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Nonprofit Works To Reshape Public Perception Of Latinos In America


A lot of rhetoric this election year has been about immigration, and that's turned off many Latino voters. The focus on immigration is misplaced, according to her next guest, Democrat and former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and conservative businessman Sol Trujillo. They formed a nonprofit to counter this narrative. It's called the Latino Donor Collaborative. Sol Trujillo began by explaining some of the data from their new report on Latino economic power.

SOL TRUJILLO: Well, the first one is 51 percent of all new home mortgages taken out over the last decade have been taken out by Latino families. The second one is when we think about entrepreneurship - 86 percent of all new business formations in the last half decade have been created by Latino entrepreneurs, which is not the viewpoint of most people when you ask that question.

CORNISH: And, Henry Cisneros, I'm flipping through the survey, and, you know, some of the things that you were, I guess, putting forth in this data are about military participation, civic participation. It did feel like you were kind of trying to hit the reset button on public perception on a whole community. Did that feel necessary?

HENRY CISNEROS: I think it is necessary to hit the reset button because when the high-profile attacks take root, they can become the functioning truth for some Americans, and they are simply not the truth. When people think that a large percentage of the Latino population is undocumented - upwards of 50 percent, but it's actually closer to 15 percent - we're way off base, but we're off base on a lot of other things, as well.

CORNISH: So why are politicians missing this?

CISNEROS: Well, I think a political calculation has been made that the old-style wedge politics of demonizing one group in order to ingratiate yourself with another works. But it really hasn't worked if you look at it as a strategy across the country. Wedge politics was tried in California, for example, by Pete Wilson. And today, it's essentially a blue state, as a result of, you know, a couple of elections of just hammering home the demonization of Latinos. It is exceedingly damaging to our political process and political dialogue. And I must say it's dangerous. You're really playing with fire when you unleash those animal instincts that this rhetoric does.

CORNISH: Sol Trujillo, I want to let you jump in because Henry Cisneros, of course, is a Democrat. And I want to have you respond to this a little.

TRUJILLO: Well, you know, my view, again, is if you want to be president of the United States, you should understand what the drivers of the economy are. So as a Republican, I do not like the rhetoric that says, well, gee, deportation. Well, if you'd like to drive GDP growth down two percentage points - I mean, I would not want to elect a president that likes to have a negative growth economy.

CORNISH: Given the arguments you both are making, essentially, about the economic power of Hispanic or Latino voters - how powerful they are the U.S. economy - are they choosing to put their money into politics? If not, why not? Should they? Would that help what you're talking about?

CISNEROS: Well, I think early on, we're probably not. And, frankly, a lot of our families are at subsistence levels, trying to make a living and then put it back into buying a home. But we are on a very, very clear trajectory to be one of the salvations of the American future.

TRUJILLO: So I - this is all, again, one more kind of additional point, and that is that politics isn't just a presidential election. Where most actual decisions are made about education and health and all kinds of well-being issues - there was a much deeper participation level at the state and local levels with Latinos. As a Republican, I have a lot of faith in a lot of the governors 'cause I've had recent conversations with many Republican governors that value the Latinos, value their economic contributions and think much differently than what I would call the national rhetoric.

CORNISH: Sol Trujillo of the Trujillo Group Investments and Henry Cisneros, former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They're behind the Latino Donor Collaborative. Thank you both for speaking with us.

TRUJILLO: Thank you.

CISNEROS: Thank you, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.