by Federico C. Baradello
Published on: Jan 19, 2004
Type: Opinions

The indicators are all there. The US-based Latino demographic (just ten percent of all Latinos in the world) have more purchasing power than any other Latino population in the Americas. Moreover, the same ten participation has the highest penetration rates of Internet usage, at the highest speeds of connectivity. The same ten percent is the most diverse, best educated Latino population in the Americas. Besides these unique characteristics, this population has experienced a population spike which has resulted in nearly half (47.5 percent) of all Latinos under the age of 25.

The benefits of ICTs will eventually reach all the Americas, but it is clear that these benefits will be seen among Latinos in the United States first. Many of the solutions developed by US-based Latinos can be easily applied in Latin America; the shared cultural identity between the US demographic and Latin America is too large to ignore. In fact, the US should no longer be considered separate and unique to the Americas. As Latinos continue to immigrate to the US and make it their home, the US is becoming more Latino and is evolving to more closely resemble the rest of the region. US-based Latino youth must seize the opportunity to read the signs of the times and take a leadership role in their communities to help develop the solutions necessary towards developing 21st century solutions in the Information Society.

Education will be more essential than ever to ensure that US-based Latinos are empowered to reap the full benefits of the Information Revolution. This is the primary hurdle which prevented their participation in the 1990s, and this is where reforms must take place. It is unreasonable to expect a demographic where three-quarters of youth have parents with less than a high school education to be full-fledged participants in an economy with high educational requirements, but it is reasonable to start by using ICTs to provide alternative education to enhance the failing conventional education systems to elevate and empower US-based Latino youth.

New initiatives can serve to address the indigenous needs of the empowered US-based Latino community that could carry over into increased representation in Tunis 2005. In the 20th century, Latin America missed the Industrial Revolution; the 21st century need not be another "lost century" as the Information Revolution brings renewed opportunities for participation in the global economy and economic development for its citizens. US-based Latinos have the wherewithal to make ICT development a reality not just for their local communities, but for their counterparts south of the border. As the ever-increasing levels of remittances demonstrate, the spillover effect from US-based Latino populations to Latin America is real. New technologies have created a "death of distance" phenomenon that must be harnessed for the spillover effect from North America to South America to be sustainable.

Attending the WSIS Geneva conference this December, I was amazed to notice the diversity of participants from the furthest reaches of the world: Central Africa, Nepal, Fiji. I was dismayed to find that Latin American participants, save Bolivia, were notably absent from the conference. Nor can one make less of the fact that the United States itself was also absent from any significant portion of the dialogue. In fact, but for Canada, the Americas (fifteen percent of the world population and nearly forty percent of the global GDP) were underrepresented at the Geneva conference.

There are tremendous changes in the demographic makeup underway in the United States which will have an equally tremendous impact on the socioeconomic climate of the country and Latin America at large. The Latino population in the United States, in 2002, became the largest minority in the country, at 13.5%. It is forecasted that Latinos will become absolute majorities in bellwether states like California and Texas within the next 25 years. Spanish will become an increasingly significant language during the same period, and bilingual education has become the norm in many of these bellwether states.

Just as immigrants from southern Europe in the late 1800s and early 1900s became the engine for the Industrial Revolution, the Latino population is having an increased role in bolstering the US economy, effectively powering the "bread and butter industries": from over-the-table assembly line positions to equally impacting domestic housework and seasonal agricultural work, the Latino population is filling jobs at the lowest levels of the socioeconomic spectrum. It is clear that Latinos have been notably underrepresented in America's pre- and post-"bubble" wealth creation engines through high-tech entrepreneurship, such as in Silicon Valley. In the past decade, they have been unable to be part of the critical transition to the Information Economy/Society. A Latino voice on the Internet is essentially nonexistent. There is no online portal which combines quality information content with a web community that represents the best of Latino aspirations in the Information Society (i.e. using a New Economy tool, the online portal, to produce a virtuous cycle for Latino involvement with ICTs).

The US-based Latino population, a large part of which identifies strongly with its Latino heritage, is in a unique position to be a possible engine of empowerment for Latin America. A large portion of US-based Latino earnings become remittances that revitalize entire communities in Latin America. In 2003, remittances from US-based Latinos reached the unprecedented level of $30 billion, greater than total Foreign Direct Investment into the region. Yet their impact is temporary and does not foster long term growth among Latinos on either side of the border. Participation in the Information Society and new technology-driven services and industries could revitalize the Latino population on both sides of the border, but it is clear that US-based Latinos are in the best position to be the first to act.

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