Latino youth comprise a dynamic culture, bringing-among other things-creativity, color, and music into society. For all they have to offer, U.S. society often overlooks Latino young people, giving primary media attention to wealthy and middle class whites-and secondary attention to African American youth. The focus may be on poor migrants or urban Latino gangs rather than the majority of hard working, successful teenagers who find themselves overlooked or unfairly stereotyped. Notes one expert, “White teenagers have plenty of role models in entertainment, corporate, and political life. And black youth have celebrities for role models in athletics, entertainment, music and elsewhere. But Latino young people sometimes feel a lack of heroes and role models in our society.”
The term, “Hispanic,” is of earlier origin than “Latino.” The former term is still used in many contexts. In Southern California and especially around Los Angeles, the Latino label is popular, denoting people from Latin American countries-many of them recent arrivals. According to population estimates for 1996, there were 28 million Americans of Hispanic origin living in mainland U.S.A., tallying to a 53% increase from 1980 and representing over 10% of the total U.S. population (of 265 million). It is also one of the fastest growing ethnic minorities. Of these, the U.S. Census Bureau says that 64% are Mexican American, 14% are from Central and South America, 11% are Puerto Rican, 5% are Cuban, and 4% are of other origin. Seventy-five percent of all Hispanics live in five states: Texas, California, New York, Florida, and New Mexico. Mexican Americans live mostly in the Southwest; Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the larger urban centers of the East. The number of Cuban people, especially in Florida, increased dramatically as a result of Castro’s policies. Central American conflict has recently brought a large influx of Salvadoran and Nicaraguan refugees. Some of these, without means of legal entry, are sheltered in sanctuary churches.
Latinos are highly concentrated in central cities.· States with the largest Latino populations are California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, and New Mexico.· Mexican Americans live primarily in the Southwest (also Colorado and Illinois); Puerto Ricans are concentrated in the Northeast (New York City has the largest population of Puerto Rican immigrants in the world), and Cuban Americans live predominantly in Florida and the Southeast.
Four-fifths of all Hispanic households are primarily, or sometimes, Spanish-speaking.
About twice as many Hispanic families (30%) live below the poverty line than do non-Hispanic families.
About two-thirds of all Hispanic children attend schools composed primarily of minority students.
Hispanic youth, ages 14-19, are twice as likely to drop out of school.
Hispanic youth are proportionately under-enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies. Junior colleges play a major role in their education.
Unemployment for Hispanics is more than twice that of whites.
Hispanic men earn less than white men at each level of education.
Raza is a very important concept among Latinos. It refers to their “race,” but it evokes a more familial connotation. It speaks also to the discrimination Latinos feel and to loyalties with their countries of origin. For many, there is a longing to someday return “home.” It can, thus, infer a subcultural perspective. About 90% of Hispanic Americans believe that U.S. citizens and residents should learn English, but 80% favor bilingual education.
Latino women are a significant and diverse group. Their diversity stems from their national origins, socioeconomic status, beliefs, and personal style. Yet, with their men, they are subject to blatant and more subtle discrimination-as well as the sexism they suffer from within and without their ethnic culture. “Latinas,” as they have chosen to be called, are socialized in families that are patriarchal and authoritarian-and with fairly rigid gender role differentiations. Latinas-as a concept and a driving force-have evolved from the Chicano and feminist movements.
With the rest of U.S. society, Latinos share the problem of fatherlessness. “Machismo,” in personal style and with a passivity toward outside life (reinforced by negative attitudes from the larger society), characterizes some Latino males. Machismo speaks to an exaggerated male confidence and privilege. This attitude may expect subservience in women and even a double standard: men and boys may be allowed sexual privileges not tolerated in women and girls. Some have suggested that the husband may expect his wife to be a combination of a saintly Madonna and a devilish harlot; but, for the most part, his wife will be a Madonna, and he will seek and find extramarital harlots. Still, threats against wives and women are taken very seriously. Domestic violence, including both verbal and emotional abuse, are prevalent in the U.S and reinforced in many Latino homes due to the traditional view of women and their roles. There is a very different set of standards for males and females which have contributed to the dysfunction.
Of those living under the poverty line in the U.S., whites comprise 51%, blacks 29%, and Latinos 18%. Of all Latinos, 30% are living beneath the poverty line-and among Latinos, Puerto Ricans are the poorest. A recent survey found that 2/3 of white Americans have some sort of retirement savings, while about half of African Americans, and only 1/3 of Hispanic Americans have retirement savings. Although many Latinos have achieved high educational levels and rankings, their average number of years of education fall below (in rank order) Asians, whites, Native Americans, and African Americans. Their high school dropout rate (a significant problem) is more than double that of both black and white students (35%, compared to 15% and 12% respectively).
African-American unemployment runs higher (14.6%) than Latino (11.9%), but Latino unemployment is significantly higher than whites (at 6.7%). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. work force is composed of 77.9% white employees, 10.4% African Americans, 8.3% Latinos, 2.8% Asians, and 0.6% Native Americans.
By the 1990s, there were approximately 63 births for every 1,000 U.S. females between the ages of 15-19. About 50% of these (just over a million) unwed teenage mothers go on welfare within a year of their first child’s birth. Almost 47% of these unwed mothers are African American; 27% are Latino, 12% are white, and 6% are Asian.
The issues surrounding and facing Latinos in America are many. Education, employment and general acceptance into the U.S. are key to their success in this country. Youth leaders and successful Latino Americans are essential to strengthening families and smoothing out rough situations for Latino and Hispanic families opting to live in America.
The following sources were used for much of this topic discussion:
Johnson, O. (ed.). (1996). Information please almanac: Atlas and yearbook (50th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What statistics or ideas here most impress you? With what do you disagree or strongly agree?
What, in this article, would you like to see more fully explored or discussed?
Do you agree that Latino youth are often neglected in the culture’s emphasis on white and black images and information?
If you are non-Latino, do you have any Latino friends? If so, how much about ethnic and cultural issues have you shared? What may you not have shared? With what ethnic issues do you both struggle personally?
If you are Latino, how have you been hurt by Anglo society in general or, in particular, Anglos? Do you have an Anglo friend with whom you have shared these hurts or issues?
Latinos will soon be the largest minority ethnic group in the U.S. Whites will soon be a minority in many cities and states. All Americans must become familiar with such an important, vital part of the nation.
Where racism and discrimination have aggravated problems in this culture, special attention should be given to encourage Latinos to achieve and contribute all they can in and to our society.