By Adam Gettinger-Brizuela
La Prensa San Diego
There is someone very important missing from the lives of tens of thousands of Latino children in San Diego County: their father. Although Latinos are not the majority in San Diego County, our men are disproportionately jailed and imprisoned, so they make up the majority of the incarcerated population. Latino children make up the largest ethnic group of children removed from the homes and placed in foster care, often with families of a different culture. Drug use, which includes alcoholism, and violence, both of which lead to legal problems, divorce and homelessness, also plague our community. What has happened to us?
Latinos are by far the largest minority group in San Diego County. In the interest of brevity the term “Latino” will be used throughout this article. It is understood that the vast majority of Latinos in California are of Mexican origin.
Whether we call ourselves “mexicanos,” “Mexican-Americans” or “Chicanos,” there is wide acceptance of the concept of one “Raza,” which does not exclude our Puerto Rican, Cuban, or Central and South American brethren. Although many us are proud that our physical appearance and mestizo culture evokes the heritage of the original nations of this hemisphere, we are also heirs to the conservative Catholic culture of Spain.
For centuries, Spanish-speaking people have lived in powerfully-connected family groups, and fathers were the central figures in each “familia.” The Hispanic tradition of using both fathers’ and mothers’ surnames demonstrates the deep respect which Latino men and women have historically felt and demonstrated toward one another. Latino men were judged, in the eyes of their communities, not by how much money they made, but by how they treated their loved ones. Latino men have a long history of being devoted to their children, and it is only in the past few decades that the fabric of that devotion appears to have started to unravel.
For centuries, the vast majority of Latino men and women have married for life. Today, the Latino divorce rate is only slightly lower than the 50% cited for the general American population. Recent changes in our society have not always been beneficial for Latino men. Thousands of them lost their jobs in the recession and economic pressures are considered the number one cause of problems that lead to divorce.
In addition, for many Latinos, anti-immigrant hysteria has created even more problems. Those members of our community who do not have the proper work or residency papers are being hounded by an increasingly racist climate. Even those of us who were born here, or have been “naturalized” (as if that were necessary for a human being) are being subjected to undue scrutiny and pressure these days.
These social ills, which contribute to high rates of addiction, violence, divorce and homelessness, are also behind one of the great social tragedies of our time; millions of Latino children growing up without knowing their fathers.
In San Diego County alone, tens of thousands of Latino children do not live with their natural fathers. Many do not know their fathers at all. Thousand of Latino children have been removed from both their parents and are languishing in foster care. There are not enough foster care homes licensed to Latinos. Amiable co-parenting by divorced parents is uncommon among Latinos.
So, again, the rhetorical question: “¿Que nos ha sucedido?” (What has happened to us?)…