Let’s say you are a young HispanicLatino, say, in your 20’s, and you are aware enough to know there are more important things in life than social networking, music, dancing, drinking, friends, entertainment and games. Let’s say that you pick up on the fact that 57 percent of white non-HispanicLatinos have anti-HispanicLatino sentiments, that is, that so-called Anglos think negatively about you, your family and your friends. The findings from a recent survey commissioned by the Associated Press and conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and Stanford and Michigan universities are no surprise to most HispanicLatinos. But what is someone so young supposed to think – or do? The answer is to make it about you yourself, not them. What 57 percent of Anglos think is less important as each day passes and will have lesser and lesser bearing.
Most writers across the country have bemoaned the results of the study. It is, I suppose, sad – if you live in the past. A different viewpoint should take hold instead of morose musings that the country never achieved harmonic convergence on race. It does not matter now that the country never got to some nebulous promised land where skin color and ethnicity blended into some sort of multicultural muddle. The very point of where humankind finds itself today is that in a globalized world, all cultures matter, and, in fact, matter equally. The point of the future is that we are going to have to get along despite lasting natural differences not melt each other into some vapid subsistence.
HispanicLatinos who do not understand that they are part of a new global phenomenon will miss out on the new age that has dawned and thereby lessen their chances of succeeding. Despite all of its challenges, the United States will remain first among equals, making it necessary for HispanicLatinos to think now about how the nation survives and how it looks like when the ‘57 percent’ no longer exist. It seems that some HispanicLatinos really do not understand that the new demography really is changing the world around them. And others do not understand truly the responsibilities thrust on them by history and geography. The very nature of the American Experiment demands and requires that HispanicLatinos become something more and different than they are now. HispanicLatinos must transform themselves. America, after all, is an ongoing miracle, always remaking itself for the times. And the times now call for HispanicLatinos to remake themselves as well. They have to, so that the nation can survive and prosper in an age where, paradoxically, the world is becoming more “American” yet America itself becomes only a part of the global demographic stew.
HispanicLatinos must accept themselves for who and what they are and not chase after some hazy definition that others are trying to construct for them. You do not have to give up any part of the HispanicLatino experience in order to be an American at a time when all of the the Americas will matter as much as ‘America’.
The protestations of the ’57 percent’ is that individual characteristics should not matter. Their fallback provision would have merit if they then did not make clear that individual characteristics matter a lot to them. And so it should matter to HispanicLatinos as well. The ’57 percent’ are actually doing HispanicLatinos a favor by pushing the cultural envelope forward that HispanicLatinos need to pick up. It does matter that HispanicLatinos are different because the world is far more different now than when it was only two decades ago when HispanicLatinos were the third largest population group in the country. Now, they have reached a critical political and social mass that is new to them, and they have to grow it into, of course, something new.
That something new is going to be driven by the two principle components of their destiny: That they are going to be largely responsible for the future of the country and that assuming the new responsibility is going to be a hard undertaking – made so by enough Anglos who not understanding the future stand to make their task difficult. The challenge HispanicLatinos face inevitably leads to the question of how they deal with the problem, and it can only be assumed that they will have to begin to take more united steps than in the past to affect public policy. But the greatest action to be taken is at the personal and individual level, taking steps to educate themselves to the highest degree possible, not taking ‘no’ for an answer and bearing up under the criticisms and suspicions sure to come their way – as they have for more than 150 years.
The release of the NORC study in the context of an African American President seeking re-election obfuscates its importance. Yet, HispanicLatinos have learned a lot from African Americans, who more so than any group knows that racism is not and never will be a thing of the past. The negative attitudes against HispanicLatinos are no doubt due to the inaccurate perception that most are in the country illegally and the accurate assumption that they are leading the new demography changing America. And so it should not come as a surprise that the attitudes towards HispanicLatinos held by ‘the 57 percent’ are more severe than the ones they hold for black Americans – perhaps for the first time in history.
African Americans have proceeded into the future holding tight among themselves yet remaining Americans through and through, though not without effort. They care but don’t care about the ’57 percent’ – and neither should HispanicLatinos. Young African Americans and HispanicLatinos ought to rejoice that they have the opportunity to help save the country fiscally and then transform it into the better world that was always hoped for but which was never realized – because at least 57 percent of Anglos think the way they do.
Jesse Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.