Getting the Record Straight

In his new book, Senator Robert Menendez touts the role of Latinos in U.S. history.

Senator Robert Menendez signing copies of his new book touting the achievements of Hispanic Americans.
Photo by William Perlman/The Star-Ledger.

Senator Robert Menendez has a unique perspective. Raised in Union City, the son of Cuban immigrants, Menendez became the first person of Hispanic ancestry to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. In his new book, Growing American Roots: Why Our Nation Will Thrive as Our Largest Minority Flourishes (Celebra, 2009), Menendez looks at the many important ways that Latinos have contributed to America throughout the nation’s history.

He hopes the book will counter the negativity that he says is promoted by conservative commentators such as Lou Dobbs and Glenn Beck. We talked to Menendez about his book and his hopes for the Hispanic community.

Why do you think certain media personalities target Hispanics?

Whenever there is a ton of anxiety economically, it is easy to turn individuals against a certain group. I think there is an element in our society for which this happens where they draw upon people’s fears and they use the Hispanic community to exacerbate these fears.

What message do you have for young Hispanics?

What I’ve learned is that you are only limited by the size of your dreams and the impositions you put on yourself. In this country, everything is possible. If you told me when I was growing up poor that I could be one of 100 Senators in a country of 300 million people, I would have told you it was unlikely. I keep fighting for that promise for future generations. Opportunities even in the most difficult times are unlimited. And if our country is going to recapture our economic prosperity, the next generation of Latinos will have to be a major part of that. Ultimately, that is all based on making sacrifices to get a solid education.

What advice do you have for Governor Christie in his dealings with the Hispanic community?

I would bring in leaders from different sections of the Hispanic community in the state and engage them in an honest dialogue as to what their challenges are in the context of the overall challenges of all New Jersey citizens. There are some things that affect all New Jersey citizens that affect the Hispanic community disproportionately.

Where does the immigration debate go from here?

My hope is that once Congress finishes work on health care, as we continue to pursue job creation, we can also address comprehensive overall immigration reform. This is a question of national security, and it is a question of economic security. We need to determine who might be here to support the American dream, and who is here to inflict harm on our country. For those pursuing the American dream, we should give them temporary status while we check their background, and have them pay taxes and learn English while they wait. We need immigration policy that deals with employers who would ultimately hire people who are undocumented in order to take advantage of them. At the end of the day, we need a system that does all of this humanely.

How has writing this book changed you?

It gave me a perspective that was broader than I even imagined possible. I am trying to throw back the curtain and open the window for all Americans on the Hispanic community. Not everyone may know the true history of our culture, and I am also trying to show why the success of the Latino community is good for the future of our nation.

What have your two adult children said to you about the book?

Some of the personal stuff in the book was a bit of an eye opener for them. My son commented to me that he now looks at his own life as more privileged. With this history, they have a sense of pride in their heritage. While they had that generically, it is now much deeper after knowing the history and great accomplishments of Latinos within the country as a whole.

Steve Adubato, PhD. is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on CBS 2. He is the author of the book Make the Connection, as well as his newest book What Were They Thinking?, which examines highly publicized and often controversial public relations and media mishaps. For more information, log on to stand-deliver.com.

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