A symposium sponsored by the Arizona State University Center for Community Development and Civil Rights under a grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation
By any measure the numbers are daunting for young Latino males in the United States.
While young Latinas have made admirable gains in educational achievement, young Latinos are lagging further behind.
The achievement gap starts early; by the third grade, Latino boys are an average of a year to a year and half behind girls in reading and writing skills and about equal in math. Latino and African American boys are more likely to be labeled early as having learning or behavioral disabilities.
By high school, some studies put the Latino male dropout rate at 50 percent, although the U.S. Department of Education officially puts it at 25 percent, still 7 percentage points higher than for Latinas.
By college, the gender differences are even more profound. Sixty-one percent of Hispanics enrolled in college are Latinas, compared to 39 percent for Latinos. In 2009, only 37 percent of community college degrees that were award to Hispanics went to men as well as 39 percent of the bachelor's degrees.
At the same time, young Latinos have been the fastest growing group in the U.S. prison system. One in four federal prison inmates is Latino. In 10 states, Latinos are incarcerated at rates between five and nine times greater than those of whites. In four states, Latino youth under 18 are incarcerated at adult facilities at rates
According to projections from the U.S. Census Bureau, there are an estimated 48 million Latinos in the U.S. – 15 percent of the population (prior to the 2010 Census.) If current trends continue, that number will reach 132 million by 2050. America's Voice Education Fund, an immigration reform advocacy group, in a recent study noted that Latinos represent 51 percent of the nation's population growth since 2000. Already, one in five Latinos make up the nation's K-12 population and the Latino school age population is projected to grow by 166 percent by 2050, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.
It is against that backdrop that Raul Yzaguirre, the former longtime leader of the National Council of La Raza and for the past five years the executive director of Arizona State University's Center for Community Development and Civil Rights, approached the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to expand the dialogue on young Latino males in crisis and the consequences for this country.
In his message to the symposium's three dozen participants, Yzaguirre, now President Obama's ambassador to the Dominican Republic, outlined the issues:
"Young Latino males are facing the same challenges as other minority males and indeed, that all young men face; the difference is that, for young Latino males these changes occur more quickly, more deeply, and arguably, with greater negative consequences. We would assert that the consequences are more impactful for Latinos because:"
1. "Latino male juvenile dysfunctionality has been largely ignored by social science researchers therefore positive interventions are scarce."
2. "Because of the lack of emphasis on young Latino males, the infrastructure of available tools, conceptual theories of causation and interventions along with practitioners possessing relevant training and experience are practically nonexistent, or at least nonexistent in an organized and accessible form."
3. "There is no sense of urgency or grave concern over this problem or even a sense of the magnitude of the profound changes in norms, gender roles, economic realignments and their consequences for gender expectations."
4. "The significant and growing disparity in educational outcomes between males and females, which manifests itself more acutely in young Hispanics, is having a profound and largely negative result in Latino family formation. In other words, the chances of young Latino males growing up in a dysfunctional family with no positive role models, no fathers, no economic or emotional security, no educational future, no path to job security, and no future in a law abiding culture—all the things that are the building blocks for dreams—are not real for this population."
The goals of the symposium for Yzaguirre and Alex Perilla, the director of the Center for Community Development and Civil Rights, were to stimulate interest in the subject of the young Latino male crisis, to identify what works, help create a sense of urgency and start building networks.
"We are not so arrogant as to believe that one small center, even one that is part of a very large research university, can take on these enormous challenges. But we can be part of a larger movement. We can prime the pump; we can be a catalytic force, we can get things started," wrote Yzaguirre.
Over three days, Sept. 30-Oct. 2, 2010, the presentations and lively discussions, further detailed in the following pages of this report, provided stark and clear evidence that those in decision making roles at every level of government, those community-based organizations so important to the functioning of society, those in educational roles and indeed Latino families need to take heed and need to work together in order for young Latino males to prosper.
But the true message of the seminar is that is a dilemma that should be of national concern; this is not a Latino issue, it's an American issue.
Gradually, researchers and writers are beginning to focus on the plight of young Latino males, researchers like Luis Ponjuan of the University of Florida and Victor Saenz of the University of Texas at Austin, who are focusing on "The Vanishing Latino Male in Higher Education."
Still, "We characterize this as…a stealth issue. Many are still unaware of the depth of this gender gap. It's very much a silent crisis," Saenz told the symposium. "We simply have not done the important work on the ground to make folks aware of it and when we say, 'folks,' we're talking about educators, teachers, administrators, all the way up to our policy makers at state houses and in Congress."
Part of the reason is that the mainstream media have had little or only fleeting interest in the subject.
"Despite the growing population and media options for everybody, mainstream Americans and Latinos live in a parallel universe," said Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor of the St. Louis Post Dispatch and a former president of both the American Society of Newspaper Editors and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. "They're right next to everyone but we're in a parallel universe. Bridging the cultural
The researchers and the journalist both stressed the need to get this story out, to get the media to tell the story so policy-makers at the local, state and national levels can get past the current anti-immigrant and largely anti-Latino rhetoric to see the long-term implications of the low rates of academic success and high rates of incarceration for Latino males. As speakers pointed out, however, there exist more ways than ever before to get the message out through the Internet on social networks, online news and through Twitter feeds and discussion groups. That was established as a goal for a tangible outcome from the symposium.
The symposium was wide-ranging, the dialogue rich. Yzaguirre outlined 10 observations from the three days of presentations and give and take in a message to participants:
1. "Our focus on young men does not diminish the need of women to achieve parity, but rather compliments it. It's about building strong families with men and women invested in the outcome. "
2. "It is obvious that the negative impressions of the Latino community get journalistic mileage, especially in the current anti-immigrant environment. Waiting for incremental growth in Latino journalism is not a winning strategy. We must educate mainstream news media to the facts about our communities separately (Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Dominican, etc.) as well as collectively to turn the tide of disinformation and hate rhetoric."
3. "Our young men seem to be most at risk as early as middle school, a disturbing fact. As we work for solutions, we must endeavor to reassure our communities that being American does not necessarily mean stripping away our Latino culture."
4. "It has become clear…that young men's health is a building block of quality of life success…Physical activity in a safe, recreational setting provides many positive benefits for young men's physical, emotional, and intellectual well being. Inadditional to culture as a protective factor, healthy physical activity enhances positive social development."
5. We must "look past stereotypes and examine the underlying reasons for young men to act out often violently...It is imperative that we incorporate la cultura into clinical treatment practices and intervention/prevention efforts."
6. "Disproportionately high levels of stop and frisk, racial/ethnic sentence disparities, and felony imprisonment with subsequent disenfranchisement add to the mass imprisonment of Latina/os at rates far beyond those of other ethnic groups."
7. "Again the issue of stereotypes surfaced…in that family situational factors have a stronger correlation to incarceration rates among Latinos than among other ethnic groups. We must work for positive changes in how courts view the role of Latino families and the correct the adverse effect for prosecution and sentencing."
8. "We need more (research) to continue to study how young men learn, how to counteract negative behaviors, how to support positive self-identity and how to support these young men through admission and completion of post-secondary education."
9. "We need to share this research with policy makers, public officials, and community leaders to focus attention on the failure of young Latino males to succeed in education and its consequences. With the current demographic trajectory, young Latinos represent the fastest growing employment population but a lack of educational attainment will limit a skilled labor force capable of competing in a global economy."
10. The topics discussed over the three-day session highlighted the issues at hand: "low high school completion rates, poverty, unemployment, lack of role models, loss of cultural memory, lack of community support, and failing schools."
A working group of participants came up with the following goals for the months and years to come, as outlined by Yzaguirre:
1. The problems and challenges facing young Latino men affect all Americans and finding solutions is critical to the prosperous future of the United States of America.
2. The economic, social, and spiritual costs are too big to ignore and the time to act is now.
3. We want to take back the image of Latinos in American and communicate positive cultural and spiritual Latino values to ourselves and the rest of America.
"By consensus, our ultimate goal is equity in education, health, family, community, and society. Our symposium outcomes include the implementation of an Internet clearinghouse to share research, solutions, best practices, and continue to remain connected and engaged.
"We must counter fear with facts on immigration, crime, language, culture and promote positive stories and images in all media. We must educate Americans that there is not just a black-white dichotomy in American society, but all shades of minorities, the largest population of which is us—Latinos of many origins.
"All of this, of course, requires funding and we will develop those resources using research-based data that you provided and will continue to expand upon in your own work. Our proceedings report will be the beginning of building of a 'knowledge hub' available via the Internet to share research, best practices, and success stories.
"An annual summit will encourage original research studies to add to our knowledge and expand our efforts to reach educators, policy makers, community leaders, and media. We need to partner/collaborate with other organizations or individuals also engaged in this effort to work together for the common goal."
This website was created in partnership of the Latino/transborder issues class at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, an initiative to educate young journalists on Latino and borderlands issues sponsored by the Carnegie Corp. of New York. The news stories that were written and produced by Cronkite students and will be distributed to alternative sites.
We plan for this website to be a focal point, the knowledge hub, for continuing discussion through Twitter and RSS feeds where the latest information on young Latino males can be posted. We urge the symposium participants to share the site with other colleagues, to post links to their own and others' relevant research,
This, as Yzaguirre put it, is a step toward priming the pump that will hopefully grow into a larger movement to tackle this American dilemma.