ruralUrbanOR Latino graph


We know that Latinos have a long history in our state, and Oregon is becoming increasingly diverse as a result of marked growth among this population. So now we need to pay attention to how Latinos are represented in various aspects of community life and democracy – so we can make sure all Oregon residents are fairly included.

Nugget2Learning Nugget:

Available data suggest that Latinos are significantly under-represented in Oregon leadership roles. Demographic causes of this under-representation include measurement limitations, the age structure of the Latino community, and the citizenship status of many residents. This under-representation means that decisions affecting this population are being made by people who have limited personal experience of Latino issues – a fact that conflicts with most of our values for a representative democracy.

Evidence to support the nugget:

  1. Latinos are under-represented among voters

According to sample data from the 2012 Current Population Survey, November Supplement, administered by the US Census Bureau, only about 3% of all 2012 Oregon voters were Latino. Compared to the 11.7% representation of Latinos in Oregon, Latino voters were under-represented among Oregon voters by almost nine percentage points.

  1. Latinos are under-represented among business owners:

According to data from the 2007 Survey of Business Owners, administered by the US Census Bureau, 3% of all Oregon businesses were owned by Latinos. Latinos were thus also under-represented among Oregon business owners by about nine percentage points.

  1. Latinos are under-represented in elected office:

According to data I compiled from, the Oregon Legislature, Association of Oregon Counties, Oregon School Board Association, and the League of Oregon Cities, and compared to data collected by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund in Washington, DC, Latinos made up less than 1% (about .3%) of all elected office holders in Oregon in 2008 (serving at federal, state, county, city, judicial/law, and education board levels). Latinos were under-represented among Oregon elected officials by 11 percentage points.

Demographic reasons for under-representation

  • Age & citizen composition of Oregon Latinos:

Only a third of Oregon Latinos are citizens and over the age of 18 (see chart below). Thus, only a third of Oregon Latinos are eligible to vote, run for office, or likely to own businesses. Even if we account for the age structure, Latinos are still under-represented in leadership roles I was able to measure; Latino adults represent 9% of Oregon’s adult population.


  •  Measurement limitations:

There are many forms of leadership for which we don’t have public, reliable, and regularly available data about race and ethnicity – like legislative staffers, non-profit executive directors, government agency heads, neighborhood association leaders, and other informal local leadership positions. It is much easier to enter these types of leadership positions than elected office, so Latinos are more likely to be in these types of roles than formal elected offices. Being unable to measure the number of Latinos in these leadership positions means I am probably under-counting Latinos in leadership.

Take-awayThe Take-aways:

  • Even if we account for the age composition of Oregon Latinos, this group is still under-represented in leadership roles (proportional representation percentage would be 9%).
  • In Extension, we often build leadership skills among our clientele and create opportunities for residents to connect with each other, which can cultivate informal and formal leadership. As a result, we have a unique opportunity to help fix this problem of under-representation by:
          • Cultivating leadership among the many Latino youth in Oregon
          • Creating, cultivating, and supporting informal leadership opportunities for non-citizen Latinos
  • What are some of the social reasons Latinos may be under-represented in leadership roles in Oregon?
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One thought on “Are Oregon Latinos fairly represented in leadership roles?

  1. I’m leery of the ‘underrepresented’ rubric – and here are a few examples why.

    First, it suggests we should have political representation based on percentage ethnicity of the general population – if this were true, we’d then have to decide on which ethnicities to count. Poles? Latvians? Irish? Vietnamese? Hutus? If the percentage of the general population is below the minimum for a representative do you then not get to be represented? For example, if a group needed at least 1/30th to have a state senator, if that group fell below 3.3% they wouldn’t get a senator. There are subgroups in our population that would then not get represented.

    Second, for ‘Latinos’ this is even more complex – given that most of those we might label thus don’t actually self-identify that way. According to a Pew Center survey, many that others would label Latino or Hispanic don’t call themselves Latino or Hispanic – instead those of us so labeled call themselves American (23%) or more than half identify with place-of-origin, such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Guatemalan, or Peruvian, or indigenous peoples such as Azteca or Aymara …

    There are many who actually don’t speak a Latin tongue – & they certainly don’t want to self-identify with the tongue of the conqueror.

    See [only 20% Latino/Hispanic] &

    So would a Mexican qualify to represent Guatemalans? Unlikely – and even less likely for indigenous peoples?

    Third, this type of representation also ignores -why- there might be a difference in composition of a subgroup (leaders) from a general population. Here there is mention of citizenship – and of course legally that is a significant distinction. Likewise with age, and registration. If a certain population doesn’t register, or isn’t of appropriate age or citizenship, then these better explain ‘under-representation’.

    Fourth, it falsely suggests that one cannot be represented politically by someone not of one’s own demographic description.
    Even Justice Sotomayor who argued for a wise Latina on the Court would concur –
    ‘In making her argument, Judge Sotomayor sounded many cautionary notes. She said there was no uniform perspective that all women or members of a minority group have, and emphasized that she was not talking about any individual case.

    ‘She also noted that the Supreme Court was uniformly white and male when it delivered historic rulings against racial and sexual discrimination. And she said she tried to question her own “opinions, sympathies and prejudices,” and aspired to impartiality.’

    Finally, one comes to whether the particular ‘underrepresented’ category chosen is appropriate. There used to be a time within living memory when dark-skinned individuals were significantly under-represented in various sports – and because of unfair & illegal discrimination. Nowadays, however, dark-skinned individuals are ‘grossly’ (in the numerical sense) ‘over’ represented compared to the general population. But one doesn’t hear any serious contention that we should reduce those numbers because out-of-proportion – that representation is based on something other than skin-color now, as it should be.

    Although I agree with my schoolmate Justice Sotomayor’s observations that it may be important to have some representation by a Latina on the Supreme Court, I do note that if we took religious background or educational institution or geography into consideration, the last appointments wouldn’t have happened – Yale [& Harvard], the Northeastern States, and Catholic [& Jew] are ‘over-represented’ on our Supreme Court – and Sotomayor fits into all of those overrepresented categories (Yale, New York, and Catholic).


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