by Nick Baez
Through my work with various Latino organizations over the years, most notably the National Hispanic Institute, I have come across many talented, intellectually sound Latino youth from throughout the U.S. and Latin America. I cannot help but feel a sense of pride and a feeling that our future is being placed in the hands of a very capable group of young men and women. However, there is also a dangerous foe out there that constantly threatens to rob our community of its best and brightest. It is a pervasive enemy that, especially for those of us who live here in the U.S., face on a daily basis. I’m referring to the allure of comprehensive assimilation into mainstream American culture.
And why wouldn’t this allure be very appealing indeed? One only need to watch television for one day to get a sound grasp on the narrative that has been created in popular discourse regarding the Latino community. From the idea that Latinos are a bunch of “welfare queens,” to the idea that Latinos willfully break the law to “take our jobs and resources,” to the lack of visible Latino role models in popular media, to the implication that to be Latino is to be a second class citizen, the Latino community is portrayed as anything but a destination community. Such messages need not be overtly bigoted to have a significant and lasting impact.
This becomes especially clear when our youth become bombarded by these narratives during a time in which (from a psychological and neurological perspective) they are beginning to develop and consolidate a sense of their identity and self-efficacy. Worst of all, the message our brightest minds receive is that, in order to not “waste” their talents, they must seek to distance themselves from the Latino community as soon as possible. They are fed myths about the illusory one-to-one correlation between hard work and success, and they are encouraged to adopt a mindset of rugged individualism.
The problem with this is multifaceted. First, this mindset teaches our youth the following: “YOU alone are responsible for your success; YOU alone became successful in spite of your community holding you back.” This perpetuates a chasm of disconnect between our youth and the greater Latino community. Second, this mindset creates a narrative that those who have not achieved an equal degree of success were just simply not willing to put in the necessary “hard work.” This serves to create a widespread lack of empathy for the community as a whole. Third, this mindset promotes individual attainment of status and power, rather than a civic and moral responsibility to add wealth and equity to the greater community. As a result, selfishness is practically lauded as a virtue; we see this in the mentality of many Latinos who feel they have “made it” in this world (i.e., “So long as I got mine, who cares about the next person?”).
Unfortunately, the allure of assimilation is very powerful. It leads to apathy with respect to civic engagement/volunteering, and it causes many Latinos to identify with the very mindsets that cause the greater community deep pain and injustice. We must continue to fight this pervasive enemy by taking control of our own narrative and allowing our youth to see themselves as being a significant part of the wonderful phenomenon that is the Latino community.
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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of
the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.