Speaker discusses challenges for Latinos

Mudd Center features president of General Counselor for LatinaJustice

Faith E. Pinho

Juan Cartanenga, president of the General Counsel for LatinaJustice PRLDEF, spoke about issues involving the Latino community to a crowded room of Washington and Lee faculty, students and friends last Wednesday afternoon.

Cartanenga’s talk, entitled “Latinos & Civil Rights: Lifting the Cloak of Invisibility,” marked the March event for the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics. Cartanenga said Latinos experience widespread problems, from lack of political leadership to over-criminalization.

“The challenges are complex,” Cartanenga said to the packed Northen Auditorium. “I could talk for hours about lack of leadership. There’s very little concerted effort to try to get Latinos at the table at these major centers of decision-making and reform.”

Cartanenga said that 30 percent of the United States population is Latino, yet the demographic still remains largely underrepresented in chambers of government. He said attributes this to the fact that Latinos are comprised of many diverse people who do not all share the same beliefs on policy.

Cartanenga also compared the development of Latino civil rights to the historic African-American experience. He talked about how Martin Luther King created synergy among all races, uniting people from all backgrounds in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

“[It] was never just black and white,” he said.

Paige Missel, an AmeriCorps*VISTA who works in W&L’s Campus Kitchens was a member of the audience.

“I have always understood that it’s so much more complex than black and white, which is how it’s often painted in the media,” Missel said. “I think this [speech] has just helped form my interest in learning more about it.”

Cartanenga made other connections of how the Latino situation in the United States is similar to that of African-Americans today. Although he said the event in Ferguson was an exceptional case of police brutality, he did say there are policing problems in America.

“What has happened…is the over-policing of minority peoples,” Cartanenga said.

High incarceration rates accompany the over-criminalization of Latinos, Cartanenga said. Out of the 16 percent of Latinos in the United States, the ratio of Latinos in prison versus whites is 2.6 to 1.

“There’s definitely been a criminalization of immigration status in this country,” Cartanenga said.

Cartanenga also said he believes that some police jurisdictions focus too much on arresting illegal immigrants rather than prioritizing daily law enforcement.

He said he blames the Obama administration and the idea that immigrants bring crime to the country for creating the pressure immigrants face in the U.S. today.

“Something that was incredible that I just didn’t know [before the talk] was that 2 million people have been deported under the Obama administration,” Missel said afterwards.

Cartanenga also said that data does not show any positive correlation between immigrant rates and crime rates. In fact, crime rates actually diminished at the same time that immigration numbers increased in New York.

“In some ways, [this speech] does make for a nice transition to our theme for next year, which is the Ethics of Citizenship,” Director of the Mudd Center for Ethics Angela Smith said. “So we want to get people thinking about race issues and then some of the issues that particularly affect the Latino communities, such as the immigration problem.”