Dr. Eric Griego on Investing in Our People
by Pia Gallegos
Eric Griego, Ph.D. is Director of Outreach and Advocacy for the City of Albuquerque and a former NM State Senator and Albuquerque City Council member. I talked to Eric about our new Fuerzas Unidas Caucus. I asked him whether based on his experience in public policy and being elected to office, he had any messages for New Mexican Hispanics/Latino/Chicano Democrats.
Eric said that Nuevo Mexicanos – generational and new immigrant populations – are united by the fundamental values of social justice and investing in people. We understand the importance of investing in families by supporting public schools, Medicaid, Headstart, and Pell Grants. We want children and families to have good nutrition, housing, education, and healthcare.
Eric said that we must not be afraid of holding our public officials accountable for promoting the wellbeing of our people and our planet. The idea of not criticizing members of “our team” (Democrats or progressives) holds back our progress. Eric said that in choosing the Hispanic/Latino leaders for the changes Democrats need in economic opportunity, voting rights, and social justice, we should view the representation of our community through both a descriptive and substantive lens.
Descriptive representation is when elected officials reflect their community identity, e.g., Hispanic, Native American, Black, female, LBGTQ+. It is good that our leaders come from all cultures and sexes/genders so that we can see ourselves reflected in our leadership. But to truly help our communities, we need to strive for substantive representation.
Substantive representation is using an elected or appointed position to substantively improve the lives of those we represent. In other words, those persons assisted by the actions of the legislator or policymaker are the real represented constituents. The questions to ask of a Hispanic/Latino candidate or legislator is, “Do you fight for the values that help our community? Do you advocate for legislation or policies that invest in our people?”
For example, Hispanic legislators who have impeded early childhood education or NM voting rights may not be “substantively” representing us because our communities need these initiatives to thrive and civically engage. Current or former Hispanic/Latino elected officials who represent corporate interests or lobby against policies such as internet neutrality or predatory lending reform are not substantively representing the populations they claim to speak for.
It is not enough to have Latino/Hispano legislators or other officials. We need champions on economic and social justice who will invest in the human infrastructure upon which our communities can build fulfilling lives.