Are Hispanics Disadvantaged or Culturally Impaired to Opportunities Today?

First, the backdrop: a leading political figure recently granted me the courtesy of a meeting to discuss our views on education. What ensued was a review of the legacy challenge and history of all Latinos (five hundred years of Orwelian "proletarianhood" thanks to the Spaniards), which ultimately concluded that practically all Latinos in the Western Hemisphere are lost because they don't or won't value education like other cultures.

Fond of placing Asian immigrants on par with Hispanics (Jews are way ahead of the game to realistically compare; and blacks faced slavery-mentality until the 1960s), this politician claims that Asians achieve great success within one generation; while generations of Hispanics continue to:

- drop out of school (presumably to work and support their families; but his gripe was why not work and go to school simultaneously?),

- underperform their ethnic peers due to lack of skills (unable to recognize that any kind of education can instantly remedy that), and

- await hand-outs (instead of seeking their own opportunities) as centuries of long-lived dictatorships have conditioned them to (think Castro).

In decades of service to his people, this politician has consistently been attacked for his views, forged by his own ambition and drive, and cultivated through experiences other members of his ethnic-community could only dream of having, let alone fathom. As I presented common excuses that supported the challenge of whether or not Hispanics are disadvantaged or culturally impaired to opportunities, he consistently obliterated each one. Well, if he's so good, why hasn't he solved the problem? He doesn't claim to be able to and continues to diligently struggle to find the answer, against opposition and time, of course, for he's advanced in years. Upon parting, I felt as though he passed the baton to me, indeed, all others who are privileged enough to receive instruction from this tremendous leader. Please be aware that the following comments may be too incendiary for the closed mind.

I've got one word for you: religion.

The more I thought about the challenge, the more I kept looking towards Jews for the answer. Anywhere in the world Jews live, they assimilate into the culture. But they never lose their religion.

Despite loss of their ethnic culture, nationalism, and roots, what maintains Jewish unity is orthodoxy to that religion (or at the least support of it.) Sometimes extreme, they have been known to intentionally exclude non-Jews from their "circles" for the survival of their unity.

It is no longer simply birthplace and ethnicity that defines a person; it is their beliefs and their relations with others who share those beliefs. Although ancestry, politics and socio-economic status are relevant standards for living, religion is the only non-exclusionary mechanism that is universal. Using this example, anywhere in the Hispanic world you go, you can find Christians "improving" their lives and that of their neighbors. Not because they belong to the same race, but because the share the same faith.

The biggest misunderstanding comes from Hispanics themselves: although many Dominicans and Puerto Ricans claim pride in "their culture", they fail to recognize the totality of the Dominican and Puerto Rican cultures, which doesn't exclusively consist of where they were born.

So how does religion figure into getting Hispanics to value education and improve their stations in life?

It takes several generations for a people to become acculturated wherever they are (nothing we can really do about that). And once this occurs, there's no relevant standards on which to guide their behavior (especially birthplace customs), since all other social issues can change with the times, including the things they value. No standards exist indefinitely except religion.

Jews, Christians and Muslims have proven the sustainability of standards using their religious beliefs. And they all value understanding (education) as a built-in part of their beliefs. Without religion, those without initiative and self-motivation may never want to self-improve through education.

But some people will never recognize or want to self-improve - what then? Another astounding aspect of religion is altruism, or charity. Giving till it hurts. It is in this aspect of religion in which the secret to progress is found. Charity is the true platform on which a particular population achieves higher stations and other improvements in their circumstances. Jewish unity is what focuses their charity amongst themselves. Muslim unity is what sustains the radical elements that terrorize. If Latinos practiced more charity among themselves, rather than depending on the charities of non-Latinos, opportunities will be abundant.

So, the solution as I see it? Faith-based initiatives; team-building conditioning that emphasize supporting each other for the good of the team; and other programs that inculcate pride in accomplishment, or rather, pride in a defined goal achieved from education, as opposed to education for the sake of it. These solutions would kick in after a specific number of years where a student doesn't show some sort of measured progress. (These solutions are not new, but are rarely combined and delivered to Hispanics, as they've lacked patrons other than dictators.)

"Education = College = A Good Job" could be replaced with "Education = Learning About Financial Markets = A Career As An Investment Banker = Wealth = Work/Life Balance". Yes, it's a lot more stuff than you or I learned in school, however, it's not the same society as it was decades ago.

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