Guest lecturer says millennial Latinos struggle with identity

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Millennial Latinos in the United States often struggle with identifying as both citizens of America and “Americans” as a result of racialization and exclusion, according to University of Illinois at Chicago professor Nilda Flores-González.

During a lecture at the Student Activity Center on Wednesday, Flores-González, an associate professor of Latin American and Latino studies, said she drew her conclusions from a study she conducted on the protestors involved in the surge of marches across Chicago in 2006 for immigration reform.

She interviewed 113 Latino millennials — people born between 1980 and 1995 — and asked questions about how they identify racially, and how their experiences may have affected these identities. Her research primarily focused on how Latinos identify in the “racial middle,” which encompasses the races other than black and white.

According to Flores-González, the majority of the Latinos she interviewed had experienced racism or had been stereotyped as “illegal” immigrants, which makes them feel unwelcome. Flores-González said she believes this is the reason why many millennial Latinos feel as though they have to choose between an American or Latino identity.

“We need to also pay attention to how the historical moments, coupled with the racial experiences are making Latinos and Latinas feel like they don’t really belong here,” Flores-González said.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 54 million Hispanics living in the country, which is roughly 17 percent of the population.

According to Flores-González, Latinos who grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods or in middle-class families are prone to labeling themselves as white. She said she believes this is a result of assimilation and the individuals trying to feel more American.

“Becoming American is not about becoming white,” Flores-González “It is not about downward assimilation, but instead it is about becoming Latino.”

Flores-González was invited to speak at the University as part of her application for a senior social scientist and associate professor position at the Center for Mexican American Studies. Luis Guevara, program coordinator for the CMAS, said the atmosphere of the University was not as welcoming to the Latino population when he first arrived in 1991 as it is now.                               

“I wouldn’t say it was hostile, but there were events that would happen that made it a stressful time,” Guevara said. “The University as an institution has worked diligently to foster a more welcoming environment for Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and different groups that make up the University.”                                       

Eric Bybee, a cultural studies and education graduate student who is Latino, said although there is racialization of his ethnic group, he feels comfortable on UT’s campus. 

“I think that UT, compared to other places, there is a very strong Latino presence compared to other places I’ve lived,” Bybee said. “My experience being here at UT, and part of the CMAS, has been one that has been very racially fulfilling.”