United and open to change, millennials and Generation Z now more than ever, embrace multiple modes of expression. Newer generations of Latinos are eager to pursue their individuality by breaking stigmas and cultural norms.
For many Latinx people, challenging cultural norms comes with time and maturity. Navigating through school, work and home life have allowed for many to overcome obstacles and make changes moving forward.
21-year-old Puerto Rican, Alejandro Hernandez of DePaul University has become more confident in his Latino pride throughout his upbringing. Raised in the west side of Chicago between Humboldt Park and Belmont-Cragin, Hernandez has had his fair share of conflict in the school system from teachers and peers.
As a young boy, his family and teachers pushed him to act professional and maintain a level of seriousness to avoid being stereotyped. For many people of color respectability, politics has pushed them to fit a mold that is inauthentic to themselves. Policing marginalized communities to follow mainstream culture can be both frustrating and disheartening.
“Professionalism is ultimately coded in racism; it’s rooted in whiteness,” explains Hernandez.
Hernandez has challenged this by emphasizing the importance in using slang. Urban slang allows for communicating to be more authentic and personable. Slang for Latinos also comes from the mixing of the Spanish and English language. For bilingual students, interchanging Spanglish gives them comfort in relying on both languages to communicate.
“Words, like finna and ain’t, are often frowned upon but I feel like slang is an essential part of vocabulary,” said Hernandez.
For many immigrant families, acculturation has become the norm because the consequences of not conforming in the past were a lot higher. Spanish used to be banned from speaking in certain areas of Chicago. However, newer generations of Latinos are now pledging to maintain their authenticity.
This has created even more pride within the Latinx community, allowing for Latino culture to be integrated into mainstream practices. Latinx artists like Bad Bunny have become more popularized and made their way into English rap and hip hop. In October of 2018, Drake and Bad Bunny collaborated in their single “Mia” featuring English and Spanish verses.
Hernandez has continued to stay connected with the Latinx community by joining a Latino Fraternity (Lambda Theta Phi), and frequently being involved with the Latinx cultural center at DePaul. For many Latino students at DePaul, staying connected with one another is extremely important considering that it’s a predominantly White institution.
Similar to Hernandez, 35-year-Old, Claudia Peralta has maintained her authenticity through her culture and pursuit of education at DePaul.
Peralta eagerly waits for the day she crosses the stage in a couple of days, receiving a degree in Political science, and being amongst the first in her family to pursue this degree. Originally from Ecuador, Peralta always dreamt big and wanted to pursue an education while working towards something she was passionate about. Considering herself a Non-traditional student, she explained how she wanted to break the misconception of Latinos and how they were only seen in the labor part of society; the kitchen staff and janitors.
“I want them to know that yes, we are extremely hardworking people, but we are also extremely smart, competent and overachievers. We dream big and want to obtain big things,” said Peralta.
In 2014, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics revealed that 27.3 percent of Latinos were in the construction force, 23.1 percent in agriculture and another 22.3 percent in leisure and hospitality. Whereas, 16.0 percent of Latinos are in the professional and business services with an even smaller amount in education at 11.5 percent.
Peralta discussed how it was uncommon to achieve a degree as an immigrant, but also uncommon among Latinas in the U.S. There are currently four main obstacles holding Latinas back in pursuing an education. Peralta wishes to increase the percentage of Latinas achieving a degree, and prove she has what it takes to be just as successful as every woman.
The Latinx community is not only traditional and culturally rich but full of people who have ambitions and aspirations to grow for themselves and their family. Peralta described her trajectory as obtaining her degree not only for herself but for her kids, parents, aunts, and uncles.
“They always asked what I could do with a Political science degree, and I would say I could do anything! Its something they were always proud about and would consistently remind me with “Que bueno mija, hechale ganas,” said Peralta.
Also from South America, 32-year-old Claudio Vergara immigrated to Chicago, IL from Iquique, Chile in 2016 to live with his wife and to carry out his lifelong dream by pursuing a professional career in photography.
For Vergara, it wasn’t easy to make this leap because of certain cultural norms. In Chile, it is common for people to grow up, study, work and live the majority of their lives in their hometown. Vergara obtained a master’s degree in psychology in Iquique but was in search for more.
“I had kind of like an identity crisis,” said Vergara, “…and I always had this kind of adventure spirit and I had the need of doing something different.”
When it was time for Vergara to leave Chile, his family was sad to see him go. The Vergara family’s main concern revolved around their fear of him in a different country trying to adapt to a new culture, especially that of the U.S.
There is a negative public image of the United States in Chile due to their numerous interventions throughout Latin America. The CIA-backed coup d’etat led to a 17-year military dictatorship in Chile.
“In the news, you see many scary things about the United States and people don’t have the best opinion of this country there [in Chile],” said Vergara.
Vergara’s family later came to acceptance with his desire to pursue his dream as a photographer. Now, Vergara and his wife live on the west side of Chicago in the neighborhood of Wicker Park.
Vergara has been working part-time as a waiter and allocates the rest of his time as a freelance photographer. By defying the Chilean stigma of never leaving one’s hometown, Claudio has been able to live out his dream.
It has become a mission for newer generations of Latinos to break stigmas for generations to come. Here, we explore three different perspectives from three completely different branches of life. The intersectionality between Latinx and first-generation has allowed for individuals to pursue a life that makes the most sense to them.
Latinx folks grow up carrying the weight of cultural expectations in one hand while balancing personal wellness and success in the other. Breaking stigmas and cultural practices that have boxed many is both courageous and liberating. Millennials and Generation Z have become the forerunners of their families, by pursuing a life outside of the cookie cutter manuscript.
Written and Produced by: Maria Antonia Barragan, Alec Farley & Izabella Grimaldo