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At a 'Latino mayors' conference, a prof speaks truth to pols

Campaign Notebook
By PHILIP EIL  |  November 20, 2013

There were no major surprises when Angel Taveras delivered the keynote address last week at the “Latino Mayors: Politics and Policy in the City” conference at Brown University’s Taubman Center for Public Policy. Yes, the Providence mayor and 2014 gubernatorial candidate did speak about a dearth of Latino mayors nationwide — around 240, in 15 states — when compared to corresponding demographics. And, yes, he did throw in a crowd-pleasing line about not being partial to a particular sub-group: “I dance meringue and I try to dance salsa, too.” But there was also plenty of standard Taveras campaign fare, like references to his “Head Start to Harvard” life story and a breakdown of the measures his administration took in 2011 — pay cuts, layoffs, pension reform, school closings, new deals with hospitals and universities — to grapple with the “category 5 fiscal hurricane” they inherited at city hall. “I always like to say that I am a Latino, but that’s not all that I am. There is a lot more to me,” he said at one point.

More memorable were the remarks of Providence College Political Science professor Tony Affigne, who took to the stage alongside former president of the Rhode Island Latino Political Action Committee Doris De Los Santos, Latino Public Radio president Pablo Rodriguez, and Central Falls mayor James Diossa for a panel discussion in the event’s second hour.

Affigne began by laying out a series of striking numbers: by 2043, the US Census Bureau forecasts the U.S. non-Hispanic white population will fall below 50 percent and Latinos will constitute by far the largest chunk of the new majority; according to 2010 stats, 38 percent of the Providence population is Latino, and, by 2020, this segment will likely climb to 50 percent; and, at Brown — which had fewer than 20 Latino students when Affigne arrived as an undergrad in the early 1970s — there are currently more than 500 Latino students, and within a few years, it’s likely about one-in-five students on campus will be Latino. “What is happening is Rhode Island is the foretaste of the Hispanicization of the United States, which is just around the corner,” he said.

Affigne’s remarks that followed — which we have lightly edited for space considerations — are worth a listen.

“The mayor [Taveras] talked [earlier] about his election in 2010. That was very important; it was transformational for Rhode Island and for Providence. But there was something else that happened in 2010 which, with respect to the empowerment of Latinos, was actually more significant. Ralph Mollis, who is the Secretary of State, won his election by 1.2 percent of the vote. In a year when he had almost universal support of Latino voters, who made up 7 percent of the electorate, on the south side of Providence. . . Ralph Mollis got 86 percent of the vote, which means almost every single African American and Latino voter in the largest African American and Latino community in the state voted for him. That’s why he’s the secretary of state today. That kind of swing role in Rhode Island politics is the future for Latinos.

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