Latino youth growing up in the U.S. are the future of this country. Not only are Latinos the fastest-growing population in the country, but the nation's 16 million Latino youth make up almost a quarter of the U.S. population under 18. And according to Democracia USA numbers, 500,000 Latino youth are expected to reach voting age every year for the next 20 years.
So the findings of a new National Council of La Raza report ought to be especially disheartening to all Americans. The report found that, while Latino youth are growing up optimistic, they're also frustrated with a culture of racial profiling and discrimination.
NCLR convened 60 young Latinos between the ages of 15 and 17 in Nashville, Tenn.; Langley Park, Md.; Providence, R.I. and Los Angeles. The young people reported experiencing first-hand discrimination, harsh punishment or unfair targeting for discipline from teachers and principals at school, police officers and bosses.
One California teen boy recounted this experience with unequal treatment:
I have this White friend named Rick...And you look at this guy, and you think this guy's family's been White forever. He's come from England or whatever. And it was me, him, my friend José, and our friend Junior, and the police stopped us...They gave all of us curfew tickets except for Rick. They just stopped us, they lined us up, and they said, "Okay. You can go," to Rick. And he just, like, walked away. And then they just got my friend José mad, and he's, like, "Hey, why are you letting the White boy go?" And they're like, "Hey, you shut your mouth." And then they threatened to arrest him.
Some teens told of being shoved into ESL classes even though they spoke English just fine, or being told by teachers that they'd never graduate. They reported being isolated in school or shoved into academic tracks that did not meet their needs. Others spoke of seeing their family members being exploited by bosses, being mistreated and paid less than minimum wage for hard work. They talked about ways in which adults' biases have more than an emotional impact on young Latinos' lives.
The report also found that despite all of this mistreatment, young Latinos are fairly optimistic about their futures; higher education tops many kids' list of goals.
"The study underscores the need to change the tone of public discourse about the role of immigrants and Hispanics in U.S. society, attend to structural issues that contribute to stereotyping and discrimination within our institutions, and establish policies that build social cohesion and support," writes Patricia Foxen, the report's author.