(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on April 4, 1993)
We come from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico, and many other places south of the U.S. border. We represent 19 nationalities. We are the most diverse group that ever came to this country. Our taste in food, music, and many other ingredients of our culture are similar, but not always the same. We share the same language, but with some dialectal variations. We represent all the races in the rainbow. We are Latino Americans.
As we migrated north, searching for the Latino American Dream, many of us have settled in North Jersey, becoming a noticeable portion of the population in recent years.
Now we also will be more noticeable in The Record.
This column will be devoted to covering the issues that concern the 331,333 Latinos who live in Hudson, Bergen, and Passaic counties – their struggles to survive and join the mainstream of American society. It will be a column that will appeal to Latino readers and introduce North Jerseyans to their Latino neighbors.
Relegated to invisibility in the media, Latinos are becoming a political force in many North Jersey municipalities, counties, and the state. At the federal level, Democratic Rep. Robert Menendez, who had served as Hudson County's first Latino mayor (Union City) and the first Latino state senator, broke the ice last year by becoming New Jersey's first Latino congressman.
The state has two Latino state assemblymen, Rudy Garcia (D-Hudson) and Jose Sosa (R-Burlington) and a Latina public defender, Zulima Farber, the only Hispanic in Governor Florio's Cabinet.
At the local level, Latinos are represented on school boards, city commissions, and county boards in North Jersey. Bergen County, for example, last week opened an office to assist Latinos opening small businesses or seeking social services. The opening of the office of the Hispanic-American Advisory Commission is Bergen's way of recognizing that in the 1980s, the county's Latino population grew by 75 percent.
New Jersey's Hispanic population grew by 50.4 percent – from 491,000 to 739,861 – between 1980 and 1990 and today is 9.6 percent of the state's population, according to the 1990 U.S. census. That was the highest growth rate of any major population group in New Jersey. But the census also admits that Latinos had the highest rate of undercounting in 1990, leading some to estimate that Latinos may number close to 1 million.
Latinos are 6 percent of the population in Bergen County, 21.7 percent in Passaic, and 33.2 percent in Hudson, according to an analysis of census data by the Midwest-Northeast Voter Registration and Education Project. The project found that Latinos are concentrated mostly in urban centers. It pointed out that in 13 cities – Passaic, Paterson, West New York, North Bergen, Union City, Hoboken, Jersey City, Newark, Elizabeth, Perth Amboy, Camden, Vineland, and Trenton – Latinos account for a combined 34.4 percent of the population. In 20 municipalities, the Latino population ranges from 20.4 percent to 75.6 of the total population.
Throughout the state, Latinos are involved, or at least affected, by every major issue that concerns most Americans. My job will be to report on how they feel about these issues and to illustrate their struggles and aspirations to other Record readers.
It is not my intention to write a protest column, but to dispel the negative myths about Latinos, most of whom are honest, hard-working people who want to assimilate rather than force themselves on this society. As taxpayers, voters, and contributors to their community, they want their fair share of the entitlements, but they don't expect them on a silver platter. Most Latinos spend less time demanding their rights than telling you that they are grateful for the opportunity to live in the greatest country in the world. These are the images and ideas I want my column to convey.
Latinos are concerned about local, state, national, and international issues and events. They're especially concerned about what happens in Latin America, where they still have many friends and relatives, and that will be an essential component of a column about the Hispanic community in North Jersey. Of course, the column will not cover Latin America, but reflect on how events there affect Latinos here.
When there are military coups in Venezuela, plebiscite discussions in Puerto Rico, human rights violations in Cuba and El Salvador, political squabbles in Nicaragua, elections in the Dominican Republic, corruption investigations in Mexico, terrorist bombings in Peru, or drug wars in Colombia, you can be sure Latinos in North Jersey are talking about them. My column will tell you what they are saying.
Although the growth of the Hispanic community in North Jersey has not always been reflected in The Record, I'm sure this column will go a long way toward filling that void. It also will fill a gap in our coverage of immigration. While the column will concentrate on local issues concerning Latinos in North Jersey, I also will be writing some in-depth analyses of national Latino issues, such as bilingual education, the U.S. English movement, or even the debate over what we should call ourselves – Hispanics or Latinos.
I'm thrilled by the opportunity to represent The Record in the Hispanic community, and the Hispanic community in The Record newsroom, not only because it is a great newspaper, but because I feel excited by the challenge of exploring uncharted territory in North Jersey.
More than 100 years ago, while residing in New York, my idol, Cuban writer and patriot Jose Marti, outlined what would become my mission at The Record. He wrote: “What I want is to demonstrate that we are good people, industrious, and capable. For each offense, a reply . . . and more effective by its moderation. For each false assertion about our countries, an immediate correction. For each defect, apparently just, which is thrown in our faces, the historical explanation which will excuse it, and proof of the capacity to remedy it. It would seem to me that I were being derelict in my duty if I should not realize this thought.”