Dissertation Research

Title: Latino Leadership in City Hall

Committee Members: Marion Orr (Chair), James Morone, and Kenneth Wong

Abstract:

    Over the last fifteen years, there has been over a 50% increase in the total number of Latinos serving in elected office – from 3,743 in 1996 to 5,740 in 2010. Latinos’ recent electoral success signifies the rapidly changing climate of urban America and poses a new chapter in history for American cities, which experienced previous waves of Italians, Irish, African Americans and others before. How will Latino elected officials’ leadership behaviors relate to the experiences of prior groups’ leaders? How will they represent their community?

    Much of the literature’s theoretical models and assumptions on minority representation are based still primarily on African Americans’ initial entry into politics. In the case of African Americans, it was expected that given the shared history of slavery and racial discrimination, African American elected officials would act on behalf of their community. Latino communities are significantly different from the African American community, however. Latinos in America are diverse, both in their national origins and histories. While over half of Latinos trace their ancestry from Mexico, Latinos also represent other national origin groups including Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Dominican Republic, as well as smaller numbers of other Central American and South American countries. The diversity of Latinos is compounded by the different experiences of the national origin groups, as well as differences within these groups in the United States. For Latinos, given their diversity and relatively weak levels of pan-ethnicity, it may be surprising to find Latino elected leaders with a clear policy agenda for Latinos.

    The focus of my dissertation is on the following research question: Under what conditions do local Latino elected officials act as a voice and advocate for Latino communities? Central to this question, I ask: do local Latino elected officials view themselves as representatives of a identifiable or unifed Latino community? What do they, as leaders, view as their role in representing their ethnic community? As a diverse population with weak ties, how does leadership vary in urban areas nationwide? What local factors influence their leaders' ideas on representation?

    To address these questions, I undertake a multi-level analysis focusing on conditions related to the leadership behavior of local Latino elected officials. I begin with national focus - data was collected and examined though an original telephone and online surveys personally completed with local Latino elected officials regarding their backgrounds, contexts, beliefs, and actions. Additionally, through a series of three local-level case studies of Latino elected officials in New England I collect qualitative research to provide additional context and more closely examine the mechanisms behind the national findings.