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Beware of shiny objects: How not to fill the Latino leadership void

Some of you may recall an alarming study conducted a little over a year ago by the Pew Hispanic Center, in which Latinos were asked a simple question: “name the person who you consider to be the most important Latino leader in the country today.”

A whopping 64 percent of respondents answered “I don’t know.” These findings support a growing line of research that suggests the current U.S. Latino community is experiencing a leadership void on a national level.

In the absence of prominent national figures, many individuals instead become enamored with what I like to call “bright, shiny objects.” These are people whose ideas look and sound great on paper and through popular discourse, but a closer inspection reveals grossly limited knowledge regarding the needs of the Latino community and how to effectively address those needs. These “bright, shiny objects” generally promote three misleading mindsets.

The “just do it” mindset: We see this mindset come from those who generally do lots of talking without much thinking. These are individuals who typically adopt an attitude of “enough talk, let’s do something about (insert highly complex social phenomenon here).” However, their understanding of said phenomenon or social problem is cursory, at best. Consequently, those who fall victim to this mindset are often led to propose highly egocentric solutions, and hence firmly believe that what worked for them personally can be applied to just about anyone.

The “just work harder” mindset: We see this mindset come primarily from those who cling to the false narrative of a “welfare crisis” (in spite of the mountains of evidence that suggest otherwise). They attribute the prevalent systemic poverty particularly seen amongst Latino youthto a supposed unwillingness of these youth to “work hard.” Rather than addressing the systems of injustice that continue to plague certain communities, folks who fall victim to this mindset instead ultimately disparage the very individuals they purportedly serve. Worse yet, they can completely discount the very importance of understanding the role of systemic injustice, simply out of a belief that injustice is a “thing of the past.”

The “education reformer to the rescue” mindset: We see this mindset come from those individuals whose solutions, to addressing the growing achievement gap in public education, consist merely of overly simplistic, smoking-gun type proposals. This is observed in the haste of many to divert much needed funds from “under-performing schools,” or in the infatuation  many policy-makers have with charter schools (in spite of their inconsistent effectiveness, at best). Additionally, and almost remarkably, those who fall victim to this mindset tend to completely ignore the effects of systemic poverty, in spite of its salience as a mitigating factor between individuals and their academic achievement.

In the absence of knowledgeable national leaders, those ideas that emerge from these “bright, shiny objects” are merely reduced to fads after failed attempts at effectively addressing social issues. We, as a community, need leaders who are committed to proposing realistic, grounded, long-term solutions—not charlatans who speak without substance.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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