A Day in HEB

College graduates from different ethnicities.

College graduates from different ethnicities.

From Peruvians, to Koreans, to Indonesians – you name it, because we have it. It’s a well-known fact that the University of Texas at Austin (UT) is becoming a massive melting pot. And not of the simple chicken noodle persuasion, but of the dynamic gumbo type instead. I’ve been living in this environment for the past three years, and in doing so I’ve experienced what DuBois referred to as double-consciousness, or a peculiar type of insight in which you look at your existence through the lens of others. To explain this, I’ll start off by once again stating that I’m a Hispanic American woman. This means that by default, according to Patricia Hill Collin’s matrix of domination, I get the worst end of the stick. But that’s for another rampaging post. Furthermore, by attending college at UT, I have learned more about different ethnicities and their corresponding stereotypes, than I ever did in El Paso. Although that is an apples-to-oranges comparison as El Paso is mostly Hispanic. And by mostly I mean that when you pull up to a McDonald’s, they actually greet with a “Hola, que necesita?” Yup, that Mexican.

Anyways, coming to UT has opened my eyes about all sorts of people, including my own. This newfound perception has got me asking, why do many perceive Latino illegal immigrants with such ire? I mean, consider the fact many Asian, South Asian, and even European illegal immigrants are also here at the US. Do consider it, because when someone says illegal immigrant, the media and people in everyday conversations never do. Instead, the conjecture of a dark-skinned, uneducated, heavily accented Mexican immigrant comes to mind. And following that, we can thank ultra conservative fanatics as well as Fox news for the negative connotations that we begin to formulate. But why?

I was driving down the Austin area where I live – not the prettiest area in town and heavily populated with Hispanics and Blacks- and I had a mild eureka moment. All these opponents of Hispanic immigration sit here and argue that Hispanics are stealing the jobs of the American people. That they are stabbing the ailing wounds of the American economy. You also feel that “white” hysteria when the census projections come out and predict that by the year 2050, Hispanic Americans will comprise a significant amount of the American population.

Now, let me just say that I am a proponent of waiting your turn. My grandfather applied for citizenship in the 1980’s and had to wait over a decade to have that precious emerald gem in his hands. At the same time, I do not think that this one-dimensional and -often- ignorant prejudice against Hispanic illegal and legal immigrants is fair. But I do have many responses to all of these arguments, although the only one that is pertinent to where I want to go with this discussion is the following: are these “desired” jobs that the immigrants are “taking” really that desirable? Can you think of many Americans that will take a fruit-picking job? How about being a maintenance worker at a Motel 6? Or working in the meatpacking industry? Yeah, I can’t imagine that many that would want to either.

Going one step further with this question about jobs, think about what professions Asians and Indians take on when they come to the U.S. I’ll tell you, many of them become business owners, often forming a business in conjunction with their already U.S. citizen family relatives. I actually know a friend whose family member came illegally to the U.S. and was scared to drive because he didn’t want the police to catch him. In a few years, however, he had a gas station. This is not the only type of businesses that other non-Hispanic illegal immigrants are establishing. They are establishing businesses that directly rival those of U.S. citizens, yet the backlash is nonexistent. I have a few theories on this, most of which arose as I was walking down the aisles of the HEB that is close to my home, which serves a Hispanic low-resource population.

Hispanic parents leaving their kids around; Hispanics that are very young parents with more than three kids; Hispanic parents being aggressive to their kids in front of everyone; Hispanic cashiers asking me where I go to school and being very surprised when I tell them that I go to UT. All of this, I have experienced at HEB. And it is an important experience because it was at this store where I first used my newfound double-consciousness and began to –quite honestly- judge those that are considered my people. Why are you a parent so young when you probably should’ve gotten an education first to be able to provide for your kids? Why have you not learned English yet, when you know that this is a major criticism against Latinos? Why do you not understand that education is life and that the U.S. is one of the only places in which you can succeed because of it?

All of these things pop into my mind, and I feel ashamed. Ashamed that I can’t put myself in their shoes. But then, I don’t think I would want to. My mom was a single-parent that raised my brother and I by working very, incredibly hard. She would read to me every single night when I was younger and made me learn how to read by the time I was four. She taught me that education was the key. She didn’t let me wear makeup until I was 16, even though I saw all of my Hispanic and White peers doing so at 12. She even made it explicitly clear that I was not to even contemplate having a significant other until I was 18. She was a single mother, working hard for two kids. Yet, she taught me what I think every Hispanic parent should teach their kids.

I know it’s bad and even hypocritical to be judgmental, but maybe some of us Hispanics need to start being more critical of our own culture. We need to start being critical of being ultra Catholic, and start using birth control to ensure that kids are being born into a world in which their parents will have both financial and emotional maturity. We need to start being critical of the fact that there’s students living in border towns that grow complacent with mediocrity and don’t fully learn the English language, even after 5 years of being here. We need to start being ashamed at the fact that out of 52 million Hispanics in the U.S., only 6% of the Hispanic population are full-time college students (http://www.infoplease.com/spot/hhmcensus1.html), while out of the 12 million Asian Americans in the US (http://www.asian-nation.org/population.shtml), close to a whopping 49% of them have at least a bachelor’s degree (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Asian_Americans#cite_note-CensusEdu2003-29). Just let that sink it.

Soon, Hispanic American individuals will comprise close to 30% of the US population (http://www.pewhispanic.org/2008/02/11/us-population-projections-2005-2050/). This means that it is time to take a look at our own culture and start being much more critical. There are so many redeeming qualities to our character. Hispanics are hard working and love their families. They are good people. But in many different areas, we are definitely lacking. It’s time to reevaluate these pitfalls and work together to fix them. If we do, not only are we doing ourselves justice, but we will be favored by the rest of America and be able to open the red, white, and blue gates to those Hispanic uncles, grandparents, and cousins that we had to leave behind in Latin America.

This is a video of young undocumented immigrants who understand the value of education.


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