by Ramiro Funez
Throughout my late adolescence and early adulthood, I came to realize a lot about Latinos and how common disunity is amongst our people.
As a student attending a public high-school in South Queens, an area with one of the highest amount of varied cultural groups in the world, diversity became a common sight.
Located in a predominately South Asian, Central American, and Afro-Caribbean neighborhood, my high school offered an assortment of students from all over the world. And with such a diverse student body, the development of personal views towards different ethnic groups grew as a result of observation and life experience.
One observation that I came to realize was how conflictive Latino students were towards each other.
From sports teams to gangs, it seemed as if many of my colleagues (mostly of Latin-American descent) would find any excuse to antagonize each other. Unfortunately, a lot of these same students would subscribe to the popularized stereotypes of either dropping-out of school or becoming teenage parents.
It bothered me seeing my own people, especially of my age group, scrupulously dividing themselves according to nationality, ethnic background, and cultural difference. I would constantly think to myself, “Why should we divide ourselves because we eat different foods or because we speak Spanish with different accents?”
As I began to wonder why the Latinos at my high school were so sectarian, I also began observing students who were of Jewish background and how tight-knit their camaraderie was. Most of these students were extremely involved in school and earned excellent grades.
One thing that I realized after observing them was that instead of fighting against each other and setting up social boundaries because of national borders or cultural difference, they helped each other. These students helped each other study and progress themselves; one of the greatest things a friend can ever do for you.
My father once said that Latinos are like crabs in a pot reaching its boiling point; if one tries to crawl out of the container, the others pull him back in with their claws instead of helping him escape. In essence, the same analogy can be applied to many urban-Latinos living in poverty. If one tries to persevere through the socially-stratified economic constraints of modern society, it will be uncommon for others to give them support.
Whether it was neocolonialism, sectarianism, nationalism, or misinterpreted patriotism plaguing our people, I knew that I had to do something about the issue.
It wasn’t until I attended college at St. John’s University that I encountered a student group that directly addressed this issue. Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity Incorporated is not only the oldest Latino fraternity in existence, but is also the only Latino fraternity to boast several members who were presidents of Latin-American countries.
The organization, founded in 1931, was designed to address the problems facing many Latino students attending distinguished four-year institutions. In essence, the goal of the organization is to promote unity amongst the Latino community. The term Pan-Americanism encapsulates the ideology of the organization in one word, advocating the basic unity of the countries of this hemisphere.
Upon joining the illustrious brotherhood, I learned so much about not only my country, but of all of the Latino countries as well. From historical knowledge to cultural appreciation, there was an underlying feeling of unity and progress.
After learning so much about Latin America, I started realizing that many of our countries share similar histories and struggles.
I believe that it’s extremely important for Latinos to help each other academically, economically, politically, socially, and spiritually. We have to disregard and look past our differences and help each other succeed and progress, just as many other ethnic groups do. Whether idealistic or not, we must unify ourselves and surrender our nationalistic titles and embrace a new title; an empowered Latino.
If we learn more about ourselves and our history, we not only remove a lot of preconceived ignorance, but we also enlighten ourselves and intellectually liberate out people.
José Julián Martí, a Cuban writer and national icon once said, “Un pueblo unido, jamás será vencido,” In translation, a united community will never be defeated if they remain together.
By listening to the words of unity and progression, Latinos can accomplish so much more.