The Hispanic world is in the news lately, and the news is mostly good. Latinos in the United States are a growing political force, and developments in Latin America are at the forefront of world affairs.
To start with, Latinos, the largest minority in the United States (approximately 57 million strong and slated to double by 2030), are acknowledged to be the deciding factor in Barack Obama’s re-election. After years of political stagnation, a record number of Hispanics cast ballots for president this year, finally assuming the political power long promised to them. It is fair to say that after the 2012 presidential election, the United States is no longer the same in large part because Latinos have taken their place as a mainstream force in American politics and society.
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Argentina, known as a factory of trendsetters in the region (think of Jorge Luis Borges), has recently offered a new type of trailblazer: a Pope. Who would have thought that the first non-European leader of the Catholic Church to be elected would be from the place known as “el sótano del mundo” (the world’s basement)? Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires, a Jesuit known now as Pope Francis (after Francis of Assisi), has already made a profound impression by making the role less pompous, more down-to-earth. He identifies with the poor, not with the ecclesiastically powerful.
And he is described as a conciliator, a quality that should come in handy as the bankrupted [Blogger: this language is excessive] hierarchy of the Vatican tries to clean up its act after decades of accusations of child molestation. Pope Francis’ humility is particularly striking when one considers that Argentines have a reputation in Latin America as manufacturers of pomposity and self-aggrandizement. Maybe that’s why his first few weeks in office have been as surprising as they are refreshing in the Spanish-speaking world.
(The map below is in the public domain; portions of the U.S. should also be in green.)