Latinos play a crucial part in the United States. If you watched CNN's recent "Latino in America" special, you probably got a good glimpse of it.
U.S. Latinos number 44 million and counting. By 2010, we will make up 16 percent of the population. We'll total 22 percent by 2030 _ one in every five people, according to the Census Bureau. But beyond the numbers lies a kaleidoscope of cultures and individuals leaving indelible marks across our society.
Latinos are everywhere.
We're business and civic leaders.
We're entertainers and educators.
We're artists and scientists.
Look closely at your daily life, and more than likely, you will have casual or significant contact with one Latino during a typical day.
Maybe she's your preschooler's teacher.
Maybe he's the owner of your favorite restaurant.
Maybe she's the anchor of your local news.
Maybe he's your daughter's soccer coach.
Millions of Americans' lives are enriched by the diverse roles Latinos have taken on across our society.
When you buy books from Amazon.com, you're acknowledging the service Jeff Bezos has provided.
When you cheer for your favorite baseball team, you're cheering also for its star players.
When you watch movies, you admire the Oscar-caliber performances by the likes of Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.
When you or your kids listen to music, you and they can rock out to the latest from Christina Aguilera or Shakira.
Though we embrace being called Latinos, we really like it when people acknowledge our individual heritage. Latinos come from all over Latin America and Spain. More than two-thirds of us are Mexican, followed by Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Dominicans and Guatemalans.
A lot of us are new Americans, with 61 percent born in our native countries. But we're growing our families and futures here. We've made this country our home, in every way that is possible.
And that includes politics.
Latinos had a major role in the transformative impact of the last presidential elections. The 2008 Latino electorate grew to more than 12 million registered voters, who cast 9.7 million votes, according to the William C. Velasquez Institute in Los Angeles. Our overall turnout of 80 percent trounced the national average of 57 percent. We did not all vote Democratic, as is usually assumed. Just more than 28 percent of us voted for McCain/Palin, while the majority, 68.6 percent, supported the Obama/Biden ticket.
In the past year, we have had much to celebrate.
One of us was sworn in as the first-ever Latino Supreme Court justice (Sonia Sotomayor).
One of us won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction (Junot Diaz for his novel "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao").
One of us was confirmed as secretary of Labor (Hilda Solis).
One of us brought home Olympic gold from Beijing (swimmer Dara Torres).
Beyond our civic and cultural contributions, we have a sizable impact on our country's economy. Latino consumer spending totaled $951 billion in 2008, according to the CIA "World Factbook." Forecasters at the Selig Center for Economic Growth expect our spending power to grow by 46 percent by 2013.
Latinos are striving and thriving, just as other ethnic groups did in the last century.
We are part and parcel of the American identity. We are proud to be American, and proud to be Latino. The two go hand in hand.