By Juan Miret
They have been plugged into technology since they were babies. They are the most scheduled generation ever. They are multi-taskers, expect to have six to eight careers in their lifetime and love to embrace diversity.
Also, this group has the most educated mothers of any other generation before them. And, they are the first generation for which Latinos are the largest minority group. Like a Six Flags roller coaster, this group is full of surprises.
The millennial generation is the group of children born between 1982 and 2002, that is about 81 million people who have taken over K-12, have already entered college and many of them are replacing the Baby Boomers as they retire to the warm Florida Keys.
But what is really unique about Latino millennials? Does this group behave exactly the same as the mainstream millennials?
First of all, Latino millennials are young. Their age range is 18-29, they are the first generation that is predominantly native born, and while they prefer English over Spanish, millennials still very much squeeze all they can from their Hispanic traditions.
As with mainstream millennials, this group has hectic lives and limited time for themselves, but as a key differentiator, it considers collectivism as a very important value.
Millennials are a sort of 'Peter Pan' generation, trying to delay adulthood. Yet, Latino millennials have to sprint into an early adulthood because they tend to have children earlier and they also start providing for their families prior than their counterparts.
Mainstream millennials have a common motto: “I want it now”. Latino millenials use “I have to work hard to get it.”
They come from a culture that has to work very hard in order to pursue the American dream. Also, they have to fight stereotypes, so they are masters of a gift called patience.
More and more information is surfacing and being written about the Latino millennial population. The Institute of Politics of Harvard University even polls them regularly in order to try to understand how they act, think, and reinvent themselves constantly.
So, to have an overview of these natural entrepreneurs, prodigals, trendsetters, political junkies and stressed-out people, here you have four Latino millennials living in the Midwest. When describing their stories, one may think they are living in Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas or New York, but they have chosen Tulsa, Oklahoma, as their blank canvas. Well, that’s how millennials are.
The Latino Millenials
Katia Anaya, 25, Miss Oklahoma Latina, was born in Sahuayo, Mexico and settled in Tulsa over a decade ago. Jeremy Quiñónez, 31, Community Coordinator for Union Public Schools, was born in Madrid, Spain to Guatemalan parents, and has been living in Tulsa for more than 10 years. Christina Starlz, 25, Conexiones Coordinator at the Community Service Council was born in Panama, and recently relocated from Everett, Washington to Tulsa. And Moisés Echeverría, 28, Program Coordinator at the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, was born in Monterrey, Mexico and has been living in Tulsa for the last 14 years.
After graduating from Oral Roberts University, Quiñónez decided to stay in Tulsa because he saw a city with lots of untapped potential. “Since my parents lived in Texas, I also wanted to be away from home and learn to live on my own. Learning to be independent was a big deal for me,” he said with evident passion in his words. “I wanted to be able to blame only myself for all my failures and successes. I knew that my parents had raised me to be an independent, responsible male figure. This was my chance!”
Many of Anaya’s friends left Tulsa right after college. Indeed, almost all of her classmates at business school left the so-called T-Town as soon as they got their degree. “The University of Tulsa gives you a key to basically open any door,” she said. “Therefore, the natural thing is leaving Tulsa after graduation.”
However, that was not her case. “I love Tulsa. This is my city. My family is here, so this is home for me,” said Anaya, who a few months ago was crowned as Miss Oklahoma Latina. At the same time she manages part of the administration of the family business – a fifth-generation Mexican bakery. “Tulsa is the territory of possibilities, a land of dreams. It is a fantastic city, almost hidden, but wonderful.”
Starlz spent half of her childhood years in the rural town of Ocu, Panama, sitting in a hammock while eating her abuelita’s corn tortillas and playing béisbol with her aunts, uncles and cousins. The other part of her childhood was spent in the Midwest of the United States, growing up in small, close-knit communities with plenty of kids with whom to play outside in the white snowy winters.
Right after college, she started her career as a paralegal for an immigration law firm in Seattle, Washington, where she advocated for Spanish-speaking clients to ensure their rights in the legal system. “I became very interested in non-profit organizations, especially those that served the Hispanic community. I knew I wanted to continue my career in non-profit sphere; however, the weak economy affected job availability in Seattle,” she explained.
“It was around the same time my partner was placed in Tulsa through his contract as a teacher with Teach For America. Even then, I did not even consider moving to Tulsa as an option, so he moved and I stayed in Seattle, while we continued our long distance relationship. Eventually, I came to visit once and became acquainted with all the career and personal development opportunities that Tulsa had to offer. Thankfully with my family’s blessing, I was accepted for a job over a year and a half ago and have always celebrated being a member of the Tulsa community since. Because of the opportunities in Tulsa, both my partner and I can continue advocating educational equality for marginalized communities in our professional careers.”
For Starlz, “it is inspiring to have the opportunity to contribute to Tulsa’s progress.”
Tulsa has been home for Echeverría for more than 14 years. He graduated high school and college in this “beautiful city,” as he described it. “Leaving this state and beginning my career in a larger city sounds so exciting and almost exotic, notwithstanding my passion for social justice and my involvement with the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice, have helped me choose to stay here to continue to fight for the rights of those whose voices are not being heard.”
Echeverria said that there is still so much to do and that motivates him to develop himself professionally here. “I have also found individuals who share this passion to fight for social justice and educate Oklahomans about controversial topics to create a culture that does not just tolerate differences but is inclusive and respectful,” he explained. “That’s the reason I am here.”
Millenials with a mission
Quiñónez’s favorite book turned into a movie is The Count of Monte Cristo. “It reminds me that in every situation there is forgiveness and redemption,” he said. “For almost 8 years, I’ve served teenagers and young adults as the Youth Director of my church. It’s really important to me that I raise my family with Christian values. Tulsa will forever be my hometown, since I’ve met and married my wife here and also had our son born here,” he said. “Most of my working career in Tulsa I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector. I currently serve as a Community Coordinator for Union Public Schools”.
As a community liaison, Quiñónez develops relationships with local organizations and businesses to serve students and families.
“In order to take away all barriers in education, we work with our community to remove these obstacles for our families,” he said. “It is truly rewarding to be part of an effort that impacts local families in very practical ways.”
A beauty queen that is only beautiful is not enough, explains Anaya. “Beauty without intelligence, without a cause is just a shell. It’s empty,” she said. “I want to portray a different image. Latinas are strong, smart, risk-takers and achievers. I know there are many stereotypes, but one of my goals is to showcase the best of our community, the best of Tulsa and the best of the young Latinas. We have a legacy of wonderful women. Each one of them has a great story to be told.”
Corazón Hispano or Hispanic Heart is a program being developed by Anaya with several areas of action, but one mission: Keep millenials in Oklahoma. “We need to inspire young Hispanic professionals and entrepreneurs to serve as mentors and role models,” she said. “Tulsa has a terrible high school drop-out rate among Hispanics. They are not graduating from high school, and if we leave Tulsa we will be part of the problem instead of the solution. We cannot pretend this is not happening, that this situation is not affecting us as a community.”
Starlz’s mother always told her “La que no pregunta se queda bruta”, that is, "If you don’t ask, you stay ignorant." That saying has always given her the courage to ask questions and listen. And that is exactly what she does at Conexiones, as their coordinator. She questions – a lot – and listens.
Conexiones is a holistic community initiative that empowers Latino students and their families through academic success. “Conexiones has been focused on providing support by involving the Latino families in the education of their students. Studies show that family engagement has a huge positive impact on their student’s academic achievement,” she describes. “Through this approach, Conexiones works to ensure that Latino families are aware of their important role in their child’s education.”
Because of cultural and language barriers that Latino families face, it is imperative to have someone based at the school who can connect families to their child’s learning in the U.S. education system. One of those persons is Christina.
When Echeverría was younger and visited downtown Tulsa, he wondered what the people in all those tall buildings did. His mind could not comprehend the necessity of so much office space and the enigma of what happened within. Now he lives and works downtown and he cannot get enough of it.
“I have the privilege and honor to work for an organization whose sole mission is to eliminate bias, bigotry and racism and to promote understanding and respect among races, religions and cultures,” he described. “We achieve this purpose through programs focused on education and conflict resolution.”
His involvement includes establishing dialogue among groups of different religions such as Christians, Jews, and Muslims.
“It has been inspiring to hear and see great devout men and women from Tulsa from different religions demonstrate a great and profound respect and brotherhood to others who believe differently than them,” he said. “They achieve this by finding and emphasizing common ground and by trying to understand and respect their differences.”
Latino millennials do not fit any stereotype. When you think you have them figured out, they reinvent themselves, changing the rules of the game.
They can eat a delicious sopa con ñame – a truly savory yam soup – with the best patacones – salty fried plantains – or, just enjoy a Chicago-style pizza, reading ‘Leading with cultural intelligence’ by David Livermore, while listening to their iPod play a mix by Pitbull.
Yes, that’s how they are.
Juan Miret is a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based freelance writer who writes about the greater Oklahoma Latino community for various media outlets, as well as, for his own site Eñes and W’s.