There is nothing more tragic than being abused on a daily basis simply because of who you are, and with October being National Bully Prevention Month, there is no better time to educate and raise awareness to prevent bullying in our local communities.
For the October issue of Latina, I wrote a story called "Mean Free Zone," which talked about the rise of bullying among Hispanics in the United States. The research that went into creating this piece was as disturbing as it was eye-opening.
An increasing number of Latino students are being bullied every day. According to a recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics, at least 26-percent of Hispanic students live in fear of being subjected to peer abuse, and that number comes only from those students willing to report their instances of bullying.
While collecting sources for a previous story, I had the opportunity to speak with many Hispanic teens who stated that because of bullying, they were not only afraid to go to school, but suffered from major depression, with some even being suicidal. And with well over 50 million Hispanics living in the United States, this unspoken epidemic is much more prevalent than we realize.
For example, do you remember the adorable fifth grade student, Sebastien de la Cruz, who performed the "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA finals last June? Well, I do. I remember the then 11-year-old Texas native not only for his angelic voice, but also for how he got brutally bullied online following his patriotic performance.
"Can't believe they had the nerve to have a beaner singing the national anthem of America #smh," wrote one Twitter user.
Another added, "There's a little Mexican kid singing the national anthem ... What has the world come to?"
De la Cruz, a San Antonio raised Mexican-American, responded with class and maturity beyond his age when asked about his many verbal attackers, saying, "With the racist remarks, it was just people -- how they were raised. My father and my mama told me, 'You should never judge people by how they look.'"
But De la Cruz is just one among many of the untold stories of young Latinos affected by bullying. Online abuse was the culprit for the suicide of 12-year-old Gabrielle Molina, a Latina from Queens, New York. Her untimely death joins the ranks of suicides among adolescents, half of which are related to bullying - both in person and online.
Bullying, like so many other acts of hate, transcends cultural boundaries, permeating into the lives of not only Latino students, but also African Americans, children diagnosed with mental disabilities, LGBT, those struggling with weight, religious children, and many others.
In order to effectively prevent bullying in your community, you must first be aware of it. Knowledge is power. Talk to your children, stay connected to your teens, and most importantly get involved. Spread the message of cultural acceptance and always be proud of your heritage.