Puerto Rican and Dominican pride in New York City
For six years as a contributing writer for Gotham Gazette I have written almost exclusively on the trajectory and current dynamics of Latino politics in New York. In my first column here, in 2017, I explored how the increase in the Latino electorate was shifting the dynamics of our city’s politics. In the years since, I’ve written about many trends, elections, officials, and more. (I am most grateful to Gotham Gazette and editor Ben Max for giving me a platform from which to explore the important realities of Latinos and politics in New York.)
My writing on this subject stems from a deep passion to give voice to my fellow Latinos, a group that historically has been disenfranchised, rejected, and pushed out from political discourse and participation in the city and state. Indeed, that has also been the national dynamic.
Whether locally or nationally, the struggle is hardly a recent one. Latinos have been fighting for political recognition and representation for nearly a century, ever since large numbers of Puerto Ricans began to arrive in Gotham.
These early efforts, financed by numbers runners (boliteros) and organized by cigar makers (tabaqueros) and pioneering women like Antonia Denis, led in 1937 to the first Latino elected to office in the history of New York, the Puerto Rican Oscar Garcia Rivera, who won the East Harlem Assembly seat. I have shared some of this history in an ongoing series for Gotham Gazette here and here.
While Latinos now comprise almost a third of the population of New York City, and while there has been significant progress since the pioneering efforts of Latinos that came before us, our Latino community continues to struggle for recognition and empowerment. This is perhaps most clearly evident in the dynamics in the “Condado de la Salsa.” The Bronx is the only Latino-majority borough — it is also the poorest borough in the city with the lowest voting participation rates, and it no longer has any borough-wide Latino representation.
My passion to give voice to my people has now led me to embark on a new journey: the founding of a new, independent, nonpartisan think tank focused on Latino politics and policy called The Institute for Latino Politics and Policy (ILPP). The Institute will expand on many of the topics I have explored in my writing at Gotham Gazette and elsewhere over the past six years. Its mission is to promote research, publications, and the education of the wider public on policy and political issues affecting Latinos in New York, including through advocacy and community engagement.
The Institute is inspired by the pioneering efforts of thinkers like Angelo Falcón and José Ramón Sánchez, who decades ago formed their own policy research entity to explore the Latino political and social reality in New York. Falcón, who passed away five years ago, labored as best he could to interpret and describe this reality.
Through the long process of conceiving this think tank, I have been honored to receive the support of many others who have also sought to be a voice for their fellow Latinos — Lucía Gómez (in many ways a Falcón ‘alum’), Aldrin Bonilla, Rev. Ray Rivera, Dr. Sam Cruz, Marlene Peralta, Rev. Fred Davie, Emerita Torres, and still more. This group has been an important sounding board in the exploratory phase of the Institute. A number of educational institutions have also expressed a desire to work collaboratively with The Institute for Latino Politics and Policy.
Over the coming months, the Institute will sponsor virtual and in-person events bringing together academics, policy-makers, faith-based and community leaders for conversation on issues that affect Latino communities. It will also soon begin releasing reports and video content on themes relating to the political and social realities of Latinos in New York.
In sum, The Institute for Latino Politics and Policy is another platform through which I and we can advance the Latino cause and explore the larger context of Latino politics. I hope that you, reader, whether Latino or not, will join me in this effort. You can follow us online at www.latinopolitics.org and on Twitter @InstituteLatino.
Eli Valentin is a political analyst and author of the forthcoming book, Reinhold Niebuhr: A Political Life. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.