Tension simmers in Hispanic community
GREELEY ” John Natividad, Eric Morales and Javier Villa share one trait that leads many to believe they are a singular unit alike in values, culture and language: They have brown skin.
Indeed, each is part of the Latino population that accounts for one in seven people in the U.S., according to 2004 U.S. Census figures.
Within this growing community in Colorado, however, a complicated, tension-filled relationship plays out between newer immigrants and those who have lived here for generations.
In many ways, all Latinos share similar heritage and cultures. In other ways, differences in values, beliefs, language, education and jobs place a strain on relationships. The inability of some in the Anglo culture to differentiate between Latinos creates and perpetuates that tension, Natividad said.
“You can’t separate us in the Anglo eyes,” said Natividad, a 57-year-old third-generation American born and raised in Front Range Weld County. “We are all brown, and we are all from Mexico.”
The tension within the Latino community exists at schools, workplaces and in public. Javier, a 17-year-old native of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, who arrived three years ago, said that at Northridge High School he has endured more prejudice from fellow Latinos who speak English than from any Anglo.
“They think they are better than us, even though their parents are Mexicans,” Javier said. “They don’t want to talk Spanish, all English.”
Natividad, meanwhile, feels mixed emotions about new immigrants, some of whom come without proper documentation.
On one hand, he said, he feels a sense of camaraderie and a shared culture ” seeing new immigrants working the field reminds him of his grandfather, who came to the U.S. in the 1930s and worked in the fields topping beets.
One night recently, he and his wife, Jessica, met a Guatemalan man who didn’t speak English at the Laundromat and gave him a ride to Rocky Mountain Service, Employment, Redevelopment, an organization that helps immigrants with housing and jobs.
But some of the immigrants’ actions bother Natividad and his wife.
“Having grown up here, we obey the laws,” Natividad said. “And in Mexico, there are virtually no laws. You pretty much do what you want. They don’t understand the rules here.”
Eric Morales, 24, of Evans, Colo., falls somewhere in between.
As a youngster, he visited his mother’s family every year in Chihuahua. He said he feels proud of his Mexican heritage.
He’s fond of the phrase “Viva Mexico” and feels a closeness with Mexican co-workers at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center where he works, he said.
However, he is sometimes bothered when new immigrants laugh or make fun of him when he doesn’t say a Spanish word perfectly or can’t understand something. As a child, other Mexican children in Chihuahua would playfully tease him by calling him “Gringo gabacho” because he didn’t speak Spanish perfectly.
As for illegal immigration, Morales said he doesn’t fault immigrants who want the opportunity for a better life. He has seen how his family has benefited from coming to the U.S.; and he understands the allure, he said.
“If the U.S.A. wasn’t such a good place to be,” Morales said, “I don’t think we would have such a big problem with illegal immigration.”
Recently, though, he has re-evaluated the cost of illegal immigration his identify was stolen. Investigators told Morales an illegal immigrant was using his Social Security number and even took out a credit card in his name.
It’s made him realize the impact illegal immigrants can have on others, he said.
Javier and his family ” mom, dad and two brothers ” came across the El Paso, Texas, border aboard a bus in 2001 without proper documentation.
Javier said they knew they might be told to get off the bus and return to their home, but no one asked to see documentation, and they crossed the border and went north to Greeley.
Javier said he and his family live “tranquilo,” or relaxed, in a rental house in downtown Greeley. They have access to better-paying jobs, quality education and feel safer than they did in Ciudad Juarez, a city where gangs and drug lords run the streets and where 400 women have been murdered in the past decade.
Javier and his 15-year-old brother attend Northridge High School, and their 6-year-old brother goes to Billie Martinez Elementary School. They speak Spanish in their house, but Javier and his brothers have learned English quickly.
He said he likes his work in the fields and, so far, enjoys living in Greeley. Nonetheless, he sees himself back in Mexico within five years.
The Natividads, meanwhile, envision themselves remaining in their spacious west Greeley home. They were both born near Platteville and attended Valley High School, and their families remain here.
John Natividad served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1968.
Mexico for them is a place to go on vacation, not a home.
Jessica Natividad is fully bilingual and has been since her childhood.
John’s father made a point to speak only English to him, but John has relearned Spanish and now considers himself bilingual. He works as a production technician for Metal Container Co., and Jessica manages a cleaning company.
Despite being U.S. citizens, they said they still face daily discrimination for being Latino. About a year ago, the Natividads were in an aisle at Wal-Mart when a young Anglo man told his wife to watch out for John, who was in a electronic cart after surgery.
The young woman said, “What’s the difference? He doesn’t speak English anyway.”
The comment deeply offended John. He responded that he spoke not only English but Spanish. The man grew upset with him, and they began arguing. “We have to deal with that stuff daily,” John said. “You see it, and you think, ‘What is wrong with these people?’ “
The Natividads said they have neighbors that haven’t spoken to them in nine years because they are brown-skinned. John has a co-worker he said has spoken about 20 words to him in 10 years for the same reason.
Jessica has been accused of shoplifting twice at local stores.
Morales said he’s never felt discriminated against in Greeley, except by Mexicans who laugh at him when he speaks Spanish incorrectly and when he can’t understand what they are saying. He said he grew up unaware of any differences between himself and others, despite his Latino roots.
He and his three sisters grew up eating enchiladas, beans, rice and carnitas, but they spoke only English in the house and were educated in U.S. schools. Morales said he never viewed himself as “Latino” or “Hispanic” but merely one of the kids.
“It didn’t matter who it was, I hung out with everybody,” Morales said. “I never had a certain, like, Latino group.”
Even though he still enjoys visiting his family in Mexico (his grandmother has died) and holds onto his Mexican roots, he said he has no plans of moving from Evans.
So, how might this diversity and tension play out in Latino communities in the future?
Steve Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies, said he doesn’t think the tension will ease between U.S.-born Latinos and newer immigrants in the next five to 10 years.
The conditions don’t figure to change, Camarota said. Unless immigration policy drastically changes, illegal immigrants from Mexico will continue to flow into the U.S., which in turn, will continue to increase the diversity in class, education, and values among Latinos.
“It’s easy when you are the Census Bureau or a politician to think about the similarities and common things they may share, but when you actually get down on the ground, what you find is a great diversity of opinion and perspective,” Camarota said.
Roberto Cordova, a retired University of Northern Colorado professor, said even though differences exist, he believes the common roots in Latin America and the Latino culture may eventually unite all Latinos.
“On a cultural level,” he said, “we are much more alike than we are different.”