Golis: Without economic equality, prosperity will be fleeting

MARK WEBER / Tribune Content Agency



President Donald Trump promises (and promises and promises) to spend billions of dollars on a border wall, ostensibly to stop the rush of undocumented immigrants from Mexico into the United States.

There is only one problem. There is no rush of immigrants from Mexico into the United States. More people are leaving the U.S. and returning to Mexico. The Pew Research Center reported in March that the number of Mexican immigrants in the U.S. has declined by more than a million people since 2007.

“If we build a wall,” joked Manuel Pastor, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, “we’re just pinning Mexicans in. I’m pretty sure this is not the intention.”

This is how it goes now. When there is so much anger and division loose in the country, it becomes more difficult to sort out what is true from what used to be true, what is real from what is made up or imagined.

Pastor, a professor of sociology and American studies and ethnicity, spoke on Thursday to the fourth annual conference on the State of the Latino Community in Sonoma County. For the event sponsored by the Latino civic group known as Los Cien, more than 600 people jammed into the Sonoma State University Student Center.

Pastor came to confirm that America is changing. “Diversity is coming to a theater near you,” he said. And so common sense dictates that communities stop living in the past and get about the business of guaranteeing equality and prosperity for all.

They go together, Pastor said, pointing to a Federal Reserve Board study that showed that “inequality is a major drag on economic growth.”

In Sonoma County, the numbers tell the story of an aging white population and a young and growing Latino population that will play an essential role in future success.

More than 130,000 Latinos live in Sonoma County, and their numbers are growing. Between 2005 and 2014, the Latino population grew by 36 percent. The white population grew by 0.7 percent. Latinos are expected to become a majority in Sonoma County by 2050.

More than a third of all Latinos are under 18 years of age. The median age of the white population is 49. The median age of the Latino population is 27.

“You need to think about this in Sonoma,” Pastor joked, “because you white people are pretty old.”

The age gap, he said, explains why “the old do not see themselves in the young, and as a result, they don’t think about the investments that need to be made in the next generation.” To better understand, he suggested they attend a naturalization ceremony and watch immigrants take the oath of citizenship.

At least in Sonoma County, there are signs that many recognize the obligation to prepare for the changing demographics. For sure, the 600 people gathered at this meeting on a Thursday morning came to testify that there is more work to do. A cross-section of government, nonprofit and business leaders attended, including four members of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and two members of the Napa County Board of Supervisors (one Latino and one Latina).

There now are local immigrant services — including money to provide legal aid for those threatened by the Trump administration’s plan to end protections provided by DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

There is the growth of mentorship programs and the rapid expansion of scholarship funds such as 10,000 Degrees (which, in five years, has more than tripled the money available for college scholarships and counseling).

There are programs at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University that help Latino students go to college and stay in college. In seven years, the number of Latino students at SSU has more than doubled. (At Thursday’s event, SSU officials announced that the school has received a five-year, $2.75 million federal grant to help more Latino students become teachers.)

There also is the scheduled annexation of Roseland, the Santa Rosa neighborhood too long neglected.

And, of course, there is the energy and enterprise of Los Cien. What began as a small group meeting at lunch to discuss issues facing the Latino community has grown into something much bigger. Many counties should wish for their own versions of Los Cien and its capacity to serve as a community’s conscience.

These and similar efforts speak to change and to a simple truth, expressed by Los Cien Chairman Herman Hernandez: “We’re here to work together … because we’re all in this together.”

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at