More Than Money: When Downsizing Takes an Extra Bite Out of Us

11/17/2011 09:02 am ET

As I wrote in a recent post, I was just laid off from my job of six years. It's disgruntling to go from analyzing the plight of unemployed Latinos to becoming part of the story.

I'm not worried about the future or in dire financial straits, for which I'm grateful. But naturally, I want to get the unemployment monkey off my back, if for no other reason than I would like to continue affording luxuries like, say, food and shelter. But as you might expect with an overly analytical blogger with lots more free time, I've pinpointed an additional frustration with this mess.

As a first-generation Latino, I feel an irrational need to get back on the payroll quickly so I can resume being a role model for my community. In some sectors of Hispanic society, I can achieve this lofty status, whether I want it or not, simply by getting a good-paying job and staying out of jail. I am aware of the hopes of my brethren urging me on, pushing me toward success as defined by the majority culture. For lack of any other goal, I want to be an outstanding, nonsterotypical member of society, an upper-middle-class big deal.

This is just the latest example of how ethnic minorities perceive the world in subtly different ways than white people do. I've written about this before. In a previous post, I described how Latinos flinch whenever we hear about someone named Jose or Pedro or Julio committing a crime. If we have any self-awareness at all - or have gotten too old for street cred and are not obsessed with "keeping it real"- we tend to pinpoint negative stereotypes (e.g., being unemployed) and recoil from them like vampires catching a glimpse of sunlight. White people, in contrast, likely have the luxury of obsessing exclusively on their individual problems, taking the occasional break to get angry that they didn't invent YouTube (actually, I share that annoyance).

It's a tricky balancing act, however. Because once I land that respectable white-collar job, I still have to be careful not to morph into The Man. That's because in addition to our desire to avoid sell-out status, we have been known to cultivate our own version of White Guilt. It's called Successful Minority Syndrome, and it manifests itself in our fear of losing our roots or in our queasiness for driving past a field of migrant workers or in our sudden awareness that we have paid good money for crème brulee torches.

But that's the subject of another post, and in any case, it certainly is not an immediate danger. That's because the road to prosperity is closed for repairs, at least temporarily.

Of course, I will eventually get back on it. With hope, we all will. And regardless of our race, creed, or ethnicity, we will one day look back at this decade that never had a name (my favorite term - "the zeroes" - is appropriate but never caught on), and we will say, "Remember that worldwide economic collapse? The one where we all lost our jobs? Yeah, that one. What was that all about anyway?"