Every family should thrive enough to create a poet.
Every family should thrive enough to cultivate an elected official.
Each of these vocations requires a lot of hard work, talent, and public scrutiny. Each is admirable.
Yet in our community, we don’t often talk about the costs of cultivating either one. The real question is, are we ready to pay that price?
Let me get really practical really quick.
Early voting began in Harris County on October 21, so right now especially, I hear people wonder why more Latinos don’t run for elected office.
This is the same as asking why more Chicanos do become poets. Twenty-one years ago, I founded Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say because I and others were asking the same questions. Looking back, I can tell you that the answers are very similar.
Here is the good news. If you are a Latino with a master’s degree and bilingual, you are in demand. However, you do have to make a choice.
There are two avenues of true success for our generation. One road to profound success is strictly American and has to do with strictly capital, money. Most people understand that, and the American Dream is really perhaps the myth that all of us can get there. The other road is to prosper via Cultural Capital, which means not simply money, but also intellectual capital, educational capital, perhaps thriving by creating art or literature.
I’ve written about different definitions of Cultural Capital in the past, and I will write more about these two facets in future essays, but for now, these two roads represent the choice that our generation must make.
Here is the bad news. At this time, you can’t do both. You must now decide if you choose to prosper or rule. Here is one quick example: I run into so many accomplished professionals who tell me about the book they want to write. Most, if not all, will never write it.
We are successful at this time because we are allowed to prosper. We are not allowed to rule. Those who rule have generational wealth, so they can do both.
To put it another way, some of the structural barriers that in the past prevented us from middle to upper-middle class incomes have been removed or addressed. Again, just this sentence can be, and is, the basis for an entire book, but for the purposes of this essay I’ll summarize this fact this way: due to civil rights victories and access to education, Mexican Americans and Latinos now have access to upwardly mobile jobs.
In Texas alone, Mexicans used to be lynched. There were “No Mexicans Allowed” signs at restaurants, we were denied access to higher education, and so on and so on and so on. As I write this in 2019, these barriers have been addressed enough for some of us to gain access to positions that pay well.
This again, I must stress is powerful. I should also stress that there were also allies from other races and ethnicities that got us here.
However, I would also point out that this has afforded a segment of us to prosper, but not rule.
es, a bilingual Latina with a master’s degree is in demand. Early into her professional career she will get hired at a corporation in Houston or Dallas that pays well. However, this will probably mean she is in the Community Affairs Department, or she may be working on Latino outreach.
That is great.
But at most corporations in Houston, Dallas, or Austin, the highest paid administrators are not Latino. Those positions at the top pay salaries and benefits that lead to generation wealth.
The Latina who is entry level, even mid-level, is prospering, but she is not ruling the corporation. Few of us do.
More importantly, in order to accumulate wealth, she may fall into the myth of the workaholic. In other words, she my believe that by working 60–80 hours a week, she can move up to the upper echelon ranks, or may accumulate enough wealth to manage that capital to pursue generational wealth. That does not work.
Again, do not mistake this assessment as dismissive or judgmental. I am removing any emotion from this analysis.
Here is the reason that quantifying our cultural capital is important.
If that Latina chooses to pursue the path of accumulating continued capital, she would clearly not want to run for elected office or become a poet.
School board members in Texas are not paid, but they give “work” enough volunteer hours as a full-time job. Texas state representatives make $7,300 a year. Houston City Council members make $60,000. These are internship level and entry level salaries for Latinos with advanced degrees.
These volunteer positions require a lot of time and energy, and running for the posts costs money, time, and energy. Also, to do the job well requires different skill sets that are the very skills make the Latina in question even more valuable in the corporate world.
If a person is pursing generational wealth, why would they put that at risk for a full-time job that does not pay, is exhausting, and requires submitting yourself to public scrutiny. Why would that person become an elected official or a poet?
Of course, there are other reasons besides money to run for office. However, without generational wealth, it is a bigger risk for members from our communities.
This is the same for writers and poets. Ironically, we need more poets and elected officials than ever to break through the new structural barriers that allow us to prosper but not rule. Our elders were fine until they realized how unfair they were being treated. Once they realized they had to act, an entire generation fought for more rights that we are still benefiting from.
However, unless we set the course to invest in more Cultural Capital, we have hit another ceramic ceiling.