“Ask the later-generation descendants of earlier waves of Mexican immigrants, and they’ll tell you that “Where are you from … no, where are you really from?” are questions that they have to field all too often.”
This quotation from this article on CNN.com is something I live with every day. When I saw it, it was really the first time I had read about someone else’s experience with this phenomenon, which is shocking seeing as how this country is a relative pound to its mixed-breed puppies, and it got me really excited for the Latino in America special that aired Wednesday and last night on CNN. “Finally” I thought, “an in-depth look at Latinos in this country that includes my experience!” What I saw, though, was so much of the same and so disappointing and inevitably, useless.
It tended to focus on racism and violence, pregnant teenagers and failures. These are, admittedly, things that must be discussed in the Latino experience in this country. Racism is alive and well, and it seems as though it’s only getting worse. It’s heartbreaking and should be exposed so that people can see how truly ugly people can be to other human beings who think, feel, and only want the same things for themselves as everyone else on the planet does, solely based on where they’re from. As an aside, Mexicans get the worst of it because the very vocal ignoramuses who unfortunately walk among us don’t care to realize that not all brown people are Mexican, and now non-Mexican Latinos are taking the generalization as a slur. Beautiful. It’s horrible, but the hate crimes, the racism, the struggles, the families that are ripped apart: people need to see these things and know the souls they affect.
That being said, Latino immigrants are not a new phenomenon to this country (HELLO, we kind of are, um, well, how do I put this? Oh right, INDIGENOUS, bitches.) Immigration is only the first chapter of our collective US story – what happens next? And why isn’t that page ever turned? That’s what I hoped Latino in America would uncover, and unfortunately it didn’t, choosing to focus on stereotypes, the sensational, and the negative.
I am a 2nd generation Mexican-American. Though my mom never taught me or my brother and sister to speak Spanish (yeah thanks for that, mom, good choice), Mexican culture has always been important in my family, as is my dad’s Irish descent (it’s a good mix . . . I like to think of us as the Puggles of the aforementioned American animal shelter). When I see the hardships that new Latino immigrants have to face, how can I not think of my grandfather? How can I not take it personally? He too came here illegally, and his struggle was the same as their struggle. The first chapter hasn’t changed, and the second doesn’t have to either. My grandfather’s story is truly unbelievable and the best of the American Dream. Not everyone can or will achieve that, but they have just as much right to try as anyone else.
So given that there already are Latinos in this country with deep roots here, why didn’t Latino in America show what the future will look like? By 2050, you know, when all hell breaks loose and Latinos take over as the majority of the country, (gringos, might I suggest Alaska? It’s too cold for us up there.) new immigrants will no longer will be new . . . nor will their children . . . or grandchildren . . . or perhaps their great-grandchildren. What might their stories be? It’s not a total mystery because we already have accomplished these things.
Latinos need to see that this progression is natural and still possible; that there are people out there (including some of my amazing relatives who should have been featured in this program) who believe in their potential and are fighting for them. We need to see the children of undocumented workers who are incredible, college-bound students who are beating the odds every single day and their parents who are working two, three, four, five jobs to get them there. And white Americans need to see this, too, so that they may imagine what it may have been like for their ancestors and have some compassion. After all, someone in their family once was an immigrant too.
Those kinds of extraordinary stories are awe and hope inspiring, but most of all, there needs to be some light shed on my type of Latino experience: one as just a “normal” girl from a run-of-the-mill middle class family. It doesn’t always have to be gangbangers or George Lopez. We’re normal people, too, just like you. Although unlike you, most of us actually do look like Eva Longoria. That is one thing that definitely is not a stereotype . . .
I hope CNN does a follow-up story. From what I am reading on their Facebook page, there is a general consensus among the Latino community that this was far too focused on negativity and stereotypes, adding fuel to the fires being lit by fear-mongers (à la their very own Lou Dobbs) without many examples positive outcomes. Oh well, I guess you have until 2050 to get used to us. By then it’s almost certain that someone in your family will be named Garcia.