the country of origin — so I’m looking forward to learning about the different dimensions of remittances from the United States to Latin America, particularly the effect that this transnational flow of funds has on the political climate in both the sender and the recipient countries. The panelists will share insight into this topic from the perspective of their respective disciplines, academia, private, public interest, etc., and geographic areas of expertise, i.e. Cuba, Mexico, and the United States. Finally, on Satruday at 10:00 a.m. in Taubman at KSG, we will engage in “Black-Latino Coalition Building” The panelists will discuss some of the challenges to community building as well as ways to foster dialogue and bridge the apparent gap between the Black and Latino communities, by looking at factors behind both the tension and common ground shared by the two groups and exploring successful models of cooperation. We will be discussing internal community dynamics along with external factors, e.g. media portrayal, and their role in coalition building. This will be a discussion that tackles some serious issues in inter-minority dynamics.A few weeks ago, I was speaking with one of the admissions coordinators at the College about the difficulties they had attracting and signing Latino students. There’s more to it than the snow, and the high concentrations of Latinos in California and the Southwest. Where I come from, people care about Latinos, and recognize them as a growing source of political and social clout. There must be mentors to help foster Latino leadership, but there must also be allies and support from throughout the community. The Ninth Annual Latino Law & Public Policy is a way to bring people together in one place and provide that community of mentorship and support. I hope that many of you will show your interest and support this weekend.

Erin also wants to emphasize that there will be all the food and receptions normally associated with conferences and urges people to log on to www.latinolawandpolicy.com for more information.

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