Latino youth are coming of age at a time when anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic sentiment is high and rising. The environment in which we raise our children matters. Blatant discrimination, racial profiling, and ethnic stereotyping have consequences for young people.
A new study released yesterday by NCLR shows how Hispanic youth are experiencing these issues. Speaking Out: Latino Youth on Discrimination in the United States documents the perspectives of Latino teenagers who participated in focus groups in Los Angeles, Nashville, Langley Park, MD, and Providence, RI. American children of immigrants have historically played an important role, and their future and potential are the dreams that drive their parents' sacrifice and hard work. While not all Latino youth are children of immigrants, those who are embody the spirit and drive for success. They value education and feel a strong pressure from their parents and society to go to college and get a good job.
Yet this study shows that across the nation, Latino adolescents receive stereotypical and discriminatory messages. They hear that they are not expected to graduate high school, that they are suspected of being gang members, and that their families do not belong in the U.S. Not only are these messages widespread, but in some places they drive public debate and policymaking. Efforts such as Arizona SB 1070, banning the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools in Arizona, attacks on birthright citizenship, and many others poison the environment in places where Latino children and youth are expected to strive and achieve.
NCLR's report shows that Latino youth experience pervasive stereotyping in institutional settings such as schools and the workplace. And negative interactions between Latino youth and law enforcement are equally common. In spite of these challenges, Latino teenagers remain optimistic. They want to do the best they can to follow their dreams and contribute to our nation as our future workers, voters, and leaders.
They're doing their part--perhaps it is time that we all do ours. Let's work harder and smarter to make sure that our youth can go to school and work in environments that support and encourage them to succeed.