Latinos migrants face clash of cultures
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 7, 2005
Dressed in a white housedress embroidered with bright flowers, Martha Ruiz
stands on her front lawn and points across a central Phoenix street to
people whom she considers a nuisance: immigrant neighbors.
They don't control their pets and little children, and let them run all over
the neighborhood and into her yard, she says. They crank that ranchera music
so loud "the whole neighborhood has to listen."
Wearing a designer belt and gold rosary, Mexican immigrant José Gutierrez
describes his problem: "racisto Latinos Americanos," or racist American
Latinos. They should be happy for the immigrants who are living the American
dream. Instead, "they are jealous of the people who come here for jobs,
homes and cars," the 28-year-old said.
Friction over lifestyle and culture plays out in neighborhoods across the
Valley as Latinos and recently arrived immigrants come face-to-face with
each other. Many of them often share skin color and last names, but the
similarities sometimes end there.
The culture clash is a classic American example of assimilation, experts
say, of the tensions that occur when acculturated people mix with
unacculturated newcomers. Hispanic non-profits, colleges and cities
acknowledge the issue and are trying to lessen the strain and raise cultural
awareness through diversity-focused lectures and roundtable discussions.
Some Latinos perceive immigrants to be a liability, experts say, and go out
of their way to stress their "Americanism" by avoiding association. Some
immigrants believe Latinos are in denial of who they really are, and call
them sellouts because they don't speak Spanish or celebrate customs.
"(Latinos) are here longer, they have a feeling of belonging, that this
country is ours and that the new people aren't socialized well," said Edward
Escobar, an associate professor at Arizona State University's Department of
Chicana and Chicano Studies.
"That causes major, major problems. There's tension over jobs, over dating
and parks and facilities . . . they way they dress, the way they talk."
The killing in south Phoenix last week, where Latinos are accused of
murdering a man believed to be an immigrant, is an extreme example of the
violence that can escalate from cultural conflicts. Stephanie Ybarra, 30,
her nephew Anthony Ybarra, 19, and her 15-year-old son are believed to have
attacked the immigrant after a family member said he made lewd remarks to
two young female cousins. The three were arrested for first-degree murder
Relatives and neighbors blamed the incident on neighborhood tensions between
Latinos and immigrants. Rarely do cultural tensions escalate to violence,
say police, who respond to calls that are sometimes rooted in those
differences: booming Spanish-language music, streets clogged with friends
and family, and late-night comidas, or cookouts.
"They feel like the neighborhood is being overrun by immigrants and they're
trying to protect it," said Joe Trujillo, a community action officer with
Phoenix police, who works heavily immigrant and Latino neighborhoods. "A lot
of them are not happy with the way their neighborhood has changed."
The changes will continue and become even more complex, experts say, as
families from Mexico and the world's other Spanish-speaking countries
migrate to Arizona. Both groups must overcome their differences, experts
say, or tensions will increase in a neverending cycle of social conflict,
political division and violence.
Pointing out differences
Latinos complain that immigrants dress differently, with gigantic belt
buckles, cowboy boots and plaid shirts with pearl buttons. Their Spanish is
a mix of regional and indigenous dialects. If they're from rural Mexico,
they dry their clothes outside, not in machines. Instead of dogs and cats,
they have barnyard animals as pets. They barbecue and hang out in their
front yards, not in the back. They listen to norteña, mariachi and corridos
instead of reggaeton, hip-hop or blues. They hit on girls by blowing kisses
and yelling long, drawn out "¡Oooorale!"
Immigrants complain that Latinos resent their success in this country. That
Latinos look down at them and shout ethnic slurs at them. That they aren't
as close to their families are real Mexicans are. That they have betrayed
their country by speaking English and not celebrating the Mexican holidays.
"I've noticed it a couple of times," said Oscar Montoya, whose immigrant
family from Aguascalientes, Mexico, lives in a heavily immigrant
neighborhood near 24th Street and McDowell Road in Phoenix. "Our
Mexican-Americans are even racist against our own people. It's stupid. Their
parents were immigrants, too."
Hispanic community groups, schools and cities hope to break down cultural
stereotypes and perceptions through education, brown-bag lunches and
lectures. The city of Phoenix hosts a monthly Faces of Diversity Brown Bag
lunch series where people of different ethnic backgrounds speak about
culture, social relationships, education, economy and health care. Last
month, the city partnered with ASU and the Maricopa Community College
District to put on "Healing Racism," where community leaders, counselors and
social experts discussed race relations. It was the first in a series of
discussions on race relations and runs through next year.
"This is really a complicated issue . . . from both sides," said Luis
Ibarra, president and chief executive officer of Friendly House, a
non-profit organization that works with mostly immigrants, but also with
first-, second- and third-generation Latinos. "Our whole thing is to be able
to get to the point where we understand each other. There's more
similarities than differences."