Boy Scouts reach out to Hispanic youngsters
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 20, 2005

Group encounters cultural barriers, even 'sissy' label

Betty Reid

Boy Scouts of America is courting the Latino population.

It's a charge that started in 2000 when the Boy Scouts of America National Council discovered they were not reaching out to America's fastest-growing minority population. But Hispanic youngsters are not coming out of the woodwork to join.

Phoenix scouts and leaders say the Boy Scouts have been incorrectly labeled as a club for rich or dorky kids and it's been hard convincing many Latino kids, especially immigrants, that the group shares their values and works toward the good of boys. advertisement

Alex Estrella, for example, is familiar with the barriers. The 16-year-old south Phoenix resident joined the Scouts when he was in first grade and plans to continue with the program through high school.

Alex saw a troop he joined with 16 members fall to four. While recruiting on campuses, some students tell him they are busy with sports, while others taunt the institution.

"We get called 'sissies.' It's sad, because they don't know what they are missing," Alex said. "I try to explain, shooting 12 gauges and rifles. If they find that sissy, then honestly, they don't know the definition of sissy."

Alex had the support of his grandmother and his parents, but when he could not find a ride to events, he caught the city bus.

"Scouting is to bring the better out of people," said Alex, who aspires to be a psychiatrist.

Librada Martinez is district executive and a community liaison in the Pueblo District of the Boy Scouts Grand Canyon Council of the Valley. Pueblo, which serves central and south Phoenix, Maryvale and parts of Glendale, is heavy populated by Hispanics.

"I believe that if we would have a Boy Scout unit in each neighborhood, we would change the face of our community," Martinez said. "The result of Scouting is children, families and communities that are stronger and better prepared for the future."

Pueblo district has 70,000 students who potentially could be Boy Scouts, but currently only 1,000 are Scouts, and Martinez estimates fewer than 100 of those are Hispanic. The low count perplexes Martinez because Hispanic families want similar values to those taught by the Scouts. It promotes education, faith, healthy relationships and family.

But immigrant families from Mexico believe Boy Scouts are for rich families. In "Latino countries these kinds of programs are for privileged kids," Martinez said.

Then there is the language barrier ever so present for parents or guardians of young Latinos. Many speak Spanish, and some believe they won't be able to communicate their children's needs in the Scouts, so they don't pursue it.

"Our main challenge is to reach Latino parents who are able to serve as leaders of our units (like) Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts. We provide training in Spanish," she said. "If they want to run a unit in Spanish, they can do it."

Armondo Chavez is a Scoutmaster for Troop 407, a group in west Phoenix with 18 members. They are a 48-year-old organization whose membership is diverse. Chavez's unit had a booth at the Fabulous Phoenix 4th celebration. Only 10 of about 500 people who stopped by filled out an application at Steele Indian School Park, Chavez said.

Those numbers are encouraging, Chavez said.

"We talk to people about the program being family-oriented," Chavez said. "The other is, we tell them, it is an important program and that it nurtures their child's activity. If a parent is interested, children get motivated early on and they can pair up with their child. The boys' interest in programs goes as far as parents' interest."

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-8049.