African-Americans & Hispanic-Americans
Hispanic-Americans are currently finding themselves on the receiving end of an unprecedented amount of racism, similar to what has been the historical experience of African-Americans in this country. In what follows, I will analyze the current position of both African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in the United States. Through analyzing the similarities and differences among African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans – both in terms of history and the present day – I hope to show why these two dominant minorities are in fact vital to the future of the United States workforce, while dispelling the myth of the Hispanic-American “threat” to our country. While most African-Americans are not able to trace their family’s history beyond their beginnings in this country, owing to slavery and systematic oppression that has relegated African-Americans to the status of second-class citizens throughout much of their history in this country, history plays an altogether different role for Hispanic-Americans. The development of subcultures in the African-American and Hispanic-American communities has played a vital role in helping these communities cement and assert their group identities. The notion of nation has been fraught with problems for African-Americans throughout history. As the vast majority of African-Americans do not know where their ancestors came from, it is difficult to trace one’s roots back to the African continent. At the same time, the United States, while certainly the nation that nearly every African-American would consider to be home, has hardly been hospitable to African-Americans throughout history. Even today, nearly a quarter of all African-American families in the United States live below the poverty line. Nation plays a more prominent role in Hispanic-American communities, as these communities tend to organize themselves around national heritage. For example, the Puerto Rican community in the United States is distinct from the Mexican-American community.
African-Americans & Hispanic-Americans
In recent years, statistics have shown that the white, European-American population of the United States has been shrinking. It is believed that by the year 2050, European-Americans will be a minority in the United States of America. Thus, it is more important now than ever before to examine multiculturalism in all its complexity, especially as racist and anti-immigration sentiment has been rising in recent years in response to the growing number of Hispanic-Americans currently residing in this country. Hispanic-Americans are currently finding themselves on the receiving end of an unprecedented amount of racism, similar to what has been the historical experience of African-Americans in this country. In what follows, I will analyze the current position of both African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in the United States. I will analyze the ways in which these two minorities have had a significant impact on the workforce in the country, while simultaneously exploring the ways in which both groups are portrayed by the media. In particular, I will explore the ways in which the immigration of Hispanic-Americans has been represented as a “threat” to American culture in the media and in the realm of politics, to the extent of often killing many of the multicultural measures taken throughout the last two decades as a means of assuring equal rights for all individuals in the United States. Through analyzing the similarities and differences among African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans – both in terms of history and the present day – I hope to show why these two dominant minorities are in fact vital to the future of the United States workforce, while dispelling the myth of the Hispanic-American “threat” to our country.
The history of African-Americans in the United States stretches back to the Atlantic slave trade. The vast majority of African-Americans are descendants of slaves that were sold by the British to North America. By the year 1860, it is believed that there were approximately 3.5 million slaves in the United States (Boddy-Evans N.D.) Three years later during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln would sign the Emancipation Proclamation, effectively freeing all slaves in American territory (Lincoln 1862). This was far from the end of African-Americans’ travails, however. In the 20th century, states in the southern United States would pass laws to enforce segregation. In order to avoid becoming victims of violence or arrested and put in prison, the vast majority of African-Americans chose to follow what became known as the Jim Crow laws. As a means of combating racism, upwardly mobile African-Americans created their own schools, businesses, churches, and banks, effectively giving rise to what is commonly known as African-American culture (Davis N.D.) Eventually, this led to what has been termed the “Great Migration,” where larger groups of African-Americans began moving north in search of freedom from oppression. In cities such as New York, a growing African-American intellectual and cultural elite flourished (Educational Broadcasting Corporation 2002). Eventually, the flourishing of such a culture led to growing discontent with segregation laws, and the eventual abolition of such laws in the 1960s.
Hispanic-Americans have been in the United States since the 16th century – longer than any other group besides the Native American Indians. It was a Spaniard, Juan Ponce de Leon, who became the first European to land on American soil. He was the one who gave Florida its name. Throughout the 1500s, Spaniards would explore all the territories currently making up the forty-eight states. They also created the first European settlement in Florida, St. Augustine. By the end of the Revolutionary War, Spain claimed nearly half of the current United States of America. In the late 1700s, Spanish ships made it to Alaska. Today, most Hispanic-Americans do not come from Spain, but from Central and South American countries.
While most African-Americans are not able to trace their family’s history beyond their beginnings in this country, owing to slavery and systematic oppression that has relegated African-Americans to the status of second-class citizens throughout much of their history in this country, history plays an altogether different role for Hispanic-Americans. Despite the fact that Hispanic-Americans’ roots in this country extend beyond that of the English, today Hispanic-Americans are viewed as a threat to society. In the words of Santa Ana,
In the late twentieth century, Latinos were represented by thoroughly negative and derogatory images in contemporary American public discourse. These were not petty aggravations that could be swept away with amended media practices of political correctness. Nor were they harmless remnants of the blatantly racist public discourse prevalent in the earlier part of the century. These prejudicial representations were and continue to be indices of the operative social values of American society (Santa Ana 2002, 15).
There is no doubt that a systematic erasure of Hispanic-Americans from history is complacent in this distorted presentation of the Hispanic-American situation in the present era. An unbiased knowledge and representation of history is key for communication. When that foundation is no longer present, it becomes difficult for meaningful, constructive communication on issues of race and ethnicity to take place.
The problem with applying the anthropological notion of subculture to racial and ethnic groups is that it implies they are somehow outside of or separate from mainstream American culture. With African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, this is no longer the case. Still, it is useful to compare and contrast some of the subcultures that exist within African-American and Hispanic-American communities.
Hip-hop is a subculture that originated in the urban African-American community. The main elements of hip-hop culture include DJing, MCing or rapping, break dancing, and graffiti art. But hip hop is grown to also include fashion, beat boxing, and language – there is a particular hip hop slang that can be widely heard on MTV and among young African-Americans. Hip-hop has, of course, grown beyond the African-American community; today, people from all races are a part of the hip-hop subculture. But its origins, it must be pointed out, were in the African-American community of the 1980s.
In the southwestern United States in the 1930s and 1940s, a youth subculture known as the Pachucos, comprised of Mexican-Americans, flourished. In addition to speaking their own dialect, known as Calo, Pachucos also dressed in a similar manner, mostly donning Zoot suits. Owing to the fact that they were doubly marginalized, thanks both to their youth and their ethnicity, many Pachucos were negatively stereotyped by the mainstream as gang members. In the 1960s, the Pachuco subculture began to decline as it morphed into the Chicano subculture.
The development of subcultures in the African-American and Hispanic-American communities has played a vital role in helping these communities cement and assert their group identities. In the case of African-Americans, hip-hop has provided a way for African-Americans to make a significant impact on the evolution of the dominant culture throughout the last three decades. For Hispanic-Americans, the Pachucos enabled young people in the United States to assert a sense of belonging in the face of the dominant culture. While both subcultures have been at times portrayed in a negative light in the mainstream media, they have also been key in serving as gateways to intercultural dialogues and a freer exchange of ideas.
The notion of nation has been fraught with problems for African-Americans throughout history. As the vast majority of African-Americans do not know where their ancestors came from, it is difficult to trace one’s roots back to the African continent. At the same time, the United States, while certainly the nation that nearly every African-American would consider to be home, has hardly been hospitable to African-Americans throughout history. Even today, nearly a quarter of all African-American families in the United States live below the poverty line.
Nation plays a more prominent role in Hispanic-American communities, as these communities tend to organize themselves around national heritage. For example, the Puerto Rican community in the United States is distinct from the Mexican-American community.
It should be kept in mind, however, that both Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans tend to identify their national heritage with the United States of America – despite their troublesome relationship with their home country over the centuries.
Institutional networks continue to play a vital organizational role in minority communities. For African-Americans, particularly those residing in the southern United States, chief among these networks is church. But there are also a number of institutional networks that serve educational and political purposes. Perhaps the most famous of these is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP.) the NAACP was founded in the year 1909 as a network working on behalf of African-Americans. Currently, the NAACP is based in Baltimore, Maryland.
A similar group was founded by and for Hispanic-Americans in the year 1929. LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens, is the oldest advocacy organization for Hispanic-Americans. There are over one hundred thousand members of LULAC living in the United States and Puerto Rico (Kaplowitz 2005).
Institutional networks are key for organizing and advocating on behalf of the rights of minority cultures such as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans. As history has shown how minorities tend to be demonized by larger institutional structures, the only way to combat such negative occurrences as racism and exclusion on the systematic level is to integrate institutional networks that advocate on behalf of minorities into the dominant culture. This has certainly been the case for such organizations as NAACP and LULAC, both of which have a long history of striving to engage their represented cultures in a dialogue with the dominant, European-American culture.
In studying the ways in which communication both hinders and empowers minority cultures, it is vital to consider such cultural notions as history, subculture, nation, and institutional networks. Each concept applies to African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans in a particular way and has an impact on how issues related to both these minority groups play a role in the mainstream media. The current panic in U.S. culture over the rise of undocumented Hispanic-American workers, with its racist overtones, certainly resonates with the discrimination that African-Americans have experienced throughout history. Through advocacy groups on an institutional level, as well as the evolution of subcultural currents within these minorities that ultimately have an affect on the larger culture, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans continue to demonstrate that they can no longer be relegated to minority status. Instead, African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans will form a vital segment of what it means to be an American in the 21st century.
Boddy-Evans, a. (N.D.) the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from African History web site: http://africanhistory.about.com/library/weekly/aa080601a.htm
Davis, R. (N.D.) Surviving Jim Crow. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from the History of Jim Crow web site: http://www.jimcrowhistory.org/history/surviving.htm
Educational Broadcasting Corporation (2002). The Great Migration. Retrieved December
1, 2007 from African-American World web site: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/aaworld/reference/articles/great_migration.html
Kaplowitz, C. (2005). LULAC: Mexican-Americans and National Policy. College Station, TX:
Texas a & M. University Press.
Lincoln, a (1862). The Emancipation Proclamation. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from National Archives and Records Administration web site: http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/emancipation_proclamation/
Santa Ana, O. (2002). Brown Tide Rising: Metaphors of Latinos in Contemporary
American Public Discourse. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Tuttle, K. (1999). National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Appiah, K.A.
A and Gates, Jr., H.L., eds. Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African-American Experience: 1,388-1,391.
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