Tag: second-generation

Teen Angst

It’s not easy being a teenager. The zits, the hormones, the awkward encounters with the opposite (or same) sex — it’s all stressful. And you can’t even buy even buy a damn beer, at least not legally, until your teen years are long over.

But if it sucks to be an adolescent, it sucks more to be an immigrant teenager in a new country. Take all the angst that faces every teen, then add language barriers, cultural confusion, discrimination, and general discombobulation. It’s not pretty, is it?

However, in a surprising conclusion, a recent study says racist acts may affect the mental health of US-born Latino teens more than teens born in Latin America. The study, by the Society for Research in Child Development, showed that US-born Latinos who faced discrimination had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

How can this be? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that immigrant teens who face bigotry would feel more alone and alienated than a kid born here?

alienation

Well, the researchers said foreign-born teens might have stronger attachments to their Latino heritage, and thus may feel less stress when discriminated against. But native-born Hispanics, who are still trying to figure out how to balance their heritage and their American tastes, are more likely to feel ostracized and betrayed by the culture in which they grew up.

The researchers point out that discrimination has damaging effects on mental health, and stress has long-term health implications for Latino teens. In this way, it supports other findings that show second-generation Hispanics often perform worse than immigrants in a number of lifestyle areas, including mental health.

So is there any good news in this depressing study? Well, the research also implies that Latino immigrants, even children, often demonstrate high levels of psychological strength and resiliency.

Basically, you can’t shut ‘em down.

 


An Ominous U-turn

It’s taken as a given — a damn article of faith — that each generation in America does at least as well as its parents, preferably better. This is the reason old people go on and on about all the sacrifices they made for you. They wanted you to have a better life than they did.

Well, as we all know, that forward progress came to a jolting halt with Gen X. People of my age group have heard many times how we will be the first generation in American history to do worse than our parents. Let me tell you, that little factoid never gets stale… nope.

But now there is more to the story. A new study implies that the grandchildren of Latino immigrants — the third generation — make a U-turn in generational improvement in some areas and end up worse off than their parents.

uturn

 

Basically, if you are a Millenial Hispanic, you are so very, very screwed.

The study showed that second-generation Latinos (like me) tend to do better than their immigrant parents in such areas as education, employment and financial stability. But the third generation sees that forward momentum sputter and slide back down. Their educational and economic progress stagnates.

The researchers theorize that second-generation Latinos grow up hearing about their parents’ difficult lives in their home countries. I know this was true for me. I heard many times from my mom and aunt about El Salvador and how it was not exactly the most blessed of nations.

Hearing such tales may inspire second-generation Latinos to improve upon their parents’ situation. However, the third generation is more removed from this frame of reference. It seems that abuela’s anecdotes about walking to school barefoot and living on nothing but rice and beans just don’t register with those darn kids.

Of course, that’s only part of the problem. More important, issues like poverty and discrimination may become more entrenched by the third generation, and this may drag on young Latinos, making it difficult to improve upon their parents’ status.

As the researchers note, there is only “so much you can do with motivation and drive to get out of poverty.…At some point, you need the structural means to overcome a lot of these problems.”

Yes, that means investing in education, infrastructure, and other boogeyman “big government” solutions. Somehow, I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

It’s almost enough to make you grateful for being a member of Gen X. And that’s saying something.

 


Lasagna and Tortillas

I’ve mentioned before that I am part Italian. My paternal grandmother came off the boat from Naples as a teenage girl in the 1920s. She settled in New York City, like many Italian immigrants did, and lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for fifty years.

greenwich

In her old age, she developed a reputation as a cantankerous character who snapped at people for littering the sidewalk, often unleashing a string of Italian vulgarities and insults at them.

But that is another story.

The point is that many of my Italian grandmother’s descendents, including me, have achieved a much higher standard of living then she did. This is despite the fact that my grandmother was basically a high school dropout who spoke no English. As an Italian immigrant, she represented the fears of the established Americans, who were not terrible pleased at the new swarthy arrivals.

Yes, that sentiment sounds terribly familiar.

So it is most interesting that “a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

And that pattern is that immigrants arrive “in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English.”

From both Italian and Hispanic perspectives, this is true of me. And it is also true of my son, because “the grandchildren look ever more American.”

Of course, there is no magical guarantee that the descendants of Latino immigrants will completely close the gaps in education and income that separate Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

But it is certainly moving in that direction. For example, in the last decade the number of Latinos graduating from college has doubled. And second-generation Latino households are much closer in median income to other groups than their immigrant parents were.

The researchers conclude that the so-called Hispanic challenge is a real phenomenon. But rather than being an unprecedented cultural crisis, it is analogous to the Italian challenge, Chinese challenge, or Jewish challenge of the past.

Indeed, “over time, the specific challenges — legal, cultural and educational — have changed. Yet the core parts of the story have not, including its trajectory.”

 


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