Who are these “Latinos” you speak of?

What is it about Latinos that lead people to believe that they have to be spoken to in another language. Ok, ok, I guess all of the speaking Spanish is a dead giveaway, but then again, why are people having such a hard time reaching this demographic of people? These black and brown people who speak different languages and just act so…so… differently?

Ultimately, what people don’t understand is that Latinos are just like the rest of the country. We listen to music, we speak English, we watch things in English and we go to school here. Let’s specify Latino as someone of Latin American descent who lives in the United States; immigrant generation through second, third, to ninth generation. Yes, there is such a thing. Usually, they’re known as Texans.

We just look at things differently. Many researchers in terms of language say that we’re smarter for being bilingual. When you talk about cognitive development, having an extensive vocabulary and having a sort of natural focus on things, it’s kind of impressive. Since we’re bicultural, we grow in a more worldly fashion, most of us. We are less likely to put others down because of their differences and more likely to learn about a variety of cultures in the world. If anything, the more diverse we are, the more we absorb.

But hell if you hear someone with an accent. They mark you as a foreigner and hold it against you that English wasn’t your first language, not that you’re learning a new one. Have you ever thought about it this way: I know they have an accent because they speak another language and therefore should be admired for speaking a language other than their own? Nah.

And that’s not just for Latinos, that’s for all immigrants.

Little me.

Since I was a kid, I spoke Spanish. Right out of the womb, I was talking to my dad and grandmother in their native language while growing up with my cousins, mom, aunts and practically everyone else speaking English. They tried to convince me I was American… the little American girl I was supposed to be until someone pointed out my tan coloring and a girl at school told me I was too dark to like a lighter-skinned boy. My first memory of Kindergarten was teaching the girl sitting next to me how to say the days of the week in Spanish. Since day one, I was spewing my Latin goodness into the world.

I knew I was different, but not in any way that was going to make me ashamed. If anything, it was going to show my parents how strong I could be as a girl of Mexican descent in this country and how I was going to make it work for me. I noticed all the differences growing up and how I was a part of organizations, clubs and more because I was brown and spoke Spanish.

I was going to be the educated Latina that no one was going to put down or insult indirectly (even though it happened anyway), because I was going to tell you the truth. I was going to tell you how it really was with the history, the insight and the stories.

After playing my role as an “angry minority” in college, a friend of mine told me, “Don’t hate, Christina. Educate.” And damn, Ric, I took that to heart. So here I am, explaining. Or at least trying to.

With that said, I feel like I have to teach almost everyone about who we are as a community, as a

Mural art in Pilsen | Chicago

culture and as a group that is going to be one of the most powerful in the country very, very soon. This is why I’m very much in favor of quality education for children of color, why I expect so much out of my sister and little cousins and why I expect goodness, quality and high standards out of those around me. If you hold them to a high standard, they will perform at a high standard.

I also believe in knowing your place, or that you even have one. This is why I tell people about Latinos’ history in the United States, because, darn it, we have been here for a very long time and we’ve contributed so much to the building of the country. Those kids I went to college with, who chose to learn about it, naturally made their way into social services to help, pick up and lend a hand to people we know need help, using education as the tool to help do that, not to learn about the situations. That came from experience.

Many of my friends and I, we’ve taught ourselves about our place in the country, what we’ve given, where we’ve lived and what caused societal issues that affected the underrepresented communities of the nation. We learn about it and tell our stories through music, writing, theater and standing up for ourselves against any kind of oppression whether stereotypes, discrimination or prejudice. We do it through marches and collaborations; love and support; toughness and expectations. And ultimately, my team and I plan on standing up for ourselves by changing the way people think about us.

This new community, this new generation of Latinos who have chosen to make a new path though education and equality, this is the generation of Latinos who will take over this country. These are the people you have to talk to: the professionals who sit in the next cubicle, your boss, the guy on the bus, your lawyer, your doctor, your waitress and the musician on the stage. They may not “look” Latino, but trust me, they are.  We’re all around you, so don’t be afraid. We probably like the same things you do, talk the same way you do and have pride in the same sports teams you do—and no, it’s probably not a soccer team.

You can talk to us in Spanish, we will understand you. But you know what? Treat us as humans, as equals. In the end, that’s what wins, isn’t it?

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