Jerry Tello is the director of the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute. He is recognized for his work in family strengthening and culturally based violence prevention.

Jerry Tello draws on his life experiences and observations as well as those of others to decipher the impacts of stereotyping, negative self-images, family influences and community pressures. He speaks of the need to acknowledge one's own and others' existence; of life's sacred purpose; of the ways for Latino youth to learn to live in a bilingual, bicultural world.

He acknowledges the "wisdom of the elders," speaks of the need for men to understand themselves and respect their relationships with women. He says that Latinos need to be judged beyond appearances to see and develop their potential.

"I just want to draw acknowledgment to those elders that were waiting for the day that our kids would recognize without having to struggle that they were a blessing; that not having to struggle wherever they walked in, they would be treated like a blessing. That instead of high risk or looked at as a perpetrator or as a delinquent kid and say look at here, here comes the potential," Tello said. "I begin with that because I think that what we've been talking about all comes within a construct of what all our ancestors wanted. They wanted their children to be happy."

Tello draws richly from his relationship with his father; he wears a black "because my daddy wore a hat not because I want to style or look good. My daddy…didn't ever go out the house without putting a hat on…I'm still trying to understand what was under my dad's hat.


What he put on. What he covered up just to get to work, just to get home." He said his father "did the best he could, but he struggled, too." Like other parents, Tello said "I wanted my children to have it better than I had." With his credentials as educator, trainer, motivator and author, he thought his children would indeed not go through what other young Latino males go through. But he recalled an incident in which he took his son to a gang prevention meeting. He said they sat in the back of the room as police officers showed slides of gang bangers, including Chicanos dressed in white T-shirts, khaki pants and bandanas.

"The officer said 'I want you to know the signs and symptoms of gang behavior and if your kids begin to dress like this, you know where this is going." Meanwhile, his son had stood to give his seat to a woman, Tello said, and was standing in the back of room, dressed coincidentally in khaki-colored Dockers, a white basketball shirt "and he had so much junk in his hair, he could wake up and go to sleep and it looks the same."

He said people looked at the slide and then looked at his son. He said his son walked out.

"He knew what stereotyping was at 11. He goes, 'Just because people dress like this doesn't mean they're a gang member. These are not even khakis, they're Dockers. This is a basketball shirt. I'm not a gang member. Why do people look at me like that?'" He went on to tell Tello it had happened before at a department store where he and his cousin were followed by a security guard, where women clutched their purses as they walked by.

Tello was unprepared for his own reaction.

"Now I teach anger management. I teach all of this, I know this


intellectually… But that's my boy. I thought I left the valles behind. I thought I left those ways, but you know what happened to me when my boy was talking to me? My stomach tightened up. I started flexing, you know. It's automatic. My jaw got tight. In my mind I said, 'shit, I'm going to kick somebody's.'…You know I went there. I went there because that's my boy."

For Tello, it was another lesson.

"I thought if I moved out of the neighborhood, I thought if I got a degree, a credential, I thought if I moved my kids out, I thought if I taught them the right values, they can speak English, I thought if I taught them all of that, we're through. We succeeded. But my boy is asking me a question. What do I tell him? He's confused." "And I have to tell him the truth. "Yes hijo, they look at you because you have brown skin. And I say that's why you need to know who you are. Because if you don't know who you are, they will make you anything they want. They'll make you gang member. They'll make you a gang member. Make you a drug dealer. Make you anything. They'll make you think that that's all you can be. You need to know who you are."

Tello said essential of the development of a young Latino's character is "acknowledgment, meaning you're welcome. We want you here. One of the biggest problems for many of our youth, they're not welcome."

If no acknowledgement comes, "we form detachment disorder…The difficulty of attaching, the difficulty of connecting."

He recalled working with an angry young boys who are already had been kicked out of preschool. "It's a major way that we do, we isolate,


we separate. Remember that connection? We disconnect."

He found out that the boy's father was in prison, that his mother told the boy that he would end up like his father, that the boy's family life was unstable. "You get confused about who you are. This little boy thinks he's the problem."

Family support and healing is part of the equation of helping young Latinos, Tello said.

"When I work with parents, I say, 'You don't recognize…how you feed us. If you work with youth, you can't heal youth without healing the parents and the family." For youth to succeed, they have to feel they are in safe and secure. "If you don't feel safe you'll be in fear. Fear will mess with you."

He said when working with young people and families, he greets them and hugs them.

"All our young people want is somebody to say, 'come, hijo…I'm going to be with you. If you fall, I'm falling with you."

Discussion/questions from participants


QUESTION: "Jerry, you mentioned rites of passage a couple of times…"

TELLO: "It's critical because the reality is that's…the crossing of the bridge. It's when a young man and young woman, physiologically it's when you go through puberty…but if you don't have anybody to guide you. And I give props for the mothers. There are a lot of single mothers


that raise wonderful children by themselves. But there becomes a point where you no longer can take your son in the women's bathroom… Whether it's peeing or crying or asking for forgiveness or knowing how to deal with our anger or knowing how to express what it's like to not have a dad, we need somebody to guide us across that bridge."