Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The Latin Paradox" or "Why Are There No Ethnic Bums"

I may be treading on some controversial material here, but what the hell, it interests me.

While in Charleston, two of my friends went into a convenience store. One was Chinese and the other was a white guy. The man behind the counter was from Africa, most likely Somalia. My white friend had left his wallet at the house and my Chinese friend had to spot him. While paying for their merchandise, he made a crack to the Somali saying “White people, always looking to get something for free.” I thought it was humorous, but the Somali found it absolutely hysterical.

I didn’t really understand why he found it so funny until today. I was standing outside of a taco truck waiting for my dinner to be prepared. A black man approached me and the Mexican gentlemen standing next to me asking for money or cigarettes. We told him that we couldn’t help him and he eventually walked off. Once he left the Mexican turned to me and asked me a question in Spanish. When he figured out I didn’t understand he spoke in perfect English. We had a pretty interesting conversation. The Mexican was trying to understand why the only panhandlers he came across were either African American or Caucasian. He had never run across a Mexican or Hispanic panhandler, or one from Asia, the Middle East, or Africa. He was a little irritated that Americans tended to look down upon Mexicans and Hispanics when they tended to be hard working and (mostly) law abiding people.

The question has been churning around in my head for a few hours now. I’ve read some interesting articles on the internet regarding what is known as the “Latino Paradox.” Studies in major cities like New York and LA show that despite having a low socio-economic position (similar to that of African Americans) the distribution of homeless Latinos is much smaller than their percentage of the total population. Many attribute this to the importance of family and community in Latino cultures. If a Latino gets down on his luck there is a family member somewhere that feels an obligation to help his relative out. I also think the importance of family influences this in other ways. I never really thought about it, but Americans work hard to earn money to survive, buy more things, and develop social status often at the expense of family. Mexican immigrants tend to work hard because they value their families and want to provide for them, but they don’t seem to lose sight of being part of the family as well.

There are probably other culture differences that attribute this as well. If you have any thoughts as to why this Latin Paradox exists, please feel free to post them.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't really thought about this - but my initial impression is social safety net and community. So many Americans have a very thin to non-existant social network - often living removed from even a single family member.

    But I have had my share of white friends live with me for a while, and my observation is that it generally doesn't help them get on their feet - but rather enables continuation of ongoing bad planning, bad habits, unsustainable lifestyle, and sometimes just general laziness. Help often just seems to postpone the hard decisions that need to be made. Is this a cultural trait - a product of growing up the way we do?