There are roughly 58 million Latinos/Hispanics currently residing in the United States (Flores, 2017). Making up 17 percent of the population, Latino/Hispanic Americans are the second-largest ethnic group in the United States, after non-Hispanic whites (Sue et al., 2016). This makes them the majority minority, as their population is over 4 percent larger than African Americans (Sue et al., 2016).
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With a 2 percent average annual growth rate, they are also the second-fastest growing population, trailing Asian Americans who have a 3 percent growth rate (Flores, 2017). This growth is a result of both immigration and birth rates. The percentage of Latinos/Hispanics who are immigrants has decreased in recent years, but immigrants still make up 34 percent of the total population while the other 66 percent were born on American soil (Flores, 2017).
Hispanic/Latino is an umbrella term that is inclusive of several different nationalities. The fourteen largest subgroups in order from largest to smallest are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Salvadorians, Cubans, Dominicans, Guatemalans, Colombians, Hondurans, Spaniards, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Nicaraguans, Venezuelans, and Argentineans. Mexicans are by far the largest subgroup, accounting for 64 percent of the total Latino/Hispanic population (Sue et al., 2016). Undocumented Mexican immigrants make up 59 percent of the total undocumented population (Sue et al., 2016). Because these undocumented immigrants have no legal status, they are often forced to take labor-intensive jobs. For example, 68 percent of all farmworkers in the United States are from Mexico (Sue et al., 2016).
Latinos/Hispanics also have the lowest levels of educational attainment of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. They have the highest high school drop-out rate, at 10 percent, compared to 7 percent for Blacks, 5 percent for Whites, and 3 percent for Asians (Gramlich, 2017). It is important to note, however, that this is a record low, down from 34 percent in 1998 (Gramlich, 2017). This is particularly significant because the number of Latino/Hispanic students enrolled in public and private schools has increased by 80 percent between 1999 and 2016. Interestingly, it has fallen 14 percent among White students (Gramlich, 2017). The number of Latino/Hispanic high school graduates enrolled in college between the ages of 18 and 24 has also jumped by 15 percent since 1999 (Gramlich, 2017). Despite these recent trends, Latinos/Hispanics are still more likely to hold blue-collar, semi-skilled, or unskilled occupations. Further, they have high rates of unemployment.
Considering these statistics, it is unsurprising that the median income for Latino/Hispanic households in 2010 was $37,759, compared to $53,642, which was the median income for White households (Sue et al., 2016). The average age among Latinos/Hispanics is twenty-seven, compared to the national average of thirty-seven. This makes them the youngest ethnic or racial group in the United States. The seven leading causes of death for this group are cancer, heart disease, unintentional injuries, stroke, diabetes, chronic liver disease, and cirrhosis (Sue et al., 2016). Latinos/Hispanics are also at higher risk for a number of health issues, including asthma, HIV/AIDS, obesity, teen pregnancy, and infant mortality (book). Mental health has also been discovered to be a struggle for the Latino/Hispanic population.
Female Latino/Hispanic teenagers are 70 percent more likely to attempt to commit suicide than their White peers, and Latino/Hispanic men are five times more likely to commit suicide than Latino/Hispanic women (Sue et al., 2016). Unfortunately, despite all of this, Latino/Hispanics are widely uninsured and underinsured (Sue et al., 2016). Historical Overview Many people have this popular vision of Latinos as people who arrived day before yesterday, but when you think about the first European settlement in what would become the United States, it was St. Augustine in 1565. That predates Jamestown in 1607. The first European language spoken, in what would become the United States, is Spanish (Gartland, 2015). Vicki Ruiz (Historian)
The full history of Latinos/Hispanics in the United States is extensive and complicated, and it falls outside of the scope of this paper. To briefly summarize, Mexico was formerly controlled by Spain, who sent Mexican citizens on mission settlements along the coast of California to occupy the land. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain (Gartland, 2015). Then, just fifteen years later in 1846, the new United States began expanding westward, and they seized control of California, starting a war with freshly independent Mexico (Gartland, 2015). The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed in 1848, officially ending the Mexican-American war after which the United States granted all Latinos/Hispanics living in California American citizenship and voting rights (Gartland, 2015). This effectively marked the beginning of Latino/Hispanic oppression in the United States as they had just been conquered and would not be treated equally.
Latinos and Hispanics in America today experience oppression in many forms, and on every social level. Tension runs deep because of the anti-immigration climate. Stereotypes have strongly encouraged the negative feelings non-Hispanic Whites feel towards Latinos/Hispanics. A few examples of stereotypes spread today are that Latinos/Hispanics (specifically Mexicans) are uneducated, untrustworthy, lazy. A seemingly contradictory stereotype to lazy is that they come into the country illegally to steal American jobs. They are also believed to be rapists and murderers. These stereotypes were founded with racist, cultural imperialist ideology and they have actively worked to oppress this population. Social workers must work to become culturally competent, so they can easily identify the strengths and resiliency of individuals to help them overcome oppression.
Arguably the central characteristic of Latino/Hispanic culture is the value and importance of familismo. Familismo is an ideology that puts a priority on the family. The definition of family for Latinos/Hispanics includes immediate family, extended family, and close friends. Because of the centrality of strong social and familial relationships, Latinos/Hispanics may wait to seek outside help until resources from extended family and close friends have been exhausted (Sue et al., 2016). Religion also plays a vital role in Hispanic/Latino culture; roughly 80 percent of the population is Christian, with about 50 percent Catholic (Ayon, Ojeda, & Ruano, 2018). For social work practice, this means that before seeking professional help, Latinos/Hispanics may first visit a priest and another religious leader.
To conduct culturally competent social work practice with Latinos/Hispanics, social workers must recognize the value of family and religion. In American culture, the emphasis is placed on the individual, which is different compared to the emphasis on family in Latino/Hispanic culture. To accommodate this cultural difference, social workers should involve the entire family in assessment and even intervention (Villatoro et al., 2014). Familismo is a key strength in Latino/Hispanic culture. Therefore, by utilizing the family in practice, the strengths perspective is employed, and progress can be made.
A significant percentage, 34 percent, of Latinos/Hispanics in the United States are immigrants (Sue et al., 2016). Being an immigrant comes with its own set of challenges, especially considering the anti-immigration political climate. Many White, non-Hispanic Americans are concerned with the coloring of the country and are in favor of a ban on immigration. More than half of Mexican children have at least one immigrant parent, and there are roughly 9 million mixed-status families, in which one parent is undocumented, and one is natural-born (Ayon, Ojeda, & Ruano, 2018). For undocumented immigrants, the threat of detainment and deportation disrupts the stability of the family, adding stress and therefore putting the health of the individuals in the household at risk. Further, the state of being undocumented severely limits access to resources. These hardships may be considered a form of oppression, as they are secondary consequences some Latino/Hispanic families face because of their immigration or documentation statues.
Cultural socialization is a difficult task for parents as they struggle to negotiate aspects of their host culture and integrate aspects of the dominant culture. Parents want their children to understand that they have a story that did not start here in the United States (Ayon, Ojeda, & Ruano, 2018). To teach their children about their heritage, Latino/Hispanic parents tell stories, make traditional food dishes, travel to their origin countries, speak Spanish in the home, and attend traditional events and celebrations with their children. Often, parents use photos and the internet as tools to facilitate learning. When children were faced with discrimination, story-telling served as a mechanism whereby parents built counter-narratives that challenged anti-immigration discourse (Ayon, Ojeda, & Ruano, 2018). This is noteworthy because it highlights the parents’ ability to use an otherwise negative situation as a learning experience for their children. Social workers can also adopt practices to help the process of cultural socialization further. They can evaluate how important maintaining and preserving the host culture is to the particular family member and allow them to discuss feelings and thoughts about acclimating to American culture. They can also provide support and empowerment to parents, who are also trying to strike a balance between both cultures. Lastly, they can promote parent-child bonding by incorporating the same tools parents use, such as the internet, into practice.
A subgroup within the Latino/Hispanic group that may experience a rather excessive amount of oppression are mothers, specifically who are undocumented immigrants. A study that analyzed the interviews of 32 undocumented Mexican mothers discovered that they faced every form of oppression on Young’s Model, which are exploitation, violence, marginalization, cultural imperialism, and powerlessness (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018). Employers exploited their labor by hanging their undocumented status over their heads. On top of being forced to work under poor conditions, more was expected from these women than from their documented coworkers. Further, they were paid lower wages, forced to work unpaid overtime, and given no vacation days (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018). These Latino/Hispanic mothers also experienced several types of violence. Psychological abuse was a repeated theme as these mothers explained how employers took advantage of their legal status and consistently threatened to fire them or have them deported if expectations were not met (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018).
Marginalization also had a significant impact on the well-being of the mothers. As the law is written, undocumented immigrants have minimal rights, which means limited access to social services. The women experienced marginalization in normal society on a daily basis as well. Several of the women reported being turned away from stores or not being allowed to purchase or return items (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018). Cultural imperialism in America is the idea that American culture is the best way, the only way, and the right way. This ideology is fairly widespread across the country, which makes it unsurprising that Latino/Hispanic mothers have been belittled for speaking Spanish, told they should speak English, and judged for the number of children they have (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018). In every case, the mothers felt powerless primarily because of documentation status and the unsteadiness of the situation. These reports showed the resiliency of Latino/Hispanic women.
The value of family was apparent based on the levels of oppression and injustice these women endured for their children. The core mission of social work is to enhance the well-being of people who are oppressed and promote social justice. In this case, social workers are tasked with finding a way to get these women access to mental health resources. This is important because they sustain loads of stress that can negatively impact their health and the health of their families. Social workers should also advocate for policy change and inform mothers of their rights. Promoting more interaction between the Latino/Hispanic groups and the dominant group would also serve to challenge stereotypes and combat discrimination (Ayon, Gurrola, Messing, & Valencia-Garcia, 2018). Language When it comes to culture, language is one of the most important aspects. Part of preserving the culture is preserving Spanish. Since the Mexican-American war, however, there has been a goal to eradicate Spanish in the United States (Cobas & Feagin, 2008). Language, therefore, provides yet another avenue for oppression.
Non-Hispanic White Americans have used five strategies to oppress language among Hispanics. The most common strategy is simple silencing; we only speak English in America, rhetoric aims to pressure Hispanics to drop their native tongue. Another strategy is mocking Hispanic accents. Some White customers even refuse to work with Hispanic personnel because of their accents. A close friend’s aunt attested that a client refused to work with her because she had, too much of an accent. Ignoring Spanish speakers has also been used to discourage use of the language by making Hispanics feel inferior and worthless. Voicing suspicion, like announcing distrust in Spanish speakers, is another strategy used to create a hostile environment towards those who speak their native language. One would think that learning English would stop the negativity, but doubting proficiency is perhaps a desperate effort to oppress Hispanics.
Interestingly, European accents are not discriminated against like Spanish is. This comes down to the bottom line that racism is a driving force in oppression. While Hispanic defines an ethnicity, people who identify as Hispanic are often people of color. Hispanics enjoy speaking in their native tongue because, it is a richer form of communication (Cobas & Feagin, 2008). A bilingual friend has even said that things just get lost in translation; Spanish is a romance language after all. To build more culturally competent social work practice with Hispanic Americans, it would be beneficial to employ translators, especially because there are many Hispanics who need help but are not proficient in English.
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