Yolanda Zepeda, assistant vice provost of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, discussing concept of the “sleeping giant.” Credit: Attiyya Toure | Lantern Reporter

Are Latinx groups a sleeping giant?

The ever growing presence of the Latinx community across the United States and the implications for diversity and political representation were the subject at a community forum on Thursday held at the Kirwan Institute for Race and Ethnicity.

Outsiders generally see the Latinx population as one distinct group with unified values and voting preferences.

But in reality, according to Yolanda Zepeda, assistant vice provost for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Latinx groups are very diverse and are often hindered from voting due to citizenship and eligibility issues.

“For a couple of decades now, the media has been referring to Latinxs as the ‘Sleeping Giant,’ a voting block beast that is asleep, and about to wake up,” Zepeda said.

Zepeda discussed the notion often associated with the ‘Sleeping Giant’ metaphor: that Latinx groups will become too large of a voting presence and ultimately become decisive in major political outcomes.

“For some, the ‘Sleeping Giant’ awakening is a cause for fear…that fear is wrapped up in the shrinking demographic base of white voters,” Zepeda said. “This fear is also fueled by the narrative of illegal voters.”

Recent voter ID legislation and crackdowns are a result of the fear that illegal voters will tip the polls in their direction, Zepeda said.

Zepeda also described how the census, which is used for political designation purposes, has been used to scare Latinx groups from voter registration.

“If you make it really hard or intimidate certain groups to respond to the census, you will undercount those groups,” Zepeda said.

The ‘Sleeping Giant’ metaphor is also used to undermine the diversity across Latinx groups, Zepeda said.

“There’s a common, but mistaken view that all Latinxs are foreigners or immigrants…but only one-third of Latinxs in the U.S. are immigrants,” Zepeda said.

Mexicans are the largest Latinx group, comprising of about two-thirds of the total population, with Puerto Ricans as the second largest group, including about 9 million people. Across these ethnic lines, there are lots of stories that can’t be categorized under one narrative, Zepeda said.

Latinx groups have no singular experience, as evidenced by location and context.

“58 percent of all Latinx youth are concentrated in four states…but the context of those states are very different,” Zepeda said.“The youth that are growing up in those areas will have very different ideas about who they are, their relationship to one another, and their expectations of life.”

The forum was a part of the weekly forum series held at the institute, which serves to foster dialogue around a large array of issues surrounding social justice and racial equity.

Each month of forums will be categorized under certain themes related to a specific race, ethnicity or concept, Ashley Wilson, director of communications for the Kirwan Institute, said.

The forum is the first of four planned out in concurrence with Latinx Heritage Month.

“We thought the themes would be very helpful in case there were professors that were teaching certain classes, students that were in particular groups that had specific interests, we put them around themes so they can hear something that they’re interested in,” Wilson said.