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This week Labragirl Resident Blogger Cynthia Vicario takes a passionate look at conflicting images of Latino adolescents. In her work as an educator and cultural historian Cynthia deals with students who are strong, bright, and hard-working. Yet, she consistently sees images that portray Latino youth as uneducated and poor. In this thoughtful piece, Cynthia wonders what role, if any, media images of Latinos play in shaping the lives of Latino youths and society’s interaction with these children. She also wonders why other images – the ones she sees in her daily life – are not more prominent in the media. Cynthia’s work combines her passion for education and her cultural look at the world.


Cynthia Vicario

Recently, while driving with my brother to Downtown Los Angeles for dinner, I stopped at a corner gas station to fill up my gas tank for the second time that week, when I was approached by a soft spoken Latino about fourteen years-old selling chocolates in order to win a trip to Washington, D.C.  My brother, a local Angelino, advised me not to purchase the chocolates because he believed this teen was just another kid peddling for an adult-based profit venture that operates by exploiting child labor. Although that may very well have been the case, I ignored my brother. My first reaction was to observe how cold it was that evening, yet this young boy wore only a t-shirt and jeans. The area also did not appear safe for a young boy to be alone. As an educator working with teens for many years, I’ve come to understand that many adolescent issues stem from social-economic factors, therefore I instinctively knew there was more to this situation than just a youth peddling chocolates.  I immediately began discussing the possible educational opportunities with this young man.

It was the image of fatigue, hopelessness, and poverty reflected on this young boy that lingered with me months later.

The image of this young man stays with me during my daily work commute, and although I work with middle school students on a daily basis, this particular Latino youth seems to haunt me. How many of us can remember a Latino youth that has approached us as we quickly enter or exit our local markets? Although we are quick to dismiss these kids, how many of these children that we avoid are simply trying to help their families make ends meet?

This internal dialogue compelled me to open up this conversation and ask the following questions:

Is there a pre-conceived conception of Latino youth that has been shaped by media images?

Is the notion of Latino youth as the Latino male drop out fueled by media images that are also shaping our history?

Could it be that this image of Latino youth resembles the images that we see daily in film, mediums, and the Internet?

[Source: http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/special_initiatives/toolkit/stereotypes/ youth _stereotypes_news.cfm]

On the Saturday evening I encountered this particular teen, I was on the corner of State Street and Marengo in East Los Angeles. I could feel the hustle and bustle of the city bursting at the seams and preparing for the shift that occurs in a metropolis such as Los Angeles. It is that time and space which transcends the city from twilight to the pulse of what can lie ahead in the darkest corners of a city. Los Angeles is a city saturated with images of progression, entertainment, and new hipster generated urban spaces. Advertising methods include strategic Latino/a images in order to gain the support of the Latin audience, yet to the critical eye, it’s a sharp contrast to headline news and media’s constant bombarding of negative images of Latinos.

Under-education and dropout rates have emerged as a cultural phenomenon indicative of a schism between the needs of Latinos and the ways in which society views and treats them.  One only has to view current media’s stereotypes of Latino youth as low performing under achieving students, who come from a culture of families where higher educational expectations are nonexistent. [Source: (Pathways to Prevention: The Latino Male Dropout Crisis. ASU Center for Community Development and Civil Rights, 2007)]

Why is it that in an era of digital technologies and possibilities that our popular culture continues to turn a blind eye to the empowering images of transformative changes that are currently taking place among the Latino youth? There are a significant number of images of the Latino youth that are currently cultivating change within East L.A cities. Images such as the one taken at the Hispanic Youth Institute 2012, a national pre-college program at Loyola Marymount University.

This institute is a collaboration of students, college leaders, and mentors that teaches students how to prepare themselves for higher education.

Additionally, many Los Angeles communities are creating rich learning environments that both recognize and involve youth as the future of their communities. As an educator and cultural historian, it is exciting to observe student activism aligned with social justice issues on a local level. It is the launching of a movement to achieve real and lasting change among our youth in the form of activism with a new lens on the Los Angeles experience as a young Latino/a.  Although living in poverty, Latino youth are surviving the odds by focusing on new ideas and new approaches in order to address the complex economic, social, and broader cultural issues in Los Angeles.  This movement is taking place in the form of community based collaboration, some examples include: California State University, Long Beach Community Scholars program in collaboration with their Chicano & Latino Studies Program and California Community Foundations.

In 2007, Cal State Fullerton ranked 6th in the nation in the number of Bachelor Degrees earned by Latino students. [Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2o8osmVGRQ&feature=email&noredirect=1}

The intent of this movement is to create real and lasting change in student achievement that in turn leads access to higher education opportunities. This theory of change is now set in motion – students are acting and participating.

As an educator, I am committed to continue to seek ways to ways to find solutions and seek justice for youth of color, poverty, and below poverty. I ask these questions?  What are we willing to do? How can we focus on new ideas, new images, and new approaches to address these complex issues of youth within our inner cities?

Images can create a powerful impression and shape history over time.  In the final scene of Rome, Open City (Italian: Roma, città aperta) a 1945 Italian war drama film directed by Roberto Rossellini,  The last scene shows a group of boys dejectedly walking away after witnessing the execution of the priest, Don Pietro (Aldo Fabrizi). The scene is a symbolic shot against a panoramic view of the city of Rome after war torn destruction caused by German Occupation.

Rome: Open City, 1946 [Source: http://chef-du-cinema.blogspot.com/2012/04/tv-bites-roma-citta-aperta-rome-open.html]

It is a symbolic shot which reminds me of the haunting image of the Latino youth against the LA skyline. What intrigues me is how the youth of today demonstrate a symbol of hope that the youth of the next generation have captured.

Until next time,



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