What Legacy Do We Want to Leave Our Children and Grandchildren?

Luis Ricardo Fraga
Co-Director, Institute for Latino Studies
Notre Dame Professor of Transformative Latino Leadership
Joseph and Elizabeth Robbie Professor of Political Science
University of Notre Dame

For the past 33 years, I have focused my research, teaching, and service on understanding how to transform political institutions and their leaders to be receptive and responsive to communities with histories of discrimination and marginalization. When I began this work I was told that it was traditional that a political scientist study those with power, not those without it. I am, however, blessed that I chose to research, write, and participate to help our political institutions and their leaders live up to our country’s higher ideals and aspirations of inclusion, equity, and the common good. Studying power is intoxicating, yet, studying how to help all communities have access to power has been transformative both for me as a scholar and, especially, for me as a citizen of our republic.
Our country has faced political divisiveness and polarization through much of its history. The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, the Civil War, and the related Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s come to mind. To some it seems that the divisiveness and polarization of the 2016 campaign will become a major component of American politics for years to come.
And yet, I think that my scholarly and civic experiences have taught me that there is a way to overcome severe division. I experienced this as I gave a number of talks around the country during this past election season. I asked all of my audiences to stop and consider whether the nature of our contentious politics could begin to be overcome by each of us asking ourselves if we were convinced that winning, whether as Republicans or Democrats, was likely to lead to leaving a legacy to our children and grandchildren of which they were worthy—and of which we would be proud. I asked my fellow citizens, in other words, whether victory was more important than leaving our most precious gifts from God a deeper sense of how our country’s growing multicultural diversity allows us to finally pursue policies and practices that build a deeper sense of linked fate and common destiny across the lines of race, class, religion, gender, and sexuality that have divided our fellow citizens since our founding and were so prominent in the campaign. Stated differently, I asked my audiences to consider whether divisiveness and polarization were what we wanted to leave as our legacy to subsequent generations. Don’t our children deserve better from us? Doesn’t Christ challenge us in the Gospel to focus more on our shared humanity than on what seems to separate us at the moment?
I was moved by how many of my fellow American citizens took the time to reflect on what the public consequences were of their individual preferences. For me and for others, a focus on the future made clear what we need to do in the present. I am confident that a focus on the legacy we want to leave our children and grandchildren can help overcome divisions that seem so overwhelming in the present day.

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