How First- and Second-Generation Hispanics Can Help Each Other

When scientists recently announced that poor folks experience rapid aging at the cellular level and used both the first generation ("poor" Mexicans) and second generation (and beyond of "non poor" Mexicans) as examples, the differences between those born outside of the States and those born and raised here flashed before my eyes.

I am very familiar with both. I happen to be both fully bicultural and fully bilingual. I can talk to you about Chiquilladas, Carrusel de Niños, A la cama con Porcel and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Friends, and Seinfeld. You see, I was born in the Dominican Republic and raised there until I was two months shy of turning 13. That is a precarious age to migrate to another land without knowing a lick of its language and culture besides the exaggerations from Hollywood movies, TV shows and the occasional compatriota who made it seem like money grew on trees and the streets were paved with gold in the States.

Most immigrants come from monolithic cultures. When you are raised in a monolithic culture, there is no "other" to compare yourself to or to make you feel like you're more or lesser than. (I mean culturally, because we do show and experience internal colorism and racism as well as classism.) Once I arrived, the indoctrination was quick, but not without its usual problems. I couldn't tell people apart based on race, for instance, which was a danger in itself. Not because I was colorblind, but because I had family and friends of all colors and didn't see the socially-constructed separations that are so pronounced here. In the States, race also tends to be linked to culture. Latinos happen to be a special case. We're an ethnicity comprised of many races (and cultures, but lumped into one in the United States).

Scientists are saying that those of us born outside do not experience the same stressors those born here experience. Hispanic immigrants also happen to live in Hispanic enclaves -- ethnic pockets. They are hardly exposed to the bigotry their kids and nephews experience and they're also most likely to be oblivious about their own racism and colorism, but I digress. They won't experience the same type of bigotry that bruises the ego and turns a person into a maligned individual. They won't be hypersensitive of how others perceive them and hyper aware of their identity. Both are sort of pummeled into the heads of those born here -- whether they like it or not. Most reactions to that are usually negative: complete denial of a culture to the point of being indignant about being "boxed" in even if it is benign or beneficial, becoming super Latinos who build unnecessary walls between other people in a multicultural world, mental self-harm and aggressive behavior towards others...

According to research, first-generation Latinos won't suffer the same health problems those born here are afflicted with. So their children might be better off economically, but not physically and mentally because of the stressors aforementioned. (Immigrant children do have an early advantage compared to U.S.-born Hispanics while U.S. born Hispanic children of immigrants are eventually more successful than both immigrant children and those of the general population.) It's important to note that Spanish-speakers who speak little to no English do get a far worse treatment when it comes to health care: They are constantly dismissed or misdiagnosed by health care providers because of a lack of caring, understanding and poor training. The dismissal goes beyond health care. So being a Hispanic immigrant is not as gravy as you'd think.

What I suggest to both first and subsequent generation Hispanics is to take care of each other in the areas both need the most help in. Subsequent generations should make sure their parents -- as well as those within the community who know little English -- are getting proper treatment and they're aware of services available to them. Writing about it in the English-speaking media is a step forward. Also, advocating for better training as well as more thorough services should be part of the grand plan. Those in politics can push for policies to quicken the process. In turn, first-generation Hispanics can show us how to be confident, proud and to validate ourselves without the negative interference and influence of outside forces.

Another thing: It's one thing is to be proud of a culture and another to overcompensate by beating others over the head of how proud you are of being part of it. That tends to push people away and bring numerous problems. That is a main reason why Hispanic immigrants fare better in Hispanic corporate America and Hollywood. (Though this is bringing other problems that we must address.) They are not wrought with the insecurities and self-doubt this nation shoves down the throats of those born and raised here at every turn they take. The negative signals come in the form of overt and covert cultural racism -- a racism those foreign Hispanics in Hispanic enclaves hardly experience and to such high intensity.

I managed to understand second-generation Hispanics because once I arrived I wasn't just pushed into the culture; I willingly submerged myself into it to the point of becoming one. This is the reason why I've made it my business to advocate for those born and raised in the States, but without forgetting that those who brought us here are also experiencing their own difficulties.

Let's take care of each other by healing, emancipating, validating, and uplifting ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. ¡Sí, se puede!

Follow César Vargas on twitter: @CesarVargas365