A curious thing happens to low income Hispanic immigrants in the United States. The first generation, those that come across the American border either with proper documentation or without, embody the American dream in all its hope and ambition. By and large, they are humble, law abiding, respectful people. Their crime rates per capita are lower than the national average. They come here to work, save money and to offer a better life to their children than they had as poor campesinos south of the border. But their children, the second generation, and succeeding generations seem to lose the work ethic, they lose respect for America and fall into cultural dysfunction. Why does this happen? Is American society doing something that impedes Hispanic immigrants from passing their positive values and habits on to their children?
Most first generation Hispanic immigrants come from low-income families with little formal education and they work considerably longer hours than native-born Americans do. They save much more money as a percentage of their income than their Americans counterparts do. Most are religious and a greater percentage attends regular religious services than low income Americans do. Given the opportunity, more low-income first generation Hispanics buy and own their own homes than their low-income American counterparts. Although it is difficult to find valid statistics about this group of people because many of them are undocumented and do not show up in most surveys, it appears that they are much less likely to be involved in illegal activity than Americans in the same income group.
The curious thing that happens to the Hispanic population is that a large percentage of the second generation abandons the values of its progenitors. There are factors that determine the extent of this dichotomy, for instance family stability, the amount of time that parents spend with their children and the involvement of the parents, especially fathers, in the schooling of their children. The more attention that children receive from the parents the less likely that they will end up in trouble. But an inordinate percentage of young Latinos take the wrong road, have trouble with the law and don’t finish school or get good jobs. They adopt a culture of rebellion that frightens the Anglos around them. Hip Hop clothes and attitudes designed to intimidate are common. Why does this change happen from one generation to the next?
I submit that the cold, hateful welcome that these people receive is one of the major reasons for the rebellion of their children. Hispanic families are very tight. Pride is important to them and in their cultures respect and courtesy are observed with more formality than they are here. Americans are actually quite rude, our modern culture seems to look down on courtesy, and perhaps it is old fashioned. So we think nothing about being rude and direct with a Hispanic immigrant who is with his children. This scorn, which may be nothing more than a disapproving glance at the grocery store, is recorded by the kids watching the public humiliation of their Mom and Dad. It happens all the time and often it is quite striking. It is especially telling when the kids see how badly treated their parents are by their employers. The reaction to humiliation is powerful and the Latino kids who witness their parents’ belittlement turn away from mainstream Anglo culture and find their heroes in the rebels.
It also happens in schools. The Anglo kids who learn racism at home with Mom and Dad shun the Latino kids. The Latinos are often ridiculed and then in turn they shun the Anglo kids and tend to stick with their Hispanic friends. These groups easily turn into gangs and fight each other. The heroes to the young Latinos then are fighters, gangstas who make money without having to humiliate themselves before the scornful white folks.
If we want to do something to stop this syndrome, try being nice to people, especially poor Latinos. If you can’t be nice, at least be polite and respectful. Their kids are watching.