This is the year to truly highlight Latino contributions and celebrate our leaders and legacy. I’m honored to be a part of the [Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute's] 41st Annual Gala in which I will perform and pay homage to my culture and community. The room will be filled with some of the greatest current and future leaders that are paving the path for generations to come.

Honoring the past

Heritage is another word that has acquired broader meaning, away from the original, limited definition of something inherited as property, as tradition, or because of birth. Now, “heritage” not only relates or informs what we directly received from our parents, place of birth, or cultural upbringing. The word today [has] two components: one, which defines us by being raised under a specific set of conditions, people, environmental and general culture settings. And another, that influences us, as the result of information and the effects of international events. Both components help create our general character, perspective and attitude as a human being.

The “Latino” community is very hard to define. We have blacks, whites, indigenous people, Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals; all defined and united by the Spanish language and a shared cultural background.

Mobilizing the present

Anger at injustice has moved me to action: whenever there’s a clear need for action because of injustice, whenever there is the need to confront an opinion that is prejudicial to the notion of truth and fairness, [or] whenever there’s an opportunity to help bring change responsibly and show solidarity with all others.

We need to have an honest and national conversation regarding what the purpose of this “fine experiment” in solidarity and freedom really means.

Other than the present erratic policy on immigration, which also threatens legal aliens, there is a dearth of issues capable of producing a united Latino front in the United States. As long as we continue to see each other as Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Central and South Americans, instead of the “Latino Community,” we will continue to be fingers. We will never become hands, and you need hands to propose, produce and sustain change.

Facing the future

Once you assimilate, you cease to be what you were. The problem [with that] is that even when a person from Latino background is born in the U.S., naturalizes and becomes a U.S. citizen, assimilates or tries to do so, [he] continues to be seen and treated as an alien.

We need to have an honest and national conversation regarding what the purpose of this “fine experiment” in solidarity and freedom really means. This conversation should include every single group that forms this country. It should be impeccably honest. Out of it, a consensus should arise: to protect and advance the uniqueness of the constitutional purposes which created this exemplary social and political experiment called the United States.