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.

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