By Ramiro Valdez
The dynamics that come with being a Latinx in Kansas City in contemporary spaces come in a very wide range. I believe I cover two very interesting Latinx identities in the life history interviews I conducted throughout the course of this spring of 2018. My two interviewees were Wendy Miranda and Nicholas Quiroz. Wendy is a student at JCCC who emigrated from Chihuahua to the United States when she was five years old. Nicholas is a 2nd generation born Kansas Citian who has lived in Kansas City his whole life. It should go without saying that the culture that comes with being a part of the Latinx community is not a monolithic one. Latinx culture continues to push for the inclusion of a wide array of expression. Latinxs continue to look for their culture and refine it, as it is always transforming and conforming to fit into contemporary spaces and survive. The way we define our culture and identity goes from a wide range of simple Americanization and the acceptance of that while still accepting our roots, to a Latin-American culture which is Latinxs creating a new type of culture that mixes with American social tensions while still keeping fragments of its Latinx roots. The way we are discriminated against or not, defines how we adapt and shape our Latinx identity.
There are so many ways being Latinx can be defined since Latin America is a melting pot of different races on a spectrum including mostly, Black, White, and Indigenous peoples and the mixings of these people over time. What I am alluding to is that these dynamics that I mention I will go over is limited because Latinxs are so fundamentally different in many ways. The two people I interviewed had amazing experiences of being Latinx in the United States and still share some opinions and attitudes. The first one I could detect was their attitudes on President Donald Trump. Wendy confessed to me in her interview that she had fallen asleep and then woke up in the middle of the night to President Trump. She confessed that she started “bawling” when she woke up in the middle of the night and found out Trump won, she said she could not sleep. Said she didn’t want to go anywhere the day after.
She describes having a strong frustration with the fact that “Did Not Vote” would have actually won the election. The election really unsettled her, she mentioned that she did not want to go to school the next day or do anything because she was so let down by it. She thought that everything was going to be different the day after. Wendy describes the experience at K-State around her time there was becoming overtly racist, (blackface) political marches, put some fear into her at the time because she lived on her own. Her DACA renewal was also coming up, which fueled a little bit of her nervousness about the situation of the current sociopolitical realm. She was also nervous because she knows her parents are pacifists when it comes to crimes being committed against them. This is not an out of the ordinary trend by any means.
According to a report by the Los Angeles Times, the amount of reports of sexual assaults, rape and domestic violence incidents has decreased among Los Angeles’ Latino population. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said rape reports have dropped 25 percent, while domestic violence reports have dropped by 10 percent. Between January 1 and March 18 of 2017, Latino victims have reported 123 sexual assaults compared to 164 reports in the same timeframe in 2016.Reports of spousal abuse in that timeframe dropped from 1,210 in 2016 to 1,092 in 2017. According to Beck, this decline in reporting was not seen among any other ethnic groups. So, does this mean that crime is significantly down? No, but there is one major reason that is likely contributing to the decline in police reports among Latinos (Walin & Klarich, 2017). That is the fear of potential deportation. This has always been a trend for Latino immigrants in the United States. Rumors would spread in Latinx communities that if you were to report a crime committed against you that ICE would arrive. With the way INS is handling their business lately, it results in fewer crimes being reported. Which in turn, further alienates and isolates the Latinx community, creating distrust and disconnect from the police force. While this also does not exclusively talk about Kansas City I do believe it applies very strongly to our communities here. The Latinx population in Los Angeles is much higher so its easier to see the trends, Wendy mentions in her interview that this is one of the concerns for her parents whenever they can be involved with police for any reason.
Education is an important accomplishment for traditional Latinx families according to Wendy in her interview. For her to have accomplished being the first person in her family to attain a college education was a significant goal for her. Her brother dropped out of high school, and her cousins were not as fortunate to have a good enough supporting cast. She was able to go to school with the help of her parents financially. Since she is a Dreamer, she does not receive any federal funding, which only elucidates the problem that some Latinx youth face when considering higher education. There are trends showing that the number of Latinx youth attending college now is increasing, although the graduation number is still significantly low. The high school drop out rate is lower than its ever been for Latinxs, but that number is still at 12% of 18-24 year olds who are dropping out or have dropped out as of 2014 (Krogstad, 2014).
Wendy expresses her dissatisfaction with the machismo culture in Latinx communities, the problem that comes with gender roles. It doesn’t allow women any freedom of movement other than being a homemaker, and simultaneously does not allow men to express their feelings in a healthy way. It plays into the toxicity of the way women are objectified and treated as sexual objects. Machismo is also a super homophobic sense of expression, where it is more taboo to be effeminate than it is to be gay (Ingoldsby, 1991).
Wendy confesses that she has a bit of emotions of guilt for liking some aspects of American culture (Hip-Hop) more than Mexican/Mexican-American culture. She confessed she would in the past much rather listen to hip-hop than Banda or Norteñas, now as she has grown older she feels more inclined to go towards her Mexican culture. She expresses concern because her younger cousins decide and prefer to use English, even with their parents who are immigrants and who English is a second language to them. Their parents try not to let them that way they can learn Spanish. However I believe this is the Latinx identity of this generation’s youth conforming to the Americanization they are going through every day. I believe it is inevitable that we will lose Spanish as time goes by and I have come to realize (whether my two interviewees agree with me or not) that it is not necessarily a bad thing because we cant control it and because it is also a language that was imposed upon us. Of all 3rd generation Latinxs, only 1% report speaking Spanish as their dominant language. In the same study that was conducted 95% of Latinxs agree that Spanish is important to our cultural identity, while both of my interviewees do agree with that I believe it is just more about being a realist and understanding how soft powers work. Soft power is the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than by coercion (hard power), which is using force or giving money as a means of persuasion. Soft power is the ability to shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive; the currency of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies (Nye, 2012).
That is not to say that the language and resistance to the changing cultural identity will not occur “Que se les nota el nopal en la frente”, is a saying you will hear Mexicans say to Chicanos/Mexican Americans whenever they don’t conform or don’t fit into what is considered a social norm, such as eating beans, or listening to Mexican music, or especially, speaking Spanish.
The patriarchal structure that preferences men in Latinx families is indirectly touched upon by Wendy. She mentions her mother favored/coddled her older brother compared to her. When it came to freedom to go out, her brother would receive many more liberties even though he was doing a lot of dumb typical guy stuff. She expresses that her mother would say her brother was more of a troublemaker, but once again that can be explained by how patriarchy teaches these young men that they are allowed to make mistakes, and women are restricted from any type of behavior that is even a little comparable to risk-taking “male behavior”. Wendy was eventually given more freedom to go out once they saw she was much more responsible than her brother. Although it is slightly mitigated in my interviewees eyes due to the fact that women are more likely to be put in an unpleasant situation, more than likely being worried about other men. This is not just a Latinx problem; this is universal patriarchy.
Her own personal experience with life and people she has seen lack the resources to be able to go to school because of the residential status in the United States. She mentions that some of her family members could not go to school, receive scholarships, or FAFSA because of where they were born.
Her grandmas passing from a few months ago around October-November, her maternal grandma that she grew up with in Chihuahua. She mentioned it was especially sad because her parents could not go see her because they did not want to go near the border, so they sent Wendy and her cousin, her mother was not able to see her when she passed because of this river that separates the two countries. Which is a recurring theme with the Latinx population who leave family members behind. With crossing into the US illegitimately is getting harder and harder, once some adults reach a certain age they know they take a risk in going back to Mexico because they may not have the physical capacity to make it back.
Nicholas defines his masculinity through the workforce, being a crane technician and he is currently in the process of remodeling a house. He initially participated in school activities like football and band and later stopped participating because he couldn’t feel a sense of belonging in those things. He believed that the teachers at Wyandotte High School did not actually care about teaching; he does have a few he holds to high regards however.
Him and Wendy both went to the same high school, He mentions that some of the teachers would not make exceptions for him for late work because he was busier because he was helping his parents financially. Mentions that he does not talk to as many of his friends from high school anymore. Nicholas also expresses hoping to have reassurance for a future daughters safety by hopefully having a son first.
He mentions that his grandpa was drafted into and served in World War 2, and I noticed also that he definitely has a sense of pride in being an American. Nicks best friend Terrell is serving in the Marine Corps and he holds his friend to a very high regard. Therefore while serving in the American military is not the life path Nick chose, his attitude toward the thought of possibly being drafted is an important dynamic because it truly shows that he has a strong sense of patriotism to the United States, he mentions when I brought up a hypothetical draft today. “If my country called to me to lay my life down for it then I would, I would be terrified but I would do it.” I know a few people who don’t agree with that statement and for many good reasons they don’t, Nick having that hypothetical thought process is not wrong either.
We come back to reach into identity and how our current presidency has brought him to feel more proud of his cultural heritage. His girlfriends family is trying to teach him Spanish, the language barriers that come with not speaking Spanish is how these histories between generations get lost unfortunately. I make this point because when I asked Nick what part of Mexico his family is from he did not know. There is nothing wrong with that I will say over and over again, there is a takeaway form this though. I do believe that there will be a gap of Latinxs generational lineage being lost as a result of situations like this that all families will have to go through. There is a good reason as to why Nick does not speak Spanish, his Grandpa would mention to him that he saw in the military the type of discrimination that comes with being different so he decided his family would learn English to conform and be accepted by American society. This was the very common lived experience of Black and Brown soldiers that they would fight for their country and then come home to discrimination.
No matter how far a Latinx person may delineate himself or herself from the traditional culture it still will not change the way racism treats them, that’s another very important point that needs to be made about my interviewee Nick. In the interview he mentions to me a story about a time his father was at a Wal-Mart and there was a figure of a Mexican Santa and he was singing “Feliz Navidad” instead of “Merry Christmas”, his story goes that a lady turned to his father and said “you all need to learn English and go back to your own country,” then she walked off. The point to be taken away here is that this had happened a few years ago. Nick’s father does not even speak Spanish, so you can become Americanized that still will not change your treatment.
The dynamics that come with being a Latinx in Kansas City in contemporary spaces come in a very wide range. Wendy is a Latina who has a strong personal stake in the politics of some of our most marginalized Latinxs. Therefore she has stronger emotional responses than Nicholas when it comes to these situations. They are discriminated against on different levels but nevertheless are both discriminated against. She sees firsthand through her parents and herself the marginalizations of not speaking English fluently, not being born in the United States, etc. Nicholas is the more Americanized Latino in the dynamic I am explaining. His family history was strongly discriminated in the past before his family was Americanized. Being alienated in the scope of American society leads to lower trust with the police, hence the fact why fewer and fewer of the Latinx community are calling to report crimes for the fear of being undocumented. Since they both continue to be alienated and isolated by American politics and ideologies, they are adapting and conforming in certain spaces their sense of their Latinx identity. The culture will adapt and conform to fit their needs/expectations in relation to society. Every character is dynamic in how or when they choose to adapt or conform their sense of identity.
Wallin & Klarich,Wallin & Klarich. “Latinos Reporting Crime Less Due to Fear of Deportation – Southern California Defense Blog – April 7, 2017.” Southern California Defense Blog, 7 May 2018, www.southerncaliforniadefenseblog.com/2017/04/latinos-reporting-crime-less-due-fear-deportation.html.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel. “5 Facts about Latinos and Education.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 28 July 2016, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/07/28/5-facts-about-latinos-and-education/.
BB, Ingoldsby. “The Latin American Family: Familism vs. Machismo.” Popline, Cape Town South Africa Human Sciences Research Council Publishers 2002., 1 Jan. 1991, www.popline.org/node/318192.
Nye, Joseph (8 May 2012). “China’s Soft Power Deficit To catch up, its politics must unleash the many talents of its civil society“. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 6 December 2014.