Cronkite-Carnegie Initiative

The words were blunt and perhaps over-dramatized but author Guy Garcia's point stuck when he said men are losing their way in today's society, especially Latinos.

"Weʼve got a lot of work on our hands,"Garcia said," The only role models are aggressive sexual predators, guys with guns or jackasses that... do not take anything seriously."

Garcia, author of The Decline of Men, made the comments as a keynote speaker at Arizona State Universityʼs wide-ranging Symposium on Young Latino Males in October. Experts in education, criminal justice, substance abuse and family life weighed in on what they consider a crisis facing young Latinos.

The event was hosted by the new U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Raul Yzaguirre, who has led Arizona State University's Center for Community Development and Civil Rights for the past four years.

"I can't think of any other more important issue facing not only the Latino community, but all minority communities than this issue of minority males," Yzaguirre said. "It is staggering in scope. It's monumental in importance and I don't know of an issue where the danger and the importance is so high on the one hand and yet so little is known and understood about this issue."

In almost every statistical measure, Latino men are falling further behind whites and even Latinas.

About 41% of all Hispanics over 20 did not graduate high school as of 2009 -- compared to 23% for blacks and 14% for Whites, according to the Pew Hispanic Center ( But the number of male Hispanic dropouts is significantly higher than females, with two-in-five never finishing high school in 2007, according to the center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University in Boston and the Alternative Schools Network in Chicago (,http://

Latinos make up one-third of the population of federal prisons and are the fastest growing ethnic group in all U.S. prisons, according to The Sentencing Project, a Washington-based non-profit (

Other studies show Hispanic men are less likely to see their criminal cases dismissed, are less likely to get bail andface harsher sentences than white Americans.

And Latinos may have been the hardest hit of all ethnic groups by the recent recession, according the Population Reference Bureau,which estimates the Latino jobless rate at 15 percent as of early 2010 (

All this couldnʼt come at a worse time, Guy Garcia said, because the traditional gender models are collapsing and Latinos "feel disenfranchised and marginalized and denigrated and dismissed."


The disparity Latino males face in education is apparent when you look at the ever-widening gender gap in colleges. Latinos accounted for just 39 percent of the 120,000

bachelor degrees awarded to Hispanics last year, according to Victor Saenz, an assistant professor at the University of Texas and co-author of The Vanishing Latino Male In The gap began to appear in 1990 and is the result of an education system that begins to fail Latinos before they start kindergarten, he said.

Since Hispanic girls are are more likely to attend preschool than boys -- they tend to do better in school. Young Latinos sometimes donʼt get along with female teachers who are predominantly white, Saenz said, and tend to get labeled as troublemakers early on. By the time Latino boys reach third grade, they are typically at least a year behind girls inreading and writing skills.

"Young girls have a saying for it," Saenz said, "girls rule; boys drool."

Things often get worse from there. An unwritten "boy code" -- a kind of machismo that encourages Latinos to hide their weaknesses and avoid "acting white" often lands boys in trouble at school, he said.

"They develop very poor teacher/student relationships they increasingly see the teacher as the enemy. Theyʼre feeling more and more stigmatized for being singled out as not smart."

Saenzʼs research partner, Luis Ponjuan, said he knows first hand how the system can work against boys. His third-grade sonʼs teacher mistakenly thought the boy had a learning

disability because his behavior was "out of control."

"We got him tested and sure enough he was different. He was gifted and the teacher didnʼt know what to do with a gifted brown boy.

Didnʼt know how to handle a gifted brown boy and consequently, she was ready to classify him as a learning disabled student," Ponjuan said.

Ponjuan, an Associate Education Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said it is probably no coincidence that boys make up two-thirds of the special education programs in the U.S., and in some districts boys of color are ten times more likely to be diagnosed with emotional and behavioral problems.

The crisis facing Latinos in education has many causes, Saenz and Ponjuan said, and there is no single solution. First educators and parents must be made aware of the problem, which Ponjuan calls "a silent crisis." Other possible solutions include increasing the number of male Latino teachers, encouraging fathers to volunteer in classrooms and continuing to fight for better schools -- which Saenz said have become "re-segregated" to a point where they were before the Civil Rights Movement.

The group also heard from the Vice President of the College Board -- which oversees the SAT college entrance exams. Ronald Williams warned that with an exploding Hispanic population the U.S. can no longer afford an educational system where Latinos are left behind.

In the coming decades, Ronald Williams said, "there will be "almost a one-to-one replacement of white people by brown people."

"People are beginning to understand that," he said. "Theyʼre beginning to understand that unless we can fix that problem, the United States as a whole will decline. No if, ands or buts, it will decline."

The head of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence agrees that the need to change is urgent. "Things have gotten really bad. Weʼve got a crisis that we face

today," Juan Sepúlveda told the group.

He said President Obama remains committed to the so-called "Dream Act," which would provide a path for citizenship for undocumented youth in exchange for military or community service. The measure failed to make it out of Congress this year, but Sepúlveda said the Administration hopes to try again by convincing Republicans to support the Dream Act as part of an overall immigration reform bill.

Sepúlveda said the coming retirement of over one million Baby Boom-era teachers represents an opportunity to get more Latinos into the classroom. But in order to do that, there must be a focused effort to get more Hispanic students through high school. That will require nothing short of redesigning todayʼs classrooms using the talents of parents, teachers, schools, non-profits and private business, he said.

"The future of the United States is inextricably linked to the future of the Latino community. It cannot happen without us."


Latino boys who drop out of school often wind up in the criminal justice system -- and many end up as repeat offenders according to a pair of leading researchers who spoke at the symposium, outlining "startling" disparities between the way whites, Hispanics andother minorities are treated by the system.

"Latinos are actually less likely to be involved in violent crime than any other racial or ethnic group," said Professor Jose Luis Morin of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University in New York. "The overwhelming majority of incarcerated Latinos and Latinas are convicted for relatively minor non-violent offenses and/or are first

time offenders. Latinos are more likely to be arrested and charged for drug offenses even though they are no more likely than any other group to use illegal drugs and less likely to use alcohol."

Morin said society paints an inaccurate picture of Latinos as criminals and drug dealers -- and the result is a court system and "prison industrial complex," that unfairly targets Hispanic men. He said a first step toward fighting the problem would be to send fewer young Latinos to adult prisons, provide better legal representation to Hispanic defendants, and translators when needed.

Research from Arizona that shows Hispanic youth are more likely to receive harsh sentences than Whites was presented by Arizona State University Associate Professor Nancy Rodriguez. She studied survey data on 8th, 10th and 12th graders and found that Latino youth tend to have more risk factors for crime -- things like having a parent who is incarcerated, gang involvement or failure in school.

Rodriguez also examined juvenile court records in the Phoenix area and found that regardless of where they live, or whether they come from a wealthy or lower-income family, Latino youth are less likely to get bail than whites. Rodriguez said she shared the results of her study with court administrators who were "astonished," and asked for more research to help improve the system.


All young people are vulnerable to drug use, but Latinos may have a built-in defense, if they are allowed to use it. According to a study, the more Latinos assimilate into American culture -- the more likely they are to use drugs.

Mexican young people tend to use drugs less in their home country, and when they remain close to their culture while in the U.S., according to Colorado State University

Associate Professor David Beccerra ( As a result, he said Arizona and other states should think twice before abandoning ethnic studies courses and bilingual education.

"The latest thing right now is to be anti-immigrant and anti-Latino ʻcause thatʼs going to get you votes. We need to do a better job using the media and all these things to promote the research to say thatʼs—all youʼre doing is causing more harm by promoting these policies," Becerra said.


Jerry Tello remembers the time he was asked to speak to a neighborhood group about gangs and brought his 11-year-old son along to watch. A police officer was presenting first, and showed slides of Chicano gang members wearing white t-shirts, Khakis and some with bandanas. Tello then saw his son; "He looks at the slide and he looks at himself and he looks at the people and he realized that theyʼre looking at him and he walks out." At 11, Telloʼs son learned about stereotyping.

As an expert in family strengthening and culturally-based violence prevention strategies, Tello knows how anger can build in young Latinos. It is an anger that starts young and can turn into a destructive kind of self-hate that leads to gangs and drugs, he said.

"I see little boys at five, at five that are angry. Boys that are four and getting kicked out of preschool," he said. "Everybody, society, everybody gives (Hispanics) these

negative stereotypes."

Tello takes a holistic approach to counseling young Latinos, using Aztec, Mayan and other indigenous teachings that focus on the traditional roles of men and rites of passage. But he said many of the problems could be solved by caring adults simply taking the time to get involved.

"All our young people want is somebody to say come hijo," he said, "Iʼm going to be with you. If you fall. Iʼm falling with you. You know what, Iʼm not afraid."

The annual summit was first held in 2007 as part of the first phase of the Latino Male High School/College Achievement Program directed by Arizona State University's Center for Community Development and Civil Rights. The event is supported by a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.