Discrimination and racial profiling are rife in the United States. The United States is a country whose majority are white people with minority groups of Latin Americans, Native Americans, African Americans and Asian Americans. Discrimination ranges from denial to access education, the ownership of land, the right to vote, employment, lending, housing, and immigration. The government has made taken measures to end discrimination by categorizing it as morally objectionable and socially unacceptable. Despite stringent measures being put in place by the government, cases of racial discrimination and victimization continue to happen. This has led the individual groups into taking the imitative of ending this discrimination into their own hands.
Latina/os are one of the American minority groups undergoing discrimination. The Latina/os of the United States need to be accorded the freedom of expression. They also need equal treatment just like the “other American citizens,” and the right to move freely across any parts of the country as well as the freedom to grow and develop their community without having to undergo many inconvenient stages for verification and other similar obstacles. The case of The Brooklyn Bridge can be used to draw important lessons in the fight for the Latina/os to be recognized in the United States. The Latinas/os have struggled to create an identity for themselves in a country where this is made difficult by the domination of racial and ethnic discriminations for many years. It is important to note that the Latinos and the Latinas are not a single community as assumed by most people. They both have different layouts in their political set-up, their social structure, their cultural identities and their socio-economic status.
Historical records show that discrimination against the Latinas/os began a long time ago. In the 1800s, Mexicans are known to have been victims of mob-lynching in America. Others were forcefully deported to America despite records showing that a majority of them were legal citizens of the United States. In 1943, the Zoot Suit Riots caused by a confrontation between Latino youth and naval servicemen erupted. Around this period, Latinas/os could not be admitted into businesses and many public institutions due to the policies in existence then. They could not serve as jurors in court either.
Research among the Latinas/os shows that they are discriminated by their immigration status, income levels, the level of education, skin color and the accent in their language. They are however faced with the fear of reporting to the relevant authorities as there is always the prospect of their citizenship going under scrutiny which may result in deportation or detention.
Latino Identity and Ethnicities by Suzanne Oboler et al. describe how the two communities have been subjected to the offensive and discriminative use of terms by the larger American population over the years. They have been victimized and picked upon through the use of language which has consequently obliged them to take note of the various ways used to abuse them. (Latino Identities and Ethnicities - Oxford Reference 1). Their fight entails ending all kind of subordination directed at them; be it cultural, political or socioeconomic. They have struggled to fight against the effect of verbal discrimination, and offensive terms used about them. These terms jeopardize chances of prosperity and development within the American society. In a bid to get rid of the offensive terms, the Latina/os have had to draft new terms which they consider appropriate for self-reference.
The Brooklyn Bridge is more about the symbolism presented by the bridge to the author and the people rather than the story of the bridge itself. The story begins with a description of the joy the bridge brought upon the residents of New York and described the bridge as “a crown that had descended upon the city.” The construction of the bridge brought with it togetherness as people from various disciplines across America put their differences aside and worked on the bridge for fifteen years. This depicts unity facilitated by the building of the bridge.
The Brooklyn Bridge also symbolizes freedom for the people as they could now cross the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn and vice versa. The author describes the large crowds of people gathered at the bridge with the aim of crossing to the other side, letters and businesspeople ferrying goods from one side of the river to the other as an illustration of the newly-found capability to cross the river which was impossible before the erection of the bridge. The establishment of the bridge also portrays development as it forms an important part of the infrastructure that up-to-date still serves a significant number of people on a daily basis. It is used by pedestrians, rail traffic, and motorists. Before its construction, circulation across the river was difficult.
The fate of the Latinas/os living in the United States could be solved, using lessons drawn from The Brooklyn Bridge. The bridge managed to unite two communities which were initially separated by the East River. The river, in this case, is the discrimination directed towards the Latinas/os hence separating them from the white majority of America. The creation of the bridge required efforts from all ethnic groups across America. Similarly, the fight against discrimination might prove a tall task for the Latinas/os to win it alone and will need the involvement of everyone- the government, the white people, other minority groups, politicians, professionals from different fields, the courts among others.
The cry for freedom has been prevalent among the Latinas/os: freedom against harassment from the government. The Latinas/os frequently get apprehended and questioned about their citizenship in America and are always at the risk of deportation. It will take the initiative of the government to come up with policies that protect the minorities against wrongful detention and harassment at the hands of its agencies that are entrusted to safeguard the rights and freedom of the same people that they harass. This harassment is triggered by among others, their language. Their accent betrays them as those born outside the United States are bound to have a more noticeable accent hence leading to their detection. It is common to find a white person speaking in a slow tone when addressing a Latina/o “to ensure that the Latina/o grasps” what is being said to them. It is an offensive habit that leaves the victim feeling subordinated as the assumption is that they cannot understand “pure English.”
At the workplace, members of the Latina/o group have reported being subjected to racial slurs while others claim they earn less than their white counterparts. They are also left out in job advancement opportunities that arise at their places of work. There is a relatively small number of Latinas/os at the workplace hence, the chances of a single Latina/o at work is minimal. The Brooklyn Bridge took the engagement of many groups of people. The fight against discrimination at the workplace will also require the cooperation of everyone, inclusive of the non-Latinas/os, at the workplace to ensure this is eliminated from the society.
Despite all these challenges faced by the Latinas/os, they are still proud of their cultural heritage. They Latinas/os remain a community determined to see to it that their rights are recognized in the United States and discrimination against them is ended. Despite being slightly uncowed by the authorities exposing them to more scrutiny when their plight is brought into the public scene, the community will not relent in its fight to be recognized. The term Latina/o is still widely in use. Members of this community are proud as ever to use it every day as illustrated by a recent Huffington Post interview where artiste Eva Longoria, upon being asked about her constant references to her culture in her works, she claimed she is proud to be a Latina. The involvement of well-known public figures such as her will aid in the fight against discrimination of the Latinas/os. The paper boldly uses the term Latina and Latino in its report which shows that it is not considered discriminative or offensive.
The experience of migration, immigration, and exile play a significant role in the articulation of the Latina/o identity. Besides the original Latinas/os, other groups of immigrants from Spanish speaking countries such as Brazilians, despite being colonized by the Portuguese, are embracing the Latina/o identity and refusing to be referred to as Hispanics. It has hugely helped in raising the population of the Latinas/os in the United States, which has consequently given them more power and influence in fighting for their rights. There is strength in numbers. Incorporation of other groups that were previously not recognized as Latinas/os also motivates them to continue the demand for their rights as American citizens. The Huffington Post claims that as the Latina/o population in the United States continues to grow, so does the debate on their rights.
However, the use of the expansion of the term “Hispanic” or “Latina/o” to refer to more groups has had its shortcomings as it has overlooked some crucial factors such as language and ethnicity of the parties involved. It has consequently led to the loss of identity of small indigenous ethnic groups such as the Maya of Guatemala, the Quechuas of Peru and the Aymara from Bolivia. (Latino Identities and Ethnicities - Oxford Reference 1). It is a wrong assumption that is being taken up by many Americans and has limited the chances of these minority groups from being recognized independently.
Oboler, Suzanne, et al. “Latino Identities and Ethnicities.” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Web. 7 May. 2016.