WASHINGTON - A study released by NCLR (National Council of La Raza), the largest national Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, shows that Latino youth in the U.S. experience pervasive ethnic stereotyping in their daily lives by adults who could instead help their integration into mainstream society. Authors of Speaking Out: Latino Youth on Discrimination in the United States conducted focus groups with first- and second-generation children of Hispanic immigrants to hear about their experiences with teachers, school administrators, law enforcement personnel, and others.
“Throughout our nation’s history, children of immigrants have served as a bridge between sacrifice and success. While Latino teenagers are optimistic about their future and recognize that hard work is the key to achievement, they are coming of age at a time when the national discourse is immersed in anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic sentiment. This is reflected in their daily lives, in school, and in their neighborhoods, and it is detrimental to them and our nation as a whole,” said Eric Rodriguez, NCLR Vice President, Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation.
The study demonstrates that Latino children feel strong pressure from parents and society to obtain a college education and a good job. Only 55% of Latino students in the U.S. graduate from high school with a regular diploma.
In reflecting on the challenges they face, the teenagers in the focus groups—who live in Los Angeles, Nashville, Langley Park, MD, and Providence, RI—spoke about being consistently viewed as “other” in interactions with teachers, administrators, and peers. Major findings from the study include the following:
· Reflecting the hopes and expectations of their immigrant parents, Latino youth tend to have an optimistic outlook on the role of education and a strong desire to achieve successful careers.
· The youth reported significant ethnic stereotyping that they feel often leads Hispanic students to be overlooked, excluded, or negatively tracked and results in unequal educational opportunities.
· The focus group participants often perceived the workplace as a site of unfair practices based on racial and ethnic assumptions on the part of employers.
· The teenagers emphatically described feeling unfairly and habitually profiled by law enforcement as a result of negative assumptions regarding Hispanic youth, gangs, and immigrants. Such regular contact with the police in a variety of spaces compounds feelings of vulnerability and distrust in their communities.
The study identifies distinctions between cities; for example, Hispanic youth in Los Angeles and Langley Park expressed fear from constant, up-close exposure to gangs and the likelihood that police officers would profile them as gang members. The Latino youth in Tennessee appeared to experience by far the greatest degree of negative stereotyping and prejudiced behaviors and to feel the most blatantly marginalized in school, on the job, and in the streets.
Some of the focus group participants spoke of teachers who had made a difference in their lives as well as interventions, such as the GED or other educational programs for at-risk minority youth, that put them on track for college. Despite the challenges they faced, most of the youth revealed a positive, resilient orientation toward their lives and future aspirations. The study underscores the need to change the tone of public discourse about the role of immigrants and Hispanics in U.S. society, attend to structural issues that contribute to stereotyping and discrimination within our institutions, and establish policies that build social cohesion and support.
“Latino adolescents want to do the best they can to follow their dreams and contribute to our nation. Listening to what they have to say about their lives and their hopes and fears for the future is pivotal to envisioning better policies and programs that will allow these youth—our future workers, voters, and leaders—to thrive,” Rodriguez said.
Speaking Out: Latino Youth on Discrimination in the United States provides insight into the environment and formative experiences that are helping to shape the attitudes and beliefs of the next generation of Americans—hundreds of thousands of potential new voters. The 16 million Latino youth in the U.S. represent more than 22% of the population under age 18 and, according to Democracia U.S.A.’s analysis of U.S. Census data, 500,000 Hispanics will turn 18—making them eligible to vote—every year for the next 20 years.
This research is part of NCLR’s ongoing effort to document the status and experiences of Latino children in the U.S. This study follows America’s Future: Latino Child Well-Being in Numbers and Trends, which includes a state-by-state analysis of major socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, maternal education, and access to health care, that affect the well-being of Hispanic children, 92% of whom are U.S. citizens.