Presidential candidates, elections and even political parties come and go, but one issue has forever been, and will continue to be, at the forefront of a majority of American minds: the economy and jobs. Even as the ethnic face of America has evolved from one generation to the next, this constant has always been with us. In fact, a Gallup poll taken this year confirmed this again.
But if you’re Latino, it’s easy to get discouraged when looking around at some of our brothers and sisters toiling away at blue-collar, minimum-wage, manual labor jobs, barely scraping out a living. This is honorable and noble work, to be sure, but financial prosperity it is not.
It’s also easy to fear that prejudice, racism and bigotry could block our path to upward mobility. Our people wonder, “Is the American Dream still alive and well for us and our children?”
The answer to that question depends upon how we approach the future.
You see, Scripture tells us, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It also affirms that for those of us who believe, we are co-heirs with Christ. We were not made to be slaves, as the Israelites were in Egypt, but sons and daughters of God the Father — image bearers of God and therefore stakeholders in the world we inhabit, in America itself.
Let’s pause here for just a moment.
It’s incredibly important to remember that these are revolutionary ideas that have quite literally reshaped and reconstituted the arc of human history. In many ways, they form the basis for the modern Western world, economics, the rule of law and our understanding of democracy itself.
For Latino Americans, these ideas have the power to transform generations.
In the coming years, the sons and daughters of immigrants will see their parents’ often-meager beginnings in America alongside their irreplaceable progress afforded by their hard work, sacrifice and selflessness. They will be in awe of where they are, considering from whence they came. But they will also compare their situations to those of more affluent ethnic communities, and they will doubtless want more. You see, hard work is not enough, even though Latinos have that in spades.
And here lies the fork in the road.
Down one path is a cycle of generational poverty, the idea that we are victims of a system rigged against us. We will be tempted to believe that the government is somehow responsible for our well-being and owes us financial assistance, entitlements and subsidies.
Down the other path is financial mobility, ownership, prosperity and generational momentum. In a word, freedom. It’s the difference between merely surviving and truly thriving.
These are not republican or democratic ideas. As I said, they have always been at the forefront of the American psyche and they transcend political affiliations. After all, free enterprise and freedom are inseparable concepts. They are human and universal desires because we were made this way by God’s own design. Ask the single mother on food stamps if she would prefer instead a decent-paying job, where she could save money and get ahead. Contrary to what some would have you believe, the answer would almost always be: “I want a job.”
The same is true for those living in our ghettos and inner cities, and it is certainly the case for us Latinos.
As a Christian, I fundamentally believe that the government can’t give me something God has already promised. My identity as an image bearer of God far outweighs my circumstances, my bank account or my ethnicity.
Although God does not promise me success, wealth or fame, he does accept me. In the same way America doesn’t guarantee Latinos or anyone else prosperity but it does accept — or should accept — those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and reach for their own piece of the American dream.
It is my heart for the Latino people in this country that our faith, which is inextricably linked to our community, will be the key to unleashing all the creativity, passion and hard work we have as a people, that the next generations living in America will be blessed by the unparalleled opportunities this country can provide, that we will skip full generations in our upward mobility.
Our future will be bright indeed, if we embrace the path of free enterprise, the path of freedom — and if we deny the lie that government has do it all for us.
• The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is the lead pastor of New Season Church and president of America’s largest Hispanic Christian organization, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC)/CONEL, which represents millions of evangelicals assembled in over 40,000 U.S. churches and another 500,000 congregations spread throughout the Spanish-speaking diaspora. His newest book, “Be Light: Shining God’s Beauty, Truth, and Hope Into a Darkened World,” was released this year from Waterbrook Press. Visit his website at PastorSam.com.
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