The recent series in the Chicago Sun-Times, Nuevo Chicago, is commendable reporting on the experience of Hispanics in the United States. It ably captured the complexities that characterize their situation. Too often, the Hispanic community is beset by stereotypes. One side portrays them as "minority" victims, the other as selfish consumers of entitlements and social services.
As the Pew Hispanic Center report shows, the current generation of Hispanics defies these facile categories. They may feel the cultural pull of their family's home country as they straddle two worlds, but they aspire to succeed in America. While many community leaders try to play the victim card, Hispanics--reflecting an ingrained optimism--have rejected this tack. Instead, they have sought to capitalize on this country's promise of economic prosperity.
In many ways, they are like their European predecessors, the Italians and Irish immigrants, among others, who so influenced our country in the early 20th century. Eager to assimilate, they have demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit, an unparalleled work ethic, and an appreciation for traditional family and religious values--in short, the qualities that undergird this country's greatness.
There's no doubt that Hispanics, especially teenagers and young adults, face serious challenges. We see that in the rising high school dropout rates, teen-pregnancy and gang violence. However, now is not the time to coddle America's largest minority group or treat it as its latest minority victim seeking entitlements. Now is the time to challenge this community to continue to live up to the legacy of America's immigrant roots. Our nation's immigrants have always succeeded in building on our high expectations of them. Hispanic Americans are no different.
I am heartened by the hard work and determination that I witness in our schools and our community. Every day I see young Hispanics who are eager for America's promise.
Juan Rangel is Chief Executive Officer of United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), Chicago's largest Hispanic community-based organization.
A version of this piece appeared in the Letters to the Editor section of the Chicago Sun-Times on February 25, 2010.