What Newer Generations of Latinos are Doing to Challenge Cultural Norms

A closer look to the new wave of generations breaking cultural norms in the Latinx community.

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

Chicago Latinx Folks Reshaping Cultural Norms

Alejandro Hernandez talks about reshaping cultural norms within his own family and culture.

The Latinx community is often faced with stigmas passed down from generations. This new wave of millennials and generation Z is attempting to break barriers in order to promote individuality and personal wellness. Today we are looking at 21-year-old Alejandro Hernandez of Depaul University, a first-generation Puerto Rican who was often told to assimilate when it came to professionalism and rhetoric. For people of color, the use of slang and urban terminology is often frowned upon in a professional setting, which in turn has lead to the reluctance of self-expression. Furthermore, frustrations like Alejandro’s, have pushed Latinx people to rebel against the norm and break the stigma.

Project by: Maria Antonia Barragan & Alec Farley

Latina Sororities: To Empower not Party

From movies and TV Shows, Greek life has always been portrayed as scandalous and full of parties every weekend hosted by sororities. Sororities have gotten that bad rep by parents that they are just a group of girls who have friends to go out with. In the Latinx community, you’re raised with high expectations and usually strict ones. For some, the choice is bigger and requires more thought rather than choosing the biggest party sorority. Gamma Phi Omega International Sorority Inc. allows women to be empowered and has four specific goals, Academic excellence, community service, cultural awareness, and sisterhood. Four goals that nowhere near addresses partying and focusses on the professional development of the women in the organization, allowing them to strive in society as they grow.

A Home Away From Home

DePaul University is a predominately white institution, although has a variety of students of color who bring color to campus and allow other students the opportunity to recognize the cultures in the city of Chicago. As of 2018, DePaul of the 22,437 enrolled in the university, 39 percent of them are students of color, and 3,542 of students are Hispanic/Latino students 15.8 percent).

On January 15,  2018, DePaul announced the launch of four identity specific student centers, amongst those the Latinx Cultural Center (LCC) was introduced to the DePaul community. The LCC allows students who identify as Latinx, the resources needed to succeed at DePaul; that being events like panels, a place to exhibit their art or just a casual room where you look around and find familiar faces as you would at home for Latinx students.

The centers are run by qualified coordinators and the LCC has the privilege of having Monica Ramos as theirs. Ramos graduated from Universidad del Valle de Atemajac (UNIVA) in Guadalajara, attaining her bachelors in Education and Human Development and came to the U.S for her Masters of Arts in Adult Education and Literacy at National Louis University. During her time there she never really had a place where she felt validated being a Latinx student, although met someone who became her mentor through her process of being in the U.S professionally. “Together, we created the NLU Student Center with the intention to provide a physical space for students of color to come together and support each other. In the space, we provided resources, guided conversations, and culturally based celebrations. The small student center became a one-stop shop for resources, leadership opportunities, guidance and community building. We were family. That is where my inspiration to my current work comes from”, said Ramos.

Students feel like its a safe space for each other being in a predominately white institution. There is no rivalry, there is no competition, you all understand your frustrations and know the nostalgia of your home in college. “You know that feeling when you’re so full and you finally get home and take off your belt and you feel this sense of relief? That’s how it feels coming to the LCC” said, Diana Orozco.

“Sometimes you feel weird, sometimes you don’t feel Mexican enough or Latina enough being at DePaul, and the LCC reminds you of that and everything you’re about”, said Orozco.

“The LCC is a space that students consider their home. There is a piece of art from Honduras gifted to the LCC. On the back of the beautiful handcraft, a message is carved, it reads: “Para Nuestro Hogar the Latinx Cultural Center”. I believe this message encompasses the meaning of what the Latinx Cultural Center is to the Latinx students, faculty, and staff. I humbled and honored by that sentiment. The LCC is and feels like home to me, too. The LCC is decorated with students art and poetry, and adorned with music, conversations, and laughter”, said Ramos.

The LCC proves to be an essential part of being a Latinx student at DePaul. Providing you the reassurance that you deserve to be at this institution and the comfortability to continue your journey. Becoming a home away from home for many students at DePaul.

Chicago’s Affordable Housing: Disappearing at the Cost of TIF Projects

This map shows the Affordable Rental Housing developments in neighborhoods and how they are significantly lower than TIF projects in most communities.

Affordable Housing has always been a known issue in Chicago, although has been continuously swept under the rug by project developers wanting to “better the economy”. Although there is a huge difference between the affordable housing offered to community members and the amount of Tax Increments Financing (TIF) Projects. Chicago’s affordable housing supply has been at a lower demand since 2007, as there has been a huge gap between the supply and demand of affordable housing in our lower-income communities.

TIF projects contribute to the property tax increments and the gentrification of neighborhoods, turning old homes into renewed expensive condos. From the looks of it, a quick solution would be to add more homes, but more than half of the homes TIF projects are adding, they are nowhere near the affordability for communities. Some community members earn as low as $36,000 for their annual income and are still expected to pay rent of $1000 or more, while the average rent is $1,893 with a 5 percent increase in the next year. Looking at the map, there is a significant amount of these TIF projects taking over the affordable homes or areas, some are even in the same place. Chicago is known to be expensive, although, without rental control, community members can see it getting more and more difficult to stay in the city.

The Battle for Housing in Chicago’s Northwest Side

Northwest Side Housing Center. “Belmont Cragin Avenues for Growth Plan.” Northwest Side Housing Center,https://www.nwshc.org/avenuesforgrowth

Housing affordability has always been an issue that sooner or later faces many low-income communities. While many look to grow corporations and develop their projects in urban areas, others face the deprivation of their communities and their local businesses.

However, the Northwest Side Housing Center (NWSHC) located in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood gives the community and its surrounding communities the tools to have affordable housing in the greater northwest side. NWSHC recently developed a team of organizers known as the Community Development Corporation (CDC)  aiming to “provide Northwest Chicagoans the tools to sustain affordable housing and grow their businesses”.

James Rudyk, Executive director at NWSHC, described the many efforts and measures this organization has been taking to tackle this very real issue. “The CDC’s housing preservation efforts will focus on affordable housing, preventing displacement, and supporting homeowners experiencing affordability and property tax issues,” Rudyk wrote for the CDC proposal.

Maria Rodriguez, local business owner, and homeowner discussed the concerns she once thought would never reach her, now getting closer do due project development. “As of right now, the area is doing well for business owners. Although seeing gentrification happen slowly, once it starts in our neighborhood I don’t think I will be able to afford it anymore, you can only keep up with property taxes so much”, said Rodriguez.

Currently through CDC, there are various programs in which families can reach out to for support, such as Manage the Tax Increment Financing-Neighborhood Improvement Program (TIFNIP) that partners with nonprofit developers to create affordable housing units for the community and the Viviendo Unidos Program which brings landlords and tenants together allowing each of them to find the perfect fit for each other.

Aside from housing they also give business owners the tools to grow into economic stability. Some of these programs include Digital Marketing Assistance to reach growth of their business through social media platforms and Culturally Relevant Outreach allowing bilingual services to both Spanish speaking and Polish speaking community members and have them communicate comfortably with local aldermanic offices.

Organizations like NWSHC give community members the tools to build into economic stability and have an outlet to reach out to aldermanic offices and communicate issues they have. They don’t see language as a barrier and develop themselves to meet the needs of the community and its prosperity in the city of Chicago.

No hagas cosas malas que parezcan buenas

Don’t do good things that seem good to you, but bad to others

Mural in Pilsen titled Declaration of Immigration

Mural in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, describing the importance of immigrants all over the U.S. Mary Ann Enriquez. Declaration of Immigration. October 11, 2010, Online image. Flickr. April 15, 2019.

“No hagas cosas buenas que parezcan malas”, “Don’t do good things that seem bad” my parents would remind me as much as they could when I walked out of the door with annoyance over a subject that affected my community. They knew I was mad and I would speak up, but it is because of the fear our families instill in us, that we do not.

Police brutality has been very relevant in our communities of color around Chicago. It is seen in our black and brown communities because we are black and brown. We are seen as a threat because we are rich in color and vibrant in character. Seen as too loud or too outspoken on what matters to us. In an interview by Truthout, Flint Taylor, an attorney with People’s Law Office, describes the silence this brutality has had. “It’s been part of the culture, along with the code of silence, along with the systemic racism that is so prevalent in the Chicago Police Department”, said Flint.

Latinos, especially immigrants, are continuously face to face with police conflict of their character because of their brown skin, or the lack of English they have. It is a known fact within our communities that this happens in all our neighborhoods. The thing about Latinos though, you’re told to be a little quieter, bajarle dos rayitas a tu rolo, bring it down a notch. Since our families also have the fear of us being targeted and added to the statistics of Police brutality and Latinos.

Many don’t want to be added to a statistic, but even more so, do not want to keep this cycle of silence going. Breaking the silence and recognizing our communities pain is the first step to progress. We are blessed to have new generations with youthful ideas who will better our communities and stand up for those who cant.