As long as I’m talking (in separate entries) about the rough spots between cultures, I ought to clear my brain of a few issues centered on the U.S.-Mexico border. Expats on both sides of that border could benefit from some healthy mutual understanding.
I have just recently returned to Arizona after 30 years away. I have already discovered that the perception of Hispanics (whether also Americans or not) here is more negative than it was in 1975. There is not only disdain; there is also fear. I believe it’s because the Gringos are on the ropes, so to speak, fearing that they are losing their dominant position. Well, yes; they are. Demographic projections show that Hispanics will come to outnumber Gringos in our lifetime. (Learn Spanish now, so you’ll have no trouble talking to the nurses in your “elder-care” facility.) The “blame” for this trend is heaped on the backs of the immigrants, legal and illegal.
Hear the story of a friend. I share it because it is illustrative of the friction between cultures on the border. His name is changed to protect him and his family. Let’s call him Pedro. Pedro came with his Mexican family, illegally, at age 9 and settled in Mesa, Arizona, my home town. Pedro entered school and was placed in the first grade–a 9-year old among 6-year olds, because he needed to learn English.
Pedro quickly learned that he was what many Gringo children expected him to be: a “dumb Mexican”. He worked hard in school to erase the gap but was always at a disadvantage. Despite his desire to catch up with his age group in school, his family was poor, and his parents didn’t speak English, so his progress was slow. Dumb Mexican!
Pedro stopped communicating in Spanish, except when his parents couldn’t understand him. Spanish was part of his problem. It was frowned on at school. For the sake of his tender ego, he adopted the view that his parents were the dumb Mexicans, but he wouldn’t be. He was passed from grade to grade until finally, at age 19, he graduated high school–unable to read and write past a grade school level. He was unprepared for college or even a cashier’s position at a burger joint. So he went on to the same sorts of menial work his father did. Ten years of education in the U.S. had served him very poorly.
This cycle is being repeated in thousands of homes today as it was 30 years ago. Moves have been made to accommodate non-English speaking students and to hepl with their adaptation. Government and charitable institutions assist the Hispanic families. In short, effort are being made–minimal as they may be–but the perception of the Dumb Mexican remains.