It’s time for Latinos in Valley to exercise political muscle

Today is the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo — the 5th of May — which commemorates the victory of the Mexican militia over the French army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

It is primarily a regional holiday celebrated in the Mexican state capital city of Puebla with some limited recognition in other parts of Mexico, and especially in U.S. cities with a significant Mexican population.

I use the holiday as a segue to remind us that the largest minority population in the U.S. are those of Latino origin.

According to the 2010 census, the non-Latino white population remains the largest group in the U.S. with 196.8 million, which amounts to roughly 64 percent of the population.

Latinos make up 16 percent of the total population, exceeding 50 million, with black Americans now ranked as the third-largest ethnic group, with about 13 percent of the total population, at 38.9 million. The total U.S. population is 308.7 million.

The census shows 75 percent of Latinos live in these nine states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

In Ohio, the Latino count is 354,674, or about 3 percent of the state’s 11.5 million residents.

The Pew Hispanic Center says Ohio has the 23rd-largest Latino population in the nation.

So why am I throwing all these numbers at you?

To make my suggestion that it is time for the Hispanic community in the Mahoning Valley to rise up and begin to flex its economic and political muscle.

More than 9 percent of Youngstown’s 66,812 population is Latino, mainly Puerto Rican, according to the 2010 census.

A quick survey shows there are few Latinos, if any, in high-ranking government positions in the Mahoning or the Shenango valleys.

Youngstown never has had a Latino council member or municipal court judge, and only two Latinos ever have sat on the city’s school board.

There are only a handful of Latino lawyers and teachers, and few, if any, principals.

Many Latinos left Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico to come to this area to work in the booming steel-mill industry.

But, for some reason, Latinos didn’t branch out to other industries or professions as quickly when the mills died. Some older Latinos, especially those from Puerto Rico, returned to the island commonwealth.

Their offspring found what jobs they could and remained here.

And while there are several black-owned businesses throughout the Valley, you would be hard-pressed to find many Latino-owned businesses.

There is not one Latino-owned funeral home in Youngstown. There is one Latino-owned auto body shop on the city’s East Side that I know of.

The means to improving one’s lot in life is through the ballot box and education.

But the stats for Latinos in Ohio are cause for concern.

The Hispanic Leadership Network, based in Washington, D.C., is an advocacy-action group focused on the Latino community.

According to the HLN, which cited info from the Pew Hispanic Center, Ohio has 140,000 eligible Latino voters, which constitutes about 2 percent of all eligible voters in the state.

Less than half of Latinos in Ohio are eligible to vote.

Nearly one-third — 32 percent — of Latino eligible voters are age 18 to 29 compared with 26 percent of black eligible voters and 20 percent of white eligible voters.

Twenty-three percent of Latino eligible voters in Ohio have not completed high school.

That is not going to get it done.

The unemployment rate among Latinos in Ohio is 16 percent, whereas the overall state unemployment rate was 7.5 percent as of March — 8.8 percent overall in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

The keyword in 21st-century America is diversity. We have a biracial president and the first Latina woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Politics is not a game for everyone, but surely there are qualified Latinos out there who can get elected to city and county positions.

The question is, who will be the man or woman to step up to the plate? And will Latinos get out to vote?

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. Email him at

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