September 16, 2022
New Mexico Attorney General
This is the seventh piece in an eight-month long blog series aimed at highlighting state attorneys general and their work. You can find additional resources, news, and information about the State Attorney General Project here.
I was raised in the rural Northern New Mexican village of Wagon Mound, a town with a population of 256, where my mother and brother still reside. It is a beautifully unique community, in a beautifully unique state, where our state question is whether you would like red or green chile (with an e) on your meal, and where we are a majority minority Hispanic population among a plethora of culturally diverse communities. It is also a community that, like its state, faces every struggle imaginable, from intergenerational poverty and trauma, to prevalent substance misuse and lack of educational and economic opportunity. A Norteño at heart, I grew up on food stamps and in public housing, in a community that this country too often forgets, and developed a deep conviction that everyone deserves the same opportunities to succeed, regardless of background. From the beautiful struggles of that community, I emerged with a fire and a passion to not only provide for my family, but to bring Hispanic communities everywhere with me. Much like our Latino families from all across the world who risk everything to cross borders to provide a better future for themselves and their families, as the youngest Hispanic statewide elected official in the nation at 33, I know the fear and the insecurity that comes with chasing the American Dream.
What is the American Dream for Hispanic and Latino Families Today?
Having served the State of New Mexico in elected positions for 18 years, now as Attorney General, and in the current political and cultural environments we find ourselves in America, I find myself wondering just what the American Dream means today. In my heart, I believe it is what it has always been—the opportunity to prosper and make a better life for your family. Unfortunately, our dream has always come with a struggle—barriers set up by those who want to pick and choose who gets that opportunity. Nevertheless, those who have been held back from their pursuit of this dream have always persisted, and still do. The time has never been more urgent for us to reject any attempt to smother someone’s dream because of who they are; and we must shoulder the burden of any barrier that is put in their way.
As the Hispanic and Latino population reshapes our country’s demographics in the coming decades, we must continue to do the work to make sure that we are adequately represented in positions of leadership in every boardroom, executive suite, and elected office in the nation. This work has been going on for decades, but the response from the current shrinking majority has been slow at best, and the reality I describe should already exist, yesterday. The reality is that the response, and the restrictive barriers that have come with it, are based on historical fears and misconceptions about Hispanic and Latino culture, a culture that well predates the era of the Statue of Liberty and the era of Zoot Suit Riots, and which sadly continue to persist today. Deliberate distortions, such as Hispanics and Latinos are a drain on the economy, or that we are all immigrants who do not speak English, not only erase our humanity, but they willfully ignore our massive contribution to the fabric of America. My grandfather was a decorated war hero in World War II, yet I still witness marginalization that leaves Hispanic and Latino voices often ignored and silenced in our communities, despite the reality that we are the America in the American Dream, and I am merely one example of how this will change.
Hispanic and Latino values are synonymous with the values of this country—we believe in family, hard work, and supporting all of our communities. We are multiskilled, multilingual, educated, and now more than ever are in a position to change the politics of America to reflect the reality of our presence, our identity as Americans, and to help the country grow stronger than it is today. Despite paying lip service to notions of diversity and inclusion, American institutions still fail dramatically at actually changing to adapt to our reality, but the time is now for Hispanic and Latino leaders to finish the work that has gone on for decades, and to tear down any wall that stops our families and our communities from meaningful participation and achievement of the American Dream.
Breaking Barriers for Future Generations
I have put this identity and perspective into every aspect of my work as an elected official. As Attorney General, I have fought to protect DACA recipients—most of whom are Latino and who came to our country when they were children by no choice of their own, who are now members of our military, teachers, doctors, and healthcare workers serving our communities. I have also fought for humane border policies that prioritize public safety; and I have held accountable private businesses like predatory lenders and for-profit educational institutions that prey on Hispanic and Latino people who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Through this work, my office, and others across the country, has worked tirelessly to provide safe communities for Hispanic and Latino families so that they can truly prosper.
Of course, this work continues, and will continue—I know that as a Hispanic leader, I will not stop serving all of our communities until reality reflects our dreams. I am proud of who I am and where I come from; and I hope that my experience will pave the way for kids who look like me and grew up like me to achieve things I could never imagine. I know they will. I know it because our people are beautifully resilient, smart, passionate, hardworking, and again, we are the American in the American Dream.
Hector Balderas was elected the 31st Attorney General for the State of New Mexico in 2014. He previously served as the New Mexico State Auditor, State Representative, and Bernalillo County Assistant District Attorney. Learn more about Attorney General Balderas and follow him on Twitter @HectorBalderas.
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September 16, 2022