Birdman Aside, Latinos Still Have a Ways To Go

So far, 2015 has been incredibly impactful for the Latino community in the United States. From immigration reform to back-to-back Oscar triumphs to (hopefully) future Chicago mayor Jesús "Chuy" García, our community is in the midst of historic cultural and political shifts.

But underneath these success stories lie painful systemic repression and inequality.

In terms of income and wealth, our prospects are bleak. The Latino median yearly household income in 2013 was a staggering $13,700—ten times less than that of our white counterparts. In other words, “Hispanics make up more than 16 percent of the U.S. population, but only about 2.2 percent of its wealth.” 

These numbers are only a reflection of a grotesquely unequal economy fueled in large part by decades-long stagnant wages, even for those who are highly educated. Yet according to Fox News and the like, we’re the ones ruining the economy—even though undocumented immigrants paid a net $100 billion in social security taxes over the last decade.

This inequality is exacerbated by a biased U.S. media landscape. According to a 2014 study published by Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, “stories about Latinos comprise less than one percent of all main news media coverage, and the majority of these stories feature Latinos as lawbreakers.” And although Mexican directors have taken home the Oscar for Best Director two years in a row, we’re still the butt of xenophobic 'jokes.' To make matters worse, “it’s been 14 years since a U.S. Latino actor last took home an Academy Award.”

When it comes to politics, things get pretty ugly. The Republican Party continues to block any efforts for tangible immigration reform. Despite President Obama’s steadfast position on the issue, many in our community feel as though his actions are too little, too late. 

Just to make sure you’re rightfully infuriated, listen to this: According to information compiled by The Guardian, there are only 34 Latinos in Congress, a mere nine of whom are women. That means that out of every 1.6 million Latinos in the United States, only one of them is a Congressional representative—a gap nearly three times larger than the whites, even though their share of the population is 4.5 times larger than ours.

These institutional barriers are rooted in historical racial discrimination against our communities. In the Southwest, for example, “Mexicans were frequently the targets of lynch mobs, from the mid-19th century until well into the 20th century.” Chicanos all across the country were also “placed in ‘Mexican’ classrooms or schools as a result of [de facto segregation] beginning in the early 1900s.” Latino immigration as we know it today is also a product of U.S.-sponsored free trade agreements that decimated local economies all over Mexico and Central America, forcing mostly indigenous communities to uproot and move up north.

The fusion of these systemic oppressions has resulted in the dire conditions our communities face today. With the odds stacked so heavily against us, we’re relegated to low-income labor and underfunded, understaffed schools, creating a perpetual cycle of destitution. Racist immigration laws and police discrimination are a looming threat for thousands of Latino families, forcing many of us to live in fear of the law. These factors push many members of our communities into the criminal underworld, given that, since we are young enough to read, we’re constantly reminded of how unlikely we are to succeed. It’s no wonder, then, that “one out of six Latino males will be incarcerated in his lifetime."

Luckily, there is hope: Nearly 80 percent of all Americans support some form of legal residency for undocumented immigrants who qualify, and the Latino electorate is set to double by 2030. The Latino poverty rate as a whole is also on a downward slope.

But let’s not get lost in the future. Latino communities across the country are demanding their fair share as we speak. The death of unarmed Antonio Zambrano-Montes at the hands of three police officers in Pasco, Wa., has called law enforcement’s relationship with our community into question, and DREAMers—both on campus and outside of it—are working day and night to make their sueños and those of their parents and communities a reality.

Whether you like it or not, the Latino community is the future of America, and we’re ready to take our seat at the table.

Carlos Ballesteros CM ’16 is a history and sociology double major from Chicago. He plans on radicalizing all of our children once he gets his teacher's certification.