News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The danger of derailed dreams

A just-released USC poll shows a disturbing difference between Latinos and Non-Hispanic Whites: 

79% of Latinos favor the recently enacted California Dream Act. Meanwhile, only 30% of Non-Hispanic Whites favor the law which would give undocumented students who have graduated from California high schools equal footing in qualifying for in-state college tuition rates.   

The poll results are troubling for two reasons.

First, it shows the political chasm between Latino and mainstream communities growing wider. Widespread support for laws like Arizona’s infamous SB1070 and similar measures enacted in Georgia, Alabama and on the docket in other states have already been a source of discord that has alienated many Latinos. The lack of support for the California Dream Act, which most Latinos see as a fair and sensible first step toward immigration reform, will only increase the perception that prejudice is the prime motive behind these attitudes.

Second, and perhaps more ominous, is the increasing alienation of the fastest growing age group among the fastest growing ethnic group: Latino youth.

What happens when a generation of intelligent, motivated young people find themselves marginalized and their potential stunted by societal forces? A look around the world – and at history – indicates that a very likely outcome is social upheaval including protests, rioting and even open rebellion. For proof, one only need look at this year’s Arab Spring, the recent riots in England and France, China’s democracy movement culminating in Tiananmen Square, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, and Castro’s revolution in Cuba. In all of these rebellions and many others, disillusioned young people have the spark and fuel for turmoil.

But I will not simply point the finger at the mainstream community and say “get over your prejudices.” That answer is too simple – and ultimately ineffective.

We in the Latino community must do a better job of framing this debate. Our public message must emphasize the economic benefit of educating the best and the brightest. We all gain when motivated young people are allowed to flower into their full potential. It will mean more prosperous workers paying more in taxes and fueling consumer demand, more entrepreneurs creating jobs and fewer demands on our social services. Xavier University student Bernard Pastor is one example of the exemplary leadership these young people can bring if given the chance. 

In contrast, denying equal opportunities to these young people who have committed no crimes will hurt all of us.

I wrote America Libre and House Divided as a warning to the potential of an ethnic conflict in the United States. The trends were are seeing today make me fear my cautionary tale may be prophetic instead.

Let’s make a smart choice. Let’s choose to help these young people – and also help ourselves. The Dream Act deserves your support.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez