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Guest Voz: Over Time, Myth of Color-Blind Society Takes Toll on Latinos

By Barbara Ferrer

Migration of Latino families to America is an inspiring story of men, women and children leaving their native countries, often searching for better opportunities and safety for their families. Yet, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s recent poll of Latino families also reveals that a different narrative develops – frustration from racism and discrimination is wearing down Latinos over time in the United States.

The newest Latino immigrants are brimming with hope, as they pursue opportunities to better educate their children, improve personal finances and find affordable housing. Meanwhile, those who have travelled a similar path – Latinos with generations of family roots in the U.S., as well as those with more education and higher incomes – are decidedly more sceptical and disappointed.

Clearly, a significant gap exists between the life experiences of Latinos and those of many other immigrants. Historically, immigrants arrive on American shores and the prospects for their life outcomes vastly improve. They may harbor initial fears and anxiety about finding jobs, housing and social services, but as they assimilate into American society, they enjoy the expected immigrant experience of having their quality of life improve for each generation.

But that narrative is reserved for mostly white immigrants.

For people of color, and as the survey demonstrated, especially for Latinos, there is a far, far different reality. The longer Latinos are in the U.S., they grow less and less hopeful about their opportunities in this country.

Our poll discloses that as Latinos face discrimination at individual and institutional levels, their fears and anxieties increase over time.

For instance, while Latinos respect police and cite a need for law enforcement, they are deeply concerned about police brutality – 18 percent said they know a Latino friend or relative abused by police. Moreover, an astonishing 68 percent fear that police will use excessive force against Latinos, and 37 percent said law enforcement officers treat Hispanics unfairly. But racial bias is not limited to law enforcement. Latinos also fear they may face discrimination in the workplace and virtually anyplace they may go in public, such as stores and restaurants.

For America to progress, this must change. How can a nation be perceived as just and fair, when it’s fastest growing demographic lives in such fear?

As a nation, our first step should be to abandon talk of the mythical “colorblind society” and instead focus on understanding the diversity rooted in our communities and the strength that can be drawn from these different cultures. Immigrants should feel respected in this country and invited to fully participate and engage in our society, and in making it a better society.

Here is a stunning example of how racism, or just the perception of bias, plays out: asked how they would proceed if facing difficult financial problems, 47 percent of Latinos earning between $40,000 and $75,000 a year said they could not depend on a loan from a bank or credit union, while 38 percent earning more than $75,000 also had no confidence they could turn to this traditional means of financial help.

Energized by the hope and promise of this nation, Latinos are coming to the U.S. wanting to be vibrant members of their new communities.

Furthermore, Latinos clearly care about their children’s future. The vast majority of Latino parents are attending parent-teacher conferences and school functions, as well as volunteering at the schools and working with administrators and teachers. For Latino parents of pre-K through second grade students, 89 percent attended teacher conferences, 77 percent contacted teachers about academic performance, 74 percent had meetings with a counselor or principle, 71 percent attended events and 63 percent volunteered for class projects.

Still, their participation would increase and be broader if the schools did more to welcome parents. Survey respondents noted that more translators should be available, especially for school board meetings, PTA meetings and other policy-setting sessions. All parents must feel welcomed in the schools their children attend.

Our poll has identified the role discrimination plays in diminishing optimism and opportunities for many Latinos. In reality, when one group is held back, it hurts all of us; we need everyone’s best effort to build a secure future. As we learn from each other, we recognize that our strength is our diversity. Addressing discriminatory practices and policies is paving the way for a better United States of America.

Barbara Ferrer is chief strategy officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

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