June 7, 2012

Overcoming The Hispanic Stereotype

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What is the issue?

I am a Hispanic college student and naturally that means that I must have lived a difficult life to get here. My mom must have debuted on Dr. Phil (or some other drama-filled daytime talk show) screaming at her “baby daddy” for child support. I’m Hispanic so I must be an illegal immigrant from Cuba or Mexico. I’m Puerto Rican so I must have friends in a gang. I’m Hispanic so when there’s an increase in poverty, crime, and teen pregnancies, I must have something to do with it. And of course, when applying to a scholarship for being Hispanic, the essay topic would be to write about the challenges in my life and how I overcame them, because you know, I am Hispanic and therefore my life has to be complicated. I must have had a set of obstacles that others don’t and risen above. Right?

Wrong. And yet, as a person of Hispanic heritage, all of the above are stereotypes that I have to deal with on a daily basis. At school, I am a minority within a minority. In high school, walking around the halls, so many of the students acted as our ethnic group is portrayed in mass media. They very well may be part of the troublemakers, the loud ones, the uneducated ones, the ones wearing clothes two sizes too small — the stereotypical Hispanic — and we get the labels that come with it. But really, that’s how most of the school acted, so why is it that my ethnicity is the one targeted and blamed for this behavior? Everyone seems blissfully unaware that our generation is the one who could shape the image of our minority. Of course there are people who look like me that fulfill these traits, but these characteristics exist in all races. It is not centered on one demographic.

I didn’t grow up in a broken home, a poor home, or an uneducated home. My childhood is filled with pleasant memories because my parents wanted better for me. They wanted more from me than to be that stereotypical “chonga” that got very little out of life. I am an honors student and I graduated at the top of my high school class. I took AP courses, I was Vice President of the BETA club and a member of the National Honor Society. I attend a good university and am in the honors program. I play the violin and am an active member of the community through Girl Scouts. I did everything right, the good way, the “normal” way. So why is it that in all of my accomplishments, I only ever get the question “How did you face cultural challenges to get to where you are today?” Why does the fact that I am Hispanic mean I’m not a normal candidate to be successful?

If I have overcome anything in life brought on by my culture, it would be the stereotypes waiting for me to prove I am a failure. When taking standardized tests where we have to fill in our racial group, why is it that they take the scores and categorize the means by ethnicity? And why are Hispanics always one of the lowest? Perhaps it’s because of the stereotypes we carry every day, that live within us. We all know that people expect us Hispanics to be poorly educated, so there are many who just live up to that standard — expect nothing, they give nothing. Well, that standard is not enough for me. I work at raising the standards for my minority everyday. I maintain my grades so when I graduate and become successful in life, I can say “I proved you wrong.”

I can only speak for one group, and maybe all of us don’t even face these challenges, maybe it’s where I am, who I’m with. You could very well ask the same question to Native Americans, Indians, Asians, Europeans, Africans, and everyone else we see every day. What do they live with? But for me, for today, I see the stereotype I am forced to carry — that we are forced to carry. This is my challenge and how I overcome it. This is what I am doing instead of following the ugly stereotype, instead of dressing like Chiquita Banana and practicing carrying a basket over my head. TC mark

 

image – Kenneth Lu
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