La Casa hosts talk on Latino identity

Many young Latinos who are third or fourth generation Americans face discrimination for not fitting in stereotypes, such as Spanish fluency.

On Tuesday evening in the Branford Trumbull Room, Cynthia Duarte, a fellow at the Institute for Latino Studies and a sociology professor at University of Notre Dame, explained this finding and others while discussing what it means for young people to be Latino to an audience of about 20 students and professors. Duarte eventually solicited opinions and anecdotes from the audience.

“We rarely see the way that Latinos define themselves,” Duarte said. “But if we want to understand the development and behavior of the Latino population, we need their opinion, too.”

Organized by La Casa as part of the Cafecito Series of discussions on issues affecting the Latino community, the talk started with Duarte’s new research on the sociological methods by which third- and fourth-generation Latinos — those who have Hispanic grandparents or great-grandparents who immigrated to the United States — defined their identity. Duarte said she asked young Latinos from different backgrounds to share their experiences of ethnicity.

Her research showed that historically, the response to immigrants by Americans is negative, recalling the experience of Italian and Irish immigrants. But, she said, this is the first time a non-European group has produced third- and fourth-generation populations that are not fully “integrated,” or considered white.

“European third and fourth generations became white,” Duarte said. “If they wanted to be ethnic, they pulled their hat and did it. But this is not so for Latinos.”

Duarte said that most of the third- and fourth-generation Latinos do not speak Spanish. Because of this, young people often face discrimination from within the Hispanic community and may be called less Latino. In turn, she said, they face additional difficulty defining their identities.

Most of these newer generations do not have immigrant friends, so they are not exposed to the traditions and the community they are forced to represent as often as immigrants, Duarte said. They then try to repress the stereotypes they are expected to fulfill, such as speaking Spanish, and the labels associated with their racial identities.

“They’re constantly trying to negotiate aspects assigned to [being] ‘Hispanic,’” Duarte said. “But they’re reluctant to do it because they do not feel as if they are the most adequate. They think, ‘I’m Mexican, but I’m not that Mexican.’”

After Duarte’s presentation, the event evolved into an informal conversation in which the students shared their personal experiences of Latino identity at Yale.

Ryan Mendias ’13, who described himself as half Hispanic and half white, said the Cultural Connections freshman preorientation program helped him better define his personal identity without feeling beholden to stereotypes.

Other students said that stereotypes sometimes emerge in the Yale community.

“Sometimes Yalies think that if you’re Latino, you have to be Catholic,” said Edgar Diaz-Machado ‘11.

La Casa peer liaison Lusdymer Pichardo ’11 said that she feels proud to represent her Dominican heritage as a member of the Latino community at Yale. Pichardo said she can often predict people’s reactions upon hearing that she is Dominican, and finds that she contradicts their expectations when they are based upon Latino stereotypes.

Students in attendance said they enjoyed the talk, but some said certain points could have been expanded.

Salvadorian-American Alma Zepeda ’12 said she would have liked to hear more about the portion of Duarte’s research regarding the stereotypes one must fulfill to be considered fully Latino, as well as the spectrum of individual Hispanic identity.

“It’s hard to find out in the spectrum where I’m in,” Zepeda said.

Adrea Hernandez ’11, one of the La Casa peer liaisons who organized the event, said she enjoyed hearing about Duarte’s project and the experiences of her peers.

Still, she said that she wished more people who have questions about their identities had attended.

“If we had had more time to organize the event [after spring break], I could have persuaded more people to come,” Hernandez said. “People sometimes don’t feel comfortable to come to La Casa.”

Duarte received her doctorate degree in sociology from Columbia University.

Correction: March 24, 2011

An earlier version of this article misquoted Edgar Diaz-Machado ’11 as saying that he is a Jehovah’s Witness. In fact, Diaz-Machado left the religion two years ago.

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