There are over 55 million Latinos in the United States making up 30 percent of its population and yet Latinos, collectively, cannot identify one that stands out or above the crowd.
In essence, Latinos lack a true, unifying leader—a person like Martin Luther King Jr. who stood up for and was the leader of African-Americans or a person like César Chávez, who stood up for migrant farm workers, many of them Filipino, Mexican and Mexican-American during the 1960's.
Today Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the country and expected to be the majority by 2050, yet none can identify a leader that represents all of them.
"I've always said that Latinos are like a pit-bull dressed up as a Chihuahua. If we found our voice and were serious about the things we say and care about, nobody would fool around with us," said Manny Ruíz, CEO of Hispanicize Media Group.
In downtown Los Ángeles last week, HISPANICIZE held a full-day conference convening journalists, bloggers and public relations professionals from across the country to attend workshops about relevant topics surrounding today's social media and technology.
Other workshops featured well-known social media gurus, movie producers, journalists and filmmakers who shared their stories of making it to the top.
But no other workshop was better attended than the one that posed the question, "Where is the Latino Jesse Jackson When You Need Him?"
In the National Town Hall discussion, leaders from various media organizations in conjunction with the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, spoke about the alarming rhetoric targeting the Latino community during this election cycle.
Even though Latinos remain the largest and most diverse community in the nation, the presidential election cycle has exposed how little clout, respect and visibility the community has at-large. To date, Latinos have not found an identifiable, coherent, unifying leader who will help them harness their voice and their power and the possibilities seem slim.
Last Wednesday, Ruíz who spoke of the desperation he feels that despite Latino leadership among various groups, not one has been able to unify all the different Latino groups.
"We have Mexican-Americans who are pinned against Cuban-Americans and then we have Chicanos and Colombians— all of whose experiences are different-- socio-economic class, generational—there are so many divisions among us and nobody has stepped in to say we can all be united," said Ruíz.
In 2010, the Pew Hispanic Research Center posed a similar question to Latino participants who were surveyed. The question was asked if they could identify a Latino leader. A resounding 74 percent said 'no.'
This raises the red flag for community leaders.
"Our community doesn't lend itself to selecting a leader. I don't think one person alone can own up to such a responsibility, plus the Jesse Jackson model is outdated and will not work in our community this day and age," said Helen Torres, Executive Director of H.O.P.E. (Hispanas Organized for Political Equality).
Torres believes every Latino and Latina embodies leadership qualities and characteristics and taking an active leadership role doesn't just mean casting a vote.
"We have tremendous economic power in this country. If we want to get serious about making a statement, it has to be by way of boycotts— that is the best way to send a message to corporations about how not to take Latinos for granted," said Torres.
Ana Valdez, the Executive Director of the Latino Donor Collaborative, Inc. believes its important to begin by identifying what kind of qualities a Latino/a leader should have. Among being committed to the 'cause' of Latinos, he/she should be bold and speak truth.
"We need someone who can be criticized, be shut down and can still rise, listen and understand. Someone like Ana Navarro, the CNN political commentator who doesn't care about speaking her mind and saying things how they truly are," said Valdez.
Navarro, she said, is a woman who dresses, acts, thinks and speaks differently from the mainstream political commentators, but that doesn't stop her from voicing her concerns, her opinions about the treatment of Latinos and comments made by political parties. Further, she's not interested in being someone that she isn't.
"She isn't there to fit in. She is loud, intelligent and herself. We need a Latino or Latina leader who isn't afraid to be themselves and who isn't afraid of getting out of their comfort zone and say what they mean," said Valdez.
Fred Sotelo, COO for Global Source Energy says a leader must not only embody certain qualities and characteristics, but have a following.
"You can't lead if nobody wants to follow you. It has to be someone that inspires; someone who has the power to hold peaceful protests and can unify all Latinos under common and similar causes," said Sotelo.
As a self-identified Chicano, Sotelo says it is difficult for Latinos to identify a leader because there is so much diversity and divisions among the group. Latinos are not homogenous and they are divided by socio-economic class, education attainment, life experiences, immigration status, and generationally. A true leader would have to find the common threads that unite them all. '
"We need to identify our commonalities as Latinos. What are the issues that affect all of us? What are the things that unite, rather than divide us? We can't deny that there is deeply-rooted bigotry in America, so lets identify how economic and social inequality affect all of us," said Sotelo.
Pointing to the second Presidential debate between Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, Latinos and Latino issues were absent from the entire debate. This is worrisome for a group that will become the next powerful force in America.
"It was disheartening to see that our voice isn't even there. Our communities are what sustain the growth of California and many other states, yet we still don't have a place at the table," said Ruíz.
All of the panelists agree that the best way for Latinos to flex their muscle is not politically by casting a vote, although they do not encourage Latinos to stop voting, but by actually boycotting corporations or companies who don't take Latinos seriously.
"America is driven by greed and driven by money. If we all stopped purchasing a single product today from a certain company and actually went through with it and did it for a month, you better believe we will see Latino lobbyists, Latino representation at the governing board of that company, commercials with Latinos and a corporation begging for our money and respect," said Ruíz.
Torres, whose organization is focused on creating Latina leaders and grooming them for political office said gender is key to identifying a leader. Latinas are the head of households and make most major decisions regarding money. Their buying power is in the trillions. If women utilized their enormous buying power for boycotts, more of them would be at the negotiating table.
"I don't think we have yet realized our full potential," said Torres.
A leader cannot identify with a single political party, said Sotelo. Because when they do, they shut out all other voices where Latinos are participants.
"The problem with having a Latino leader that is a politician is how they identify Republican or Democrat. We need a moderate who can hear both sides and that is not liberal or conservative," said Sotelo.
Other characteristics a Latino leader should have: humbleness, charisma, be well-spoken, thoughtful, hard-working, "can get down-and-dirty with the people on the issues" who knows that if or she is the voice of Latinos, they will have the full support and backing of the entire Latino community.
Sotelo says a similar model was carved out by the Jewish community years ago.
"The Jewish community is one of the most united communities I know. They help one another and they come together for common causes. They are not caught up on the little things that separate and divide them. They are at another level and we need to see them as a model in our efforts," said Ruíz.
Aside from searching for a Latino/a leader and savior, the panelists discussed what possible causes or what kind of movement the leader must champion. Because Latinos are driving the economy, there needs to be a common glue that binds all Latinos toward reaching and fulfilling the same goals.
"We need to win this communication war where we have others talking about us and analyzing us. We are greater in numbers. We are greater in ideas and concepts and economic power," said Ruíz.
"And nobody knows us better than us!"
All of the panelists believe it will take some time and a lot of will power to find a true Latino or Latina leader that can be the voice of all Latinos in the United States. If and when he or she is found, the panelists agree they will support such a figure.
"I don't think we are too far away from it, but when we do find a leader, I can almost guarantee we will be one step closer to the White House and one step closer to having the first Latino president," said Ruíz.