Archive for Life in The United States

Stop the Latino Apathy and Become an American Participant!

This article was first published under the title “A Matter of Influence” on October 24, 2009 in Connections, the newsletter of the Southwest Florida’s Hispanic Business Link (See A Matter of Influence).


Latinos are beginning to understand the importance of their participation in the United States’ social, legal, and political system. The significance of this understanding cannot be overemphasized. For years Hispanics have exercised little influence in U.S. politics. And while Hispanics account for 15% of the total U.S. population, the Latino participation in the electoral process has always had a significant lag when compared to the general population and to that of other ethnicities. In last year’s election, however, voter participation among eligible Hispanics increased; with the voter turnout rate rising 3 percentage points, from 47% in 2004 to 50% in 2008. Still, the numbers do not reflect the Latino potential and the Latino turnout rate does not come close to that of other groups. Among Whites, for example, the turnout rate was 66% in 2008. The main problem affecting Latino participation in U.S. politics is rooted on social indifference and political apathy. This article explores the reasons behind this Latino indifference and demonstrates how successes in Latino political leadership are driving Hispanics to finally engage in the U.S. social and political arena.

Here are some of the reasons why it is difficult to get Latinos to participate:

  1. Most Latinos are recent immigrants. Most of them have come to the U.S. looking for financial stability. At the outset, the primary objective of most new Latino immigrants is not to set roots in the U.S. Many come with the idea of living here temporarily in order to get enough financial stability to enable them to return to their country of origin. Statistics show that they do eventually set roots and the returns rarely happen; however, this new immigrant mindset greatly hinder Latino participation in a society that they are not yet embracing.Not all Latinos come to the U.S. for economic reasons. Recent political and criminal unrest in Latin American is driving Latinos here for political and social concerns as well. If these Latinos are to follow the footsteps of their Cuban counterparts who fled Cuba in the late 50s for political reasons, we can expect a different mindset when it comes to social integration. Cubans have been historically much more involved in the U.S. society than other recent immigrants.
  2. Latinos often come from countries where regular citizens have little influence in the political and social makeup of their nation. Many governments in Latin America do not give their people the level of political influence that is relished by U.S. residents. These Latinos have learned through experience that corruption drives politics and that societal change is only affected through the power granted by money and social status. Many come to the U.S. with the idea that citizen participation in government is a futile endeavor.
  3. Even when Latinos do not see the U.S. government as corrupt or power driven as that of their country of origin, many Hispanics hesitate getting involved because they may have an elevated image of U.S. government effectiveness and/or do not feel it is appropriate to get involved. Research has shown that many Latinos do not get involved because they feel they know very little and cannot make a meaningful contribution or feel that their opinions would not be necessarily welcomed.
  4. Latinos generally have a lower level of education. Some Hispanics may not understand the workings of the U.S. political system well enough to know how to engage in society at a political level.
  5. For many Latinos being involved in politics still mean following the events that transpire in their country of origin. Their political connection and engagement remains abroad.
  6. Language can be a barrier for participation at many levels of government.

Despite all of these, there are many reasons why Latinos are becoming more involved in the American society and all indicators point to an increasing level of Latino engagement in U.S. government affairs. Two factors that are helping turn the involvement tide include societal education/acculturation, and the visual presence of Latino leaders and politicians who make Latinos feel welcomed by asking for their engagement. The insurgence of Latinos in prominent positions at all levels of government and society is crucial in making Hispanics feel that they are truly a part of the American social structure.

Latino engagement and acculturation are sometimes interlaced. The first Latinos who engaged in American politics were Mexican-Americans who were already “acculturated” in the sense that the U.S. came to them (as opposed to them coming to the U.S.). After the Mexican war of 1846, Mexicans living in the U.S. were granted U.S. citizenship, and some Mexican leaders ended up being the first Latinos to become members of the Congress and the Senate. New Mexico became the first state with significant Latino influence and involvement and it is largely due to the proliferation of Latino governors, senators, and members of congress from that state. Puerto Ricans were also granted U.S. citizenship after the Spanish-American war and Puerto Ricans became more engaged in U.S. politics in the late 19th century. Cuban Americans who left Cuba during and after the revolution were granted residency and many became citizens. Leaders from this era evolved; Jose Más Canosa, for example, became a leader of Cubans in the U.S. and was effective in winning Cuban votes for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Busch. Second generation Cubans, like senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, have become great influencers in driving Latino participation.

One area that greatly affected (and continues to affect) Latino participation was the segmentation within the Hispanic community. Many Latinos like the early Mexicans and Puerto Ricans united because of their country of origin and did not see themselves as members of one cohesive and much larger voting block. While segmentation by country of origin is still happening, many Latinos now are aware of the benefit of uniting as one voice. This unification was loosely established in 1976 (and formalized in 1978) with the creation of the Hispanic Caucus; an organization whose goal is to promote Latino leadership and promote issues affecting Latinos.

For Latinos to completely feel connected to the American society and to have a normal sense of belonging to their new country they need to be appropriately represented in government. While we are definitely moving in the right direction, it is crucial to continue to unite as one voice and to promote Latino leadership in all aspects of society. The sometimes prevalent Latino mentality that sees “Americans” as separate from Hispanics also needs to be addressed. To promote participation and belongingness we need to unequivocally declare ourselves as members of the American nation. By using this form of “acculturation” mentality we can more easily become a part of American politics in the way that the early Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and Cubans did.

Comments (4)

Why Hispanics Live Long Lives

My mom (at age 80) and my children

My mom (at age 80) and my children

U.S. Hispanics tend to live longer than non-Hispanics despite many circumstances that negatively affect Latino longevity.  This is a fact that continues to puzzle the medical community.  On the surface it does not make a lot of sense.  Hispanics, for example, are more prone to illnesses like Diabetes and often suffer from high cholesterol.  While the Latino diet varies from country to country, most of the cuisines pay little attention to health implications and Latinos continue to use unhealthy ingredients like fatty meats and animal lard.  More alarmingly, Latinos in the U.S. have inadequate access to healthcare services / information and most of the new immigrants lack health insurance.  Latinos are also more likely than non-Hispanics to avoid going to the doctor and to not engage in preventive care.  So how is it, one must ask, that we generally live longer?  Here are some plausible explanations based on my own qualitative research exploration.

The Mañana Syndrome

It is a well known fact that Latinos are generally more laid-back than non-Hispanics. It is also a scientific fact that by not stressing over issues our bodies are more able to fight diseases and remain healthy. My paternal grandmother is a great example of a wonderful person who knew the importance of taking it easy. She passed at the age of 102 with her laid-back outlook of life completely intact. I always tell the story of when the whole family gathered to celebrate her 100th birthday. I was unable to travel to Puerto Rico with all of my children and abuela wanted to hear how her great-grandchildren were doing. She sat next to me for lunch (I remember her having a large piece of steak) and said “I may have asked you this already and I’m sure I will ask it again; you will just have to deal with that; how are the children?” Despite her age she remembered the names of my children (I had four at the time) and asked about them my name. In trying to recall the name of my ex-wife she got confused; I recall that at that point she closed her eyes briefly and said; “it is not that important to remember everything; is she still being difficult?” My abuela knew how to avoid stress; and that kept her healthy despite being blind as a result of her Diabetes. The tendency to take it easy in life have often been criticized by those who find the mañana attitude inefficient; but it may very well be the key to a long and happy life.

Abuela at her 100th birthday!

Abuela at her 100th birthday!

A Purpose At an Old Age

I have conducted many interviews with Latinos regarding the idea of retirement. When it comes to retirement, Hispanics and non-Hispanics have very different points of view. Most Hispanics feel that their purpose in retirement is to help their family in any way they can. The tendency is to move closer to the family or with one of the family members. The role of the Hispanic grandparent is very important in the Latino family and many Hispanics rely on the grandparents for support. The idea of moving to a retirement community is foreign and uncanny to most Hispanics. In my interviews with Latino seniors I often hear comments like: “Why would anyone want to move away from the family to live with other old people? I want to retire to dedicate my time to my children and grandchildren; I want to be with them.”

My mother, who is 82, lives in Miami where most of my family now lives. Despite the fact that she has many family members and friends there, she often laments not being able to live closer to me (we live in New Jersey) so that she could help us out. I invited her to come over for a few days next month because she really wants to see the grandchildren; yet she forewarned us already saying that she is not coming on vacation. She said: “Last time I was there you were catering to me all the time and I did not feel useful; I may be old but there is still a lot that I can do, so start thinking of some things that I can help with while I am there.” Latino seniors demand to be a part of the family and work hard to make real contributions to the family. This cultural tendency makes Latinos feel needed and useful in their old age; and having a purpose in life is usually linked to longevity.

Not Wanting to Die

I have written here before about the Latino fear of death and how it is not as much a fear of the unknown as it is the fear of leaving loved ones without adequate support (See Here). Not wanting to die has been proven to be a key to staying alive. The simple desire of wanting to stay in this world in order to support the family may be a potent contributor to Latino longevity.

Exercise and Physical Fitness

While Hispanics may not be as much into exercise and physical fitness as their non-Hispanic counterparts; most Latinos exercise more than non-Hispanics because they are more likely to work in blue collar jobs that require them to be physically fit.

Chispa

One of the characteristics that is generally shared by all Latino sub-groups is something that Hispanics call “chispa” or Latino wit. Latinos will agree that they know how to have fun. Latino gatherings always include music, storytelling, joking, dancing, and tons of laughter. And Latinos gather very often; at the very minimum Latino families get together for parties every weekend. Laughter is known to trigger the release of endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers. Sharing with family and friends also produces a general sense of well-being that contributes to a healthy lifestyle.

This is not to say that there is no drama or stress in a Latino gathering; there definitely is. But in my experience doing ethnographic work with Latino families I have witness the positive effects of music, dancing, and laughter. The Latino tendency to have fun is a very strong antidote to the disease ridden stress and negativity that often permeates our American society.

Comments (5)

The Supreme Court Needs Diversity

President Obama’s historic nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the supreme court is a positive step for our country. From what I have read, Sotomayor’s life plays as one of the most inspiring Latino success stories; and her accomplishments exemplify what the American dream is all about. However, despite our country’s foundation on diversity, opinions against diversity continue to rule the land. A heated debate is expected to ensue over how her gender and Hispanic heritage could affect her role as a Supreme Court Justice. Critics worry that her background will influence her interpretation of the law. Of course it will. Just as the upbringing of the other Justices shape their own interpretation of the law. How can it not? Am I the only one who finds this whole line of reasoning absurd?

Any person by human nature bases any decision in life on what they know; and what they know comes from their personal education, background, and experiences. This is why very often there are ethnic clashes. Groups of people who share a similar background and upbringing tend to also share a similar point of view on social interactions and behavior. And ethnic groups will be at conflict when they find that what they understand to be true does not correspond with what people in other ethnic segments think and believe. Diversity is key in understanding one another because it brings to light another person’s point of view. We are more likely to educate one another in the presence of diversity and it allows us to place ourselves in somebody else’s shoes. Does it matter when we are talking about a judge who is supposed to only go by the letter of the law? Of course it does!

Judges are constantly called to make interpretations of the law. What is written is not always clear; and sometimes it is not even written at all. A large part of our “laws” are created through the decisions of judges in our rich history of cases. The system works; and case law is proven effective as more and more judges agree in the interpretation an decisions of similar cases. The ultimate court that is called to interpret the law is, of course, the United States Supreme Court. A case does not make it to the supreme court when the law is clear. The Supreme Court is always called to render an interpretation- an opinion. How can a Justice of the Supreme Court render an Opinion without using their cognitive thinking? And how does anyone do that without relying on what they know? They do; of course, and their background and upbringing is always there backing up every opinion.

When I hear that people do not want a Latino Justice because she may be biased by her gender and background, what I hear is that they do not want opinions rendered by Justices who have experienced something other than an Anglo White American upbringing. They are looking for an assimilated background to shape all interpretations. Why are we so afraid of having a perspective that represents so many other Americans in our country? How many Justices grew up in poor neighborhoods? How many had to find a scholarship to make it to law school? How many experienced the struggles that females face in this country to be at an equal stance with males? How many grew up with the difficulties poised by Hispanic discrimination and managed to rise above it all? The Supreme Court, more than any other court in our nation, must benefit from the understanding and clarity that diversity brings!

Comments (2)

We are not paying enough attention to Latino education!

EducationAll Latino children have a right to be educated. It is the law. Many Americans have argued otherwise because they feel that the children of undocumented [illegal] immigrants should not have the same rights as the children of legal residents and citizens. This line of thinking, however, does not match what our society dictates. If the children of undocumented Latino immigrants were born in the U.S., they are citizens by birth according to the U.S. constitution and entitled to the same educational opportunities given to any other U.S. citizen. If they were born outside of the U.S., they are also entitled to the same education rights according to the U.S. Supreme Court. [In Payler v. Doe it was determined that children of immigrants cannot bear the responsibility for their parents decision to come to the U.S. because they had no control over that decision.] Let us then agree that, according to our social system, all Hispanic children have a right to be educated- regardless of their immigration status. I’ll take that one step further and say that it is not only a matter of legality, it is a matter of necessity. Latino children are an increasingly large percentage of the U.S. children population and their educational attainment will undoubtedly affect the future of our country. I hope you will agree that it is important to pay attention to Latino education; now the question is, are we succeeding in educating Latino children? Many experts feel that we are failing miserably.

Latinos are not at fault. A combination of factors place Latino children are a significant disadvantage compared to other ethnic groups when it comes to education.

  • The statistics show that Hispanic adults have very low levels of education compared to other ethnic groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 60% of Hispanics age 25+ were high school graduates in 2004, compared to 89% of non-Hispanic Whites. The parents’ lack of education places the Latino children at a disadvantage. The U.S. Department of education says that the parent’s level of education directly affects their children’s academic performance.
  • Hispanics are poor. According to the U.S. census, the poverty rate of non-Hispanic White children in 2005 was 14%. In contrast, the figure was twice as high for Latino kids- 28%. Poverty means that Latinos have limited resources. What happens if a child cannot see the board in class but does not have a way to obtain eyeglasses? How does coming to school hungry affect their education? How about not having access to healthcare and coming to school with ear infections that go untreated? From lack of prenatal care to growing up in a home without educational toys and books; poverty greatly affects the children’s academic performance.
  • While Hispanics care very much about giving their children the opportunity to succeed, most new immigrants lack a very basic knowledge of what it takes to become successful. I grew up in a household where I was expected to go to college and was constantly reminded that succeeding in life was a very attainable goal. I had good role models. My father grew up poor in a small town in Cuba but managed against all odds to study at the University of Havana and to start his own business when he was still in college. Most Latino children are not that fortunate. Many Hispanic immigrants struggle to make ends meet and do not understand how the American system works or how to guide their children to succeed.
  • Latino children also lack role models in their community. They often live in poor neighborhoods that do not offer the opportunity to relate to successful individuals that can encourage and support their educational achievement. Even sports coaches and other leaders that work with Latino children often lack the ability to guide them appropriately.
  • Hispanic parents do not understand the importance of parental involvement. They do not know that in this country everyone has the ability to get involved and even battle the public education system. My daughter, who is turning four next month, has speech delays. My wife and I had her tested at an early age and she was receiving publicly funded speech therapy since she was two years old. When she turned three we enrolled her in the public school preschool for special needs. This year we noticed that she was not progressing adequately with the speech teacher that was giving her therapy twice a week. My wife argued about her lack of progress and backed everything up with copies of all communication with the teacher. After meeting with the school principal and the case manager we succeeded in getting her assigned to the best speech therapist in the building. Latino parents do not know that they have the ability and the right to advocate for their children that strongly. They often see the school as a distant and powerful institution that “knows” what is best for their children. They are also intimidated by their own lack of education and many who are undocumented do not feel they have a right to get involved.
  • The lack of Hispanic parental involvement is evident in many public schools. Teachers often complain about not being able to communicate with Latino parents and about their lack of participation in school activities, not providing student homework support, and not attending parent-teacher conferences. Parent associations like the PTA also have a hard time recruiting Latino volunteers. The problem is that many Hispanics lack very basic information regarding how the American public schools work. They do not think that it is right to participate because by doing so they feel they would be perceived as going against the school system. I am often told by Hispanics that I interview that they feel inadequate questioning the school on matters regarding education and believe that the school would think negatively of them (and their children) if they do so.
  • Latinos often live in neighborhoods that are dangerous. Safety concerns results in Latino children not participating in extracurricular activities that would necessitate coming home late from school. Drugs and gangs create negative social pressures that drive underachievement. It is a documented fact that children who succeed in school often hang out with other children who are also high achievers. Latinos do not have the opportunity to relate to high achievers in their poor neighborhoods.
  • Sending children to preschool is not the norm in the Latino community; yet many experts have argued that a preschool education is crucial in a child’s academic success. This is especially true if at this early age the children do not have good educational opportunities in their home environment.
  • Hispanic immigrants tend to be very hard workers. They often work hard with the hope of being able to provide a better future for their children. Unfortunately, Latinos often work long hours or at more than one job. Many mothers are single mothers who cannot afford not to work outside of the home. The children find themselves at a disadvantage because they do not have the ideal level of parental support.
  • There is a high correlation between student school performance and their participation in extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately, Latinos students tend not to participate in extracurricular activities because of safety concerns (as mentioned earlier), lack of transportation, and lack of parental support. Those who try to join find that most clubs and sport activities are made up mostly of non-Hispanic Whites and feel out of place being there.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of Latino educational disadvantages. There are many other issues that affect Latino education. If you are interested in this important subject I highly recommend the book The Latino Education Crisis, by Patricia Gándara and Frances Contreras. It is an extremely well written and researched call for action on what they identify as a national crisis. I would like to close this post by quoting a paragraph from this book.

As a group, Latino students today perform academically at levels that will consign them to live as members of a permanent underclass in American society. Moreover, their situation is projected to worsen over time. But as alarming as this is for Latinos, it is equally so for the U.S. population as a whole; neither the economy nor the social fabric can afford to relegate so many young people to the margins of society.

Comments (3)

“U.S. Hispanics need to learn to speak English!” Says who?

Many people get very upset when they hear of someone who has been in this country for years and does not speak any English; and the failure to learn English appears to be increasingly more prevalent among Hispanics. It seems to be an issue that strikes a chord with many Americans. “Why are they not making an effort to learn to speak English like all other immigrants did?” I venture to say that the main reason why many Latinos are not learning English as fast as others did before is because our society no longer requires it. That’s right; my contention is that, as a society, we give Latinos permission to keep their culture and language; and consequently, learning English becomes much more difficult than what other immigrants experienced years ago.

When other big immigration groups came into this country a few generations ago the situation was very different from what it is today. Many early immigrants made the hard decision to come to America with an understanding that they were breaking ties with their old country. Learning a new culture and a new language was not a choice. Our society was a true melting pot and immigrants were expected to fully assimilate into the American culture. They complied. Ever wonder why the children and grandchildren of the Italian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in the late 1800s never learned how to speak Italian? These early immigrants understood the importance of becoming American in every respect; and that included speaking only English. Speaking Italian was not important; in fact, it was detrimental in a society that expected assimilation- but things have changed; and assimilation is no longer expected. We are no longer melting into one pot because we no longer believe in that antiquated idea of the melting pot.

It amazes me how the same people who are troubled when everyone around them is speaking Spanish will turn to me and remark on how “important” it is that I teach my children Spanish. “You should speak Spanish to them at home,” they will say. While I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for Latinos to teach their children how to speak Spanish, I want to emphasize that this was never important before. The American society now understands that we live in a multicultural world and that knowing more than one language is beneficial. Our society now also supports (and even exalts) diversity. It is now considered appropriate to uphold and celebrate diversity, especially when it comes to culture and ethnicity. Forcing everyone to melt into one homogeneous pot is no longer considered appropriate.

While our country was founded on the idea of diversity, the practice of diversity was never as alive as it is today. With diversity comes not only permission to speak the language of our ancestors, but also the empowerment to maintain every aspect of our ethnicity. The American society promotes this understanding at many different levels. At a commercial level Latinos see most product labels and instructions written in English and Spanish; ATM machines ask us for our language of preference; and telephone companies insist that we keep in touch with our relatives in Latin America. From a government perspective most services are also offered and/or communicated in Spanish. At a community level there are hundreds of neighborhoods across the country were everyone speaks Spanish. Can someone in one of these neighborhoods get along perfectly well without ever having to learn English? Absolutely! Our society allows it.

We cannot as a society promote diversity and the use of the Spanish language and then wonder why some Latinos are having difficulty learning English. Everyone knows that it is much easier to learn a foreign language when you live in a foreign country and are immersed in a society that only speaks that language. In our society we speak English; but we also speak Spanish. For some Latinos learning English while living in a neighborhood where everyone speaks Spanish is akin to an American student taking a foreign language in school and not grasping it because nobody around them speaks that language. We need to stop pretending that our society expects Latinos to speak English when everything is laid out to make it easy for these new immigrants not to learn the language.

NOTE: Please do not take this opinion to mean that I do not feel that Hispanics should learn the English language. I believe that speaking English in our society is extremely important and encourage everyone in our Latino community to make every effort to learn the language. Being able to speak English opens the door to a myriad of new opportunities for success and paves the way to achieving the always cherished American dream.

Comments (96)

Why do most Hispanics stay poor?

At our LinkedIn group discussion a member expressed his disagreement with my ealier post Latinos Are Too Focused on Material Success stating that “the numbers do not show it.”  That is true.  Interestingly, I just came across an article I wrote for Quirks Magazine, which was published in April, 1998.  Eleven years later some of what I wrote there still applies.  Here is a segment of the article pertaining to why Hispanics stay poor.  For the whole article please go here.


The U.S. is the land of opportunity. Over the years, immigrants from all over the world have come to this country and managed to work hard to improve their economic situation. What is different about the Hispanic immigrants? To answer that question, you have to take into account the fact that the times have changed. Today ’s immigrants do not arrive here by breaking all ties with their homelands. While just a century ago people would take a long boat trip across the Atlantic to get to this country, today’s immigrants can move here overnight and go back to visit the following week. They never have to lose touch. From the airlines to the telephone to the television and even the Internet, new immigrants can keep in touch with their homeland.

Even in this country, the Hispanic community keeps in touch by creating its own home away from home. Hispanics have Spanish television, can read most product labels in Spanish, can easily purchase their favorite ethnic food at the local supermarket or bodega, and can socialize with others who speak their language and share their culture. This is indeed very different from the old melting pot culture where immigrants forced their children to forget their mother tongue and become part of the new culture. Hispanics place a high value on being able to maintain their customs, language, and culture. The U.S. freedom allows it, and it is indeed attractive. Yet, I argue that not “melting into the pot” creates a difficult situation that leads to lower income.

By insisting on being “different,” Latinos are promoting discrimination. When Puerto Ricans wear their flag on everything from their cars to their T-shirts, they are making a statement that says, “I am proud of my heritage,” but it is often read as “I am not part of this country.” That leads to a common reaction: “Well, get the heck out!” which is also known as discrimination. Discrimination often leads to a lower income. This is especially true of Hispanic communities that consist of individuals with minimal education and labor skills. These communities depend on the jobs provided by members of an outside community. The number of Hispanic businesses that provide job opportunities to their own community is extremely low, compared to other ethnic groups like Asian Americans. There are exceptions. One, of course, is the Cuban community in Miami, whose Hispanic-owned businesses hire four times as many people than Hispanic- owned businesses in New York City.

Besides discrimination, there are other factors that affect income. To keep their culture, Hispanics often move near other Hispanics in typical Latino neighborhoods. Some of these neighborhoods have deteriorated — victims of crime and drug problems. To complicate matters, public education systems in many Latino neighborhoods are overcrowded and underfinanced. As a result, Hispanic young people are not receiving an equal education. Since English is not the language of choice in most Hispanic neighborhoods, and the schools are not adequate, many Latinos are not proficient enough in English to obtain decent employment. What is worse, because Spanish is not taught in school, many Hispanic Americans grow up not knowing how to read and write in Spanish.

Despite my contention that Latinos would be better off financially if they tried to blend into the American culture, I don ’ t agree with that approach. Looking at the situation from an economic standpoint you must give value to the desire of Hispanics to keep their customs, language and culture. I argue that this value is so high that it justifies whatever negative effects may occur — discrimination, lower income, or even bad neighborhoods. Since the Hispanic population continues to grow at a higher rate than any other minority group, these problems will eventually disappear. Even today, Spanish culture is quickly becoming ingrained into the American culture. Tacos are now as popular as hot dogs and hamburgers in the typical American diet, and Spanish words are becoming part of the American language — ¿Comprende?

Comments (28)

Latinos are too focused on material success

Over the past 25 years I have spoken to thousands of Latinos. As a professional interviewer specializing in the U.S. Hispanic market, my job is to ask questions and to listen carefully. I have heard Latinos speak of their dreams and aspirations. Some have related stories of how they grew up in this country; often struggling to fit in. Others have spoken of what motivated their migration from Latin America; and of the difficulties, frustrations, and obstacles encountered in their quest to achieve that elusive “American Dream.” The majority does not feel accomplished. Why? The sad reality is that most Latinos, and especially new Latino immigrants, are bound to have a hard time achieving their dreams because they are often too focused on achieving financial success.

Hispanic immigrants work very hard to succeed in their pecuniary dream quest. To “make it here” is very important to U.S. Latinos. Many came to the U.S. leaving behind their family, their friends, their land, and their culture. Coming here was a sacrifice. They endured that sacrifice in order to financially live a better life and, most importantly, to provide a better life for their children. In fact, most often when Latino parents are asked about their personal goals and ambitions they answer by saying that everything they do is for the purpose of providing a better life for their children. This tendency of self-sacrifice is especially prevalent in the Hispanic female.

While Hispanics work very hard to achieve their American dream, many find it very difficult on their families. In many cases, it is the Latino male who arrives in the U.S. first. Their original thinking is to make enough money to return to their families. As time goes on, many men find it more feasible to bring their family to the U.S., while they continue their pursuit for financial independence. Even at this stage, many new immigrants continue with their plan of making enough money to return to their homeland. The reality, however, is that most immigrants end up staying. Once they live in this country for a few years, they start to release those bonds with their country of origin by strengthening ties with a new homeland. These new ties become stronger when new immigrants have children born in the U.S. The parents decide to stay for the sake of their children.

Latinos try to succeed by working very hard. The men often have two jobs and find it difficult to spend quality time with their families. They often leave most of the child rearing responsibilities to their wives. While the traditional Hispanic mother always stayed at home and contentedly bore most of these responsibilities, the new Latina immigrant finds herself with very little time to raise her children. Latinas often complain that life in the U.S. is too fast and stressful, and that they lack the large support network of family and friends that exists in their homeland. They also see themselves forced to work out of the house, or motivated by the American culture to pursue a career of their own. In trying to do it all, their children end up suffering. The parents cannot do it all and supervise the children appropriately.

The lack of parental supervision is a growing concern in the Hispanic community. There are many two-income and single parent households. These families often have difficulty supervising their children after school. Additionally, tired parent who are franticly fixing dinner at night and preparing for the next day may not be taking enough time out to inquire about their children’s activities and/or school issues. These Latino families lack the support offered by extended family members in their country of origin. Back “home” there was always a relative willing to assume the parental responsibilities if needed.

To make things worse, many new Latino immigrants relocate to urban neighborhoods in big cities where crime, drugs, and other negative societal influences abound. In their country of origin Latinos often lived in smaller towns where everyone knew everybody else. Their children were protected there because everyone kept an eye on them. If your child got in trouble, the story would get to you through the Latino grapevine. I have heard many Hispanics tell me that they were devastated when they found out that their child was into drugs or involved in gang activities because they “had no idea.” Many blame the American society for their children’s problems and do not see themselves being at all responsible.

The problem is that it is not in the true Latino nature to place all of their life emphasis on financial success. In fact, when I ask Hispanics about the most important things in life, they are likely to mention God, family, and health. It is rare when a Latino says that money is the most important thing in life. What is ironic is that most Latinos seek financial success to be able to provide a better life for their children; and in doing so they end up placing their children in danger. At the end, most Latinos agree that success is not measured by material possessions; many prefer to measure success by the legacy they leave to their children. A legacy that is not necessarily a financial inheritance; but rather an appropriate upbringing based on respect, good morals, and proper values.

Comments (3)

We are Hispanics, we are Latinos, we are Americans!

I am proud to be Latino, or Hispanic, or whatever you want to call me. A while back I wrote a booklet that was intended to help new Latino immigrants. In it I spoke about the importance of embracing our U.S. Hispanic or Latino classification. The name is not really as important as recognizing that we are members of a group of more than 45.5 million people. We are a community that has managed to integrate into the American society while at the same time maintaining our roots and culture. As opposed to other groups of immigrants who previously arrived in the United States, the Hispanic community has not become Americanized in the same way. Many of us feel very proud to have achieved this type of integration.

For many new Latino immigrants to feel Hispanic is also an easy and immediate way of belonging to the American society without repudiating our own culture and heritage. Americans have already accepted Hispanics as members of the American community. In fact, Hispanics are many times recognized simply as an American segment – and not necessarily as foreign. This recognition gives us a feeling of solidarity with the Hispanic community, and at the same time, with the American culture. Hispanics are an “American” minority- and the largest of all minorities at that!

We are Americans! Perhaps the largest obstacle in the search for Latino success in this country is the tendency of Latin Americans to maintain themselves separate from American culture. For those Latin Americans that have become citizens of this country it takes hard work to “feel” American. The interesting thing is that, with the small exception of the Native Americans, all people in the United States are descendants of foreigners. This country was formed with the idea to establish a union based on the diversity of its members. To this day, American coins carry the motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” that is to say, “one made out of many.” We Hispanics are part of the American plurality.

There are several reasons why a number of Latin Americans prefer to maintain segregation from “Americans.” The term “American” carries with it the image of an Anglo-Saxon person of origin. That is one of the reasons why it may be very difficult to be identified as part of the American population. On the other hand, there are also many Latin Americans that are in this country transitorily and think that they will soon return to their native country. They obviously see themselves as citizens of their country of origin and not American. Many others simply refuse to be accepted as Americans. For many Hispanics, to say that they are American signifies the abandonment of their Latino inheritance and roots. Nevertheless, this way of thinking has many drawbacks. Primarily, to be American does not mean that they are blonde and have blue eyes! This should be abundantly clear by now (just look at our President!), but many Latinos still feel that they do not look the part.

As I said before, Hispanics are a segment of the American population. Hispanics live in this country just like any other person. What is important is to recognize that it is not easy to achieve success in the United States while staying segregated from the rest of the country. To do this causes the loss of many opportunities that otherwise would be attainable for all Hispanics. Certainly, this advice is not limited to Latin Americans. Many other minority groups in the United States also maintain segregation from “Americans,” and this causes them the same loss of opportunities.

Comments (1)

Hispanic or Latino?

Today I was asked the question again; do you say Hispanic or Latino? My response is usually quick; I use the terms interchangeably. But the reality is that there is more behind the question; which is why it pops up so often. The term Hispanic as it is used in the United States was introduced to classify a group of people that we had difficulty classifying otherwise. It started appearing in the U.S. census and other government forms in the 1960s and was picked up by researchers as a standard demographic characteristic. Businesses also began to refer to the Latino consumers target as the “Hispanic market.” In contrast, the term Latino has different roots. In Spanish we have always used the term to describe an individual from “Latin America” and it is a commonly used Spanish word worldwide.

I like using the term Hispanic in business because I feel that it more clearly identifies the Latino consumers who live in the United States. In fact, I often say that there are no Hispanics outside of the United States. In Mexico there are Mexicans, in Puerto Rico there are Puerto Ricans, and in Cuba, well… Cubans, you get my drift. But in this country Latin Americans are very often classified as Hispanics. I learned to be Hispanic in the United States!

Comments (7)