A Mixed Picture Of Young Hispanics In The U.S.

The Pew Hispanic Center released a report about the values, education and employment of Latinos 16-25. They have high rates of teen pregnancy, gang affiliation and school dropouts.

But many young Hispanics are also satisfied with their lives, and value highly education and career success.

Guests:

Mark Lopez, associate director, Pew Hispanic Center

Gustavo Arellano, writes the syndicated column, "Ask A Mexican," and author of Orange County

Ruben Navarette, nationally syndicated columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune

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NEAL CONAN, Host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The future belongs to the young, and so we know that our future will be more and more Hispanic. That counts one of every five kids in school today, one of every four newborns. Last week, the Pew Hispanic Center released an in-depth report that paints a fascinating picture of the values, education and employment of the next generation: Hispanics between the ages of 16 and 25. That includes high rates of teen pregnancy, gang affiliation and school dropouts, but it also finds that the majority of Latino youth speak English as their dominant language, place a high value on education and career success. Contrary to popular assumption, the great majority of young Hispanics are born in the U.S.A. - a portrait of Latino teens and 20-somethings.

Later in the hour, Zbigniew Brzezinski joins us on the Opinion Page to talk about President Obama's top three challenges in foreign policy, but first, if you're a Latino youth, if you are part of the lives of Hispanic youth, as parents, educators, mentors, how do you see this critical sector of our American future? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we begin with Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. He's with us here in Studio 3A. Thanks very much for coming in today.

MARK LOPEZ: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And the headline that some took away from this study was that Hispanic youth don't identify themselves initially as American or even as Hispanic but with their parents' home country, as a Dominican, a Mexican, an El Salvadoran, whatever.

LOPEZ: Yes. Actually, what we found is we found that when we ask young Latinos what's the first term they use to describe themselves, more than half said that they prefer the country of origin of their families or their ancestors. That's Cubano, Dominicano, like you mentioned earlier. About another quarter say American first, and about 20 percent say Hispanic or Latino.

That doesn't mean that they don't use those terms, though. In fact, we did ask: Do you ever use the term American? And two-thirds of young Hispanics said yeah, they've used the term American to describe themselves. So it's not just a matter of what's the first term but actually do they ever describe themselves with any of these terms.

CONAN: And that their parents, in a very large number of cases, had spoken with great pride about the home country, not so much about America.

LOPEZ: That's exactly right. So the parents talk very much about their pride in being from a specific country. The parents also were more likely to encourage their young children to actually speak Spanish rather than to, say, speak only in English. So we see a socialization of young Latinos that's really focused on Hispanic culture and identity. And young Latinos, actually if you talk to them, have a multitude of identities. It depends on the situation, what they call themselves.

CONAN: And is this different from, you know, other groups of immigrants, typically from Europe?

LOPEZ: This is actually a very interesting question. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of survey research work that was done prior to the 1960s on exactly these sorts of questions, and we actually don't know what the previous big wave of immigration would have been like compared to this one. But you know, anecdotal evidence suggests that Italian-Americans sometimes called themselves Italians or Italian-American, and also same with Irish-Americans. So I don't think this is unusual.

CONAN: So the idea of the melting pot, there's a quote in here: Say goodbye to the melting pot, say hello to the salad.

LOPEZ: Yes, and even within the Hispanic community, young Hispanics are overwhelmingly going to say that there are actually more differences among Hispanics than there are commonalities.

CONAN: So as you looked at these studies, what surprised you?

LOPEZ: Well, I would say that there are many things in the report that are interesting. For example, there are so many contrasts. First, education - Latinos place a high value on education, whether that's adults or it's young people.

CONAN: Place a high value on education, at the same time have a very high dropout rate.

LOPEZ: That's right. So they place a high value on it, they actually aspire to it, especially the native-born, just like - they look just like regular youths, but at the same time, they're not necessarily going to school. Now, you might wonder why, why this falloff from expectations, aspirations, etcetera. What we found is we found that it's - one of the big reasons is that young Latinos, when they are not in school, and they don't intend to return, say it's because they have to support family.

CONAN: And family is an incredibly important part of their lives.

LOPEZ: That's exactly right. If you look at some of the questions we asked about family roles and also the relative importance of relatives, say, compared to friends, Hispanics overwhelmingly place a lot of emphasis on the importance of family.

CONAN: But when you look at aspirations of these people, one after another in terms of education, in terms of work ethic, in terms of what they hope to achieve in life, they look like you and me and everybody else.

LOPEZ: Sometimes even more so, particularly on the front of education. And also, they're very optimistic about the future. Young Latinos feel that they're going to be better off than their parents, and adult Latinos think their children will be better off than they themselves.

CONAN: Which, again, is at odds with at least some other aspects of American society, at least at this stage.

LOPEZ: That's correct, with some of the aspects of Latinos and Latino youth.

CONAN: And you look at some of the statistics, and not surprisingly, poverty rates are high but then diminish in second generation from first generation, the same with dropout rates. They diminish from first generation to second generation. This is as you would expect.

LOPEZ: This is exactly what you would expect, given the usual path that we see or the pattern we see in terms of immigrants coming to this country and then what happens to their children as the subsequent generations are born and then the third generation. We do see, though, what we might call some backsliding, or at least some moving back in terms of success from the second to third generation, but it's not a big change.

CONAN: Doesn't seem significant, two percent, something like that, yeah. There was also, however, another thing that a lot of people took away was the gang affiliation statistics which, particularly in the case of Mexican-Americans, was very sobering.

LOPEZ: Yes. And what we asked is we actually asked two questions. The first was: Do you know somebody, either a family member of a friend, who is a member of a gang? And about a third of young Latinos said yes, they did, and this was especially more true among Mexican-Americans. And when we asked whether or not you, yourself, are a member of a gang, very few people admitted to being a member of a gang.

CONAN: Even to an anonymous pollster.

LOPEZ: Yeah.

CONAN: Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Our guest is Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, which last week released the result of a survey done mostly by telephone, as I understand.

LOPEZ: It was a telephone survey, but we also used large, national databases like census data.

CONAN: That looked at Hispanic youth, ages 16 to 25. Again, if this is you, give us a call. If you are involved in the lives of Hispanic youth, how do you see this, well, important part of America's future? And let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Jason(ph), Jason with us from Concord in Massachusetts.

JASON: Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jason.

JASON: Hi, cheers, how are you? No, I want to say what an interesting subject because I'm just hiring for a firm that we've started, and I am especially looking for young Latinos to work for me. I'm married to a Latina, and through her I realized that the culture in general of hard work and, you know, not expecting to get something for free, I mean, it really typifies, you know, looking back a couple hundred years at the American dream, how people used to think when they came here. I have never had better employees in any firm than a young Latino or Latina. Polite...

CONAN: What business are you in, Jason?

JASON: We have a financial services firm and accounts receivables. But you know, the fact of bilingual, number one, and willing to work long, long hours and just really, really putting their all into it, and the entrepreneurial spirit that they have. Most of these people have moved on and gone on to do other things - but really, really, really hard workers. And I don't think you can pigeonhole Latinos as a whole into one or the other type of thing, but I will say that culturally, I think they have a lot going for them that, you know, those of us that have been in the States for, you know, generations and generations can learn from.

CONAN: All right, and how are you doing finding well-qualified young people?

LOPEZ: I think it's very easy. And I think that the energy that they take into the job market of, you know, the willingness to learn and to put in extra hours and really to try and benefit from what we have to offer them, we actually get just as much back from them, if not more, than what we can give them. I just wish we could offer them more.

Unfortunately, we're a privately held firm, and we don't have a lot of room for movement at this point. But you know, my wife, for example, works for a Fortune 500 company and she, you know, promoted very highly up with, you know, just a bachelor's degree within, you know, a couple of years. I've never seen someone work so hard or take something so seriously, and I really wish that more of my peers had that same kind of drive in them. Thank you so much.

CONAN: Jason, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate. And we hadn't talked much about employment, but Jason's phone call does illustrate some of your findings, Mark.

LOPEZ: Yes, actually, he really echoed a lot of the findings, particularly around young Latinos and their hard work, their aspirations, their desires to learn. And it really does reflect a lot of what's in the survey.

CONAN: And it does also - again contrary to what you might perceive. Again, a lot of the perception is that there's a much more fatalistic, cultural aspect to a lot of Latinos who come from a Catholic culture.

LOPEZ: Yes, that's absolutely right. And yet in our survey, we found that they're more likely to say you can get ahead if you work hard, as opposed to saying that no matter what you do, you can't make a difference.

CONAN: You're never going to get ahead. Let's see if we can get another caller on the line, and let's go to - this is Sharise(ph), Sharise with us from...

SHARISE: Hi, yeah, how are you doing?

CONAN: You're in Peachtree City, Georgia. Go ahead.

SHARISE: I am, yes, sir. I wanted to call in because it's such an interesting topic. I really agree with what your previous caller just said about the work ethic of Latino people. Gosh, I'll tell you what. I'm the owner of a roofing company. All of my employees are Latino, and these people have just inspired me to really embrace an American dream of, you know, pursuing the opportunity that is here.

I have a lot of friends who are Latino. I'm bilingual myself, and they all agree that the average income over there is about $2,000 or $3,000 a year, which is a staggering, sobering number. So when they come here and they're able to make that in a month, they're just so appreciative because nothing's been handed to them. And I think that those people could really pull us out of the recession if we were to find a way to legalize them.

I mean, there are 12 million people. Think about what that could do for Social Security and just their work ethic. I know they could really help turn this country around.

CONAN: What are the statistics on people - Hispanics, 16 to 25, how many are here legally or illegally, Mark?

LOPEZ: Well, among those who are foreign-born, among the 16-to-25, 60 percent of immigrant young Latinos are unauthorized, and overall in the United States, there's about 12 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States.

CONAN: All right. Sharise, thanks very much for the phone call, appreciate it.

SHARISE: Okay, you all have a good one.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And there were some interesting differences between those who are native, American-born, and those who are immigrants.

LOPEZ: Yes, we did see some big differences, particularly around educational attainment. And it's pretty clear that even from your two callers, that the Latinos who are coming to this country to work, who are immigrants to this country, whether they be authorized or not, are coming here to work. So when we look at their educational attainment numbers, they are somewhat lower, though they may have completed all the education they needed to in their home countries, wherever they're from. But nonetheless, we do see some big differences both in attitude but also in outcomes among immigrants versus those who are native born.

CONAN: Mark Lopez, thanks very much for being with us today.

LOPEZ: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark Lopez is associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, with us here in Studio 3A. You can find a link to the Pew report on our Web site. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're looking at Hispanic youth this hour. They're the largest and youngest minority in the United States, and this in-depth study of their attitudes, values and hopes for the future, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. When we come back, Gustavo Arellano and Ruben Navarrette will join us. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week, the Pew Hispanic Center released a report that paints a mixed picture of young Hispanics. Young Latinos believe in hard work and education but are more likely than other young adults to have a child before 19, drop out of school and live in poverty. We're looking at stories behind those statistics this hour, and we want to hear from you. If you are Latino youth, if you're part of the lives of Hispanic youth, what is your experience? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And let's go to Doug(ph), Doug with us from Cheyenne in Wyoming.

DOUG: Hi, Neal, how are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

DOUG: Good. I'm 26 years old, second generation, born in the United States to two Puerto Rican parents. Education was always something that my parents pushed, ever since I was a little kid, my sister and I. And now I have an opportunity to work with kids in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to - inner-city kids, which has a growing Hispanic demographic. And a lot of these kids are dropping out of school because of either home issues, substance abuse issues, gang affiliations, what have you.

So we provide - we're (unintelligible) to provide after-school programming to elementary and middle school kids and really pus the emphasis of education and working hard to attain the quote-unquote "American dream."

CONAN: And when you talk about gang affiliation - that was an interesting part of the survey, at least its result. Are kids dropping out of school because they are in a gang and get into trouble, or do they drop out of school to participate with the gang?

DOUG: Both, actually. The criminal activities of the gang contribute to their dropping out, but also there's major gaps in our - both education system and justice system, which a lot of these kids have fallen through the cracks, you know, versus real treatment to try to correct these behavioral issues, you know, they're just put aside and said oh, they're just bad apples.

CONAN: Bad apples, yeah, when - well, anyway. And are you having much luck, Doug?

DOUG: We are, actually. You know, we're on a five-year project to incorporate comprehensive, after-school programming throughout the entire Cheyenne - the city of Cheyenne for all elementary and middle school kids, targeted, you know, especially towards minority students.

CONAN: And I wonder, just on the identification subject that we were talking about earlier, I would assume that most of the people there, the Hispanic people there in Cheyenne, are not Puerto Ricans.

DOUG: No, they're not. No, they're not. I'm actually here through my wife, who's serving in the Air Force, and we're stationed up here.

CONAN: All right. Do they give you any trouble because you're Puerto Rican and not Mexican?

DOUG: No, not at all because I get confused for Mexican all the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CONAN: Okay, Doug, thanks very much, appreciate it.

DOUG: Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: Joining us now is Gustavo Arellano, author of "Orange County: A Personal History." He writes the syndicated column "Ask a Mexican" for the OC Weekly. He's with us today from the studios of KUCI in Irvine, California. Nice to have you back on the program.

GUSTAVO ARELLANO: Ola, Neal.

CONAN: And Ruben Navarrette is also with us. He's a nationally syndicated columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune, with us today from his office there in San Diego. Nice to have you back on the program, as well.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Thanks, Neal, good to be back with you.

CONAN: And you've both had a chance to look at this study, and I wonder, Gustavo, let's start with you. What surprised you?

ARELLANO: Nothing. It's my life story. It's the life story of every Latino I know. It's - these surveys, they've been done since 1940s that, like, for instance, we're talking about different aspects. You were talking about different aspects of it, this idea that the first generation does okay, the second generation does a little bit better, and the third generation does a little bit worse. That was found in a 1993 survey that I cited in my column a couple years back, done by Alejandro Portes(ph) and Minh Zau(ph). They were ethnographers.

And then also this idea of dropout rates among Latinos, why it's so high, well, about 20 years ago in New York City, Italian-American youth were dropping out at a rate of 25 percent. So this issue of, you know, the ethnic youth of today, are they going to be better off or worse off, it's something that's been in the minds of Americans for a long time. It's nothing that surprises me. I think what this survey showed, and what always happens, is that these youth, yeah, they're going to have their problems, but they'll make it forward. They'll make it forward. They always do because they do have that optimism that this country gives on them and their parents.

CONAN: Ruben Navarrette?

NAVARRETTE: Well, what surprised me about this, and I agree with Gustavo that we've seen these studies before, but the human condition is so complicated, and it's full of so many paradoxes in terms of how people identify themselves. They see themselves as both American and certainly act in ways that are, you know, quintessentially American ways about optimism and being able to make your own way, but they also see themselves as a Latino.

And the first time that Irish-Americans were able to thread that needle, or Jewish-Americans were able to thread that needle, it's just as complicated now. And one of the things that I think causes the researchers to sort of, you know, raise their eyebrows, and it certainly caused me to raise my eyebrows when I read it, was as you compare the generations, the first generation, immigrants themselves, second generation, U.S.-born children of immigrants, and then the third and higher generations beyond that, there's times where the trajectory sort of goes up and down like a roller coaster.

You would think that teen parenthood rates, high school dropouts, would get lower as time goes on, but then in the third generation, they spike up a little bit. And so even for people who think they've seen this before, there is some complexity to this population that had researchers sort of scratching their heads, saying hey, it's not supposed to work this way.

CONAN: Yeah, and again, that there's no great unifying - the initial identification, not necessarily Hispanic or Latino but rather as Salvadoran, Colombian, Venezuelan, whatever.

NAVARRETTE: Right. And when you get here, there's much more pressure when you are an immigrant or the child of immigrants to think of yourself as an American. As time goes on, you end up in a situation like, you know, I'm third generation on one side, I'm fifth- or sixth-generation American on the other side, and so I have no trouble referring to myself as Latino. And so that's interesting. The first guy off the boat calls himself an American, but the third generation calls himself Latino. Explain that one to me.

CONAN: In my professional experience with young people in my community, there's a strong gender difference in educational aspirations among teen Mexican-Americans. The girls are more likely to prepare for and expect to attend college than boys, who are more likely than girls to expect immediate employment - among common employers, the military.

And I wonder if that accords with - by the way, the Pew survey says girls are more likely to say college is important. That's by about 10 percent.

ARELLANO: That's true. That's absolutely true. That's what's happened with my family, with my hundreds of cousins. Most of the high school graduates - or rather - high school - we all graduated from high school with a couple of exceptions, but most of the college graduates have been women. They're the ones who have gotten the professional careers. And most of the guys, I'm one of the rare exceptions that has a - if you want to call journalism a white-college profession.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

ARELLANO: Yeah, if you want to. I'd call it a fish rag - I'm a fish-rag monger. But most of my cousins, they're involved in construction, and they're all successful businessmen, by the way. They all have their nice houses, they have their mortgages paid off, but most of them didn't go to college. However, the children, their children, their older children, they're now attending university. So they would be, what, the second generation, and they're all going to college, and they're all perfectly assimilated.

I do want to concentrate a little bit, though, Neal, on this idea of ethnic identity. I think if anybody has any concerns about that, this concern that oh, well, these Latinos, they don't identify primarily as American, I think they shouldn't be concerned at all. This - if anything, this shows the power of symbolic ethnicity, this idea that people ultimately identify with their background, with their ethnic identity or with their heritage, in whatever way they want. In some cases, if you're fifth or sixth generation, it might just be your Catholic faith or a particular dish that you make on Passover or Christmas. If you want to call yourself, you know, Mexicano, or in my case, I don't even call myself a Mexican or a Latino. I usually call myself Zacatecano because my parents are from the state of Zacatecas. That's my ethnic identity. But at the same time, of course I'm American. I was born in this country. I'm speaking English, of course I'm American. I don't think there's much of a question to it.

CONAN: And Ruben, the language barrier, obviously not unique to Latinos but nevertheless different from a lot of Europeans who came here.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, and it's similar to a lot of Europeans, as well. You look at the German example. The first group of people to be persecuted because of language were German-Americans. The first victims, if you want to call them that, targets of English-only laws were Germans in the Midwest. And so, you know, that goes way back. And I think the interesting thing there is there was once a time where people believed that Germans and Italians and Irish and Jews would never assimilate. They actually said that: They would never assimilate. They would never become American, they would never learn our language, and lo and behold, it was a really dumb assumption.

It was a really dumb charge because it turned out by the second generation, they only spoke English. By the third generation, they were going to have to take, like, you know, Rosetta Stone or Berlitz to learn Italian because they'd lost the Italian - likewise here with Hispanics. Second generation, they're mostly English fluent. This concern that people have that somehow they're not assimilating because when they drive to work in the morning they see a beer billboard selling, you know, beer in Spanish, somehow that means we're not assimilating, it's nonsense. But it's a really kind of familiar nonsense. It's a nonsense we've been spewing here in this country for 200 years.

CONAN: Let's get Edgar(ph) on the line, Edgar with us from Las Vegas.

EDGAR: Hi, I just wanted to weigh in on the subject. It's a great subject that you guys are talking about today because, you know, I think it comes down to what we see at home. I'm an immigrant from Mexico. I've been here 10 years in Las Vegas, and you know, for me, yeah, education was very important. My parents always told me to go to school, but at the same time, what I always saw at home was my dad, you know, he was working, he was providing for us, and you know, that always came first to - you know, he put off all his education. He in fact finished, you know, a college degree in his later years, but you know, I think for a lot of Hispanics, speaking for myself, we put family first before anything else.

CONAN: And how did that manifest itself in terms of your education and your employment?

EDGAR: Well, you know, like (unintelligible) I came here and I got married when I was 23. I had a child. I was going to college. But, you know, for me, just from what I've seen at home, it was always more important to provide for my family. And I did put my education on hold. I do plan on going back but, you know, it's just the way I think we were programmed, you know, to the core. It's always the family values that come in first for me. I mean, I speak for myself.

CONAN: Sure. And what business, might I ask, if - are you in, Edgar?

EDGAR: Oh, I work for a paving company - construction. You know, I work for doing asphalt, you know? It's just a construction company.

CONAN: It's not just a construction company. It's paving the future. Anyway, Edgar, thanks very much and be careful out there on the roads, okay?

EDGAR: Oh, yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Appreciate it. And, again, construction. Well, a lot of Irish has started building the Erie Canal.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, absolutely.

CONAN: And so it's a...

NAVARRETTE: And, yeah, you know, people have always done those kinds of jobs. The paradox there is when the Irish did those jobs, the Italians did those jobs, they were always the bottom of the barrel jobs that the blue bloods didn't want to do. But we always reserve the right to criticize people who do jobs that we don't want to do. And we somehow make up this myth that they're taking jobs that I was dying to do. My life's dream has been to go out and pick strawberries. But I showed up and a Mexican took my job. Really tick me off, you know?

CONAN: Exactly. The one statistic that was - again, that do a lot of - raised a lot of eyebrows was the gang affiliation. How many people knew people in gangs and particularly with Mexicans? That was very high number.

ARELLANO: Oh, sure. I have cousins who are gang members. Some of them are in prison. It's just a part - it's a part of our experience because when our parents came to this country, they were poor so they got to live in the poor parts of neighborhoods. And, of course, if you're in the poor part of the city, most likely, you're going to be in places where there are gangs or where there are - where there is crime, where there is criminals.

One thing about the Pew Hispanic Center report that I'd like to see is that breakdown of poverty rates. I'm sure, obviously, the poverty rates are going to be larger when it comes to Latinos, just because based on their immigrant experience. But I guarantee you that if Latinos live in nicer part of towns, in the suburbs, for instance, all those rates that we see as pathological, they're probably going to be reduced, if not at the same level as those of other immigrant groups or even those of white people. If you grew up among crime, you're - of course, you're going to know gang members. But if you're in the suburbs where there are no - at least a gang members as named by the police department, then you're not going to know any gang members. It's just natural.

CONAN: Just picking out a number. The poverty rate among young Latinos declined significantly from the first generation, 29 percent, to the second, 19 percent, then ticks up a little bit to 21 percent for the third and subsequent generations. So I'm unable to pick out those numbers you need at the drop of a hat.

Anyway, we're talking with Ruben Navarrette and Gustavo Arellano about the new findings, the new survey about Hispanic youth, ages 16 to 25.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Roberto on the line. Roberto with us from Sacramento.

ROBERTO: Hello. I have a comment. I went to a university and to medical school, so I'm practicing physician. And I - my realization is that something that is very important for students, especially Latino students, is - two things, at least, helped me get through, you know, undergraduate of medical school. Number one (unintelligible) and that's a deep-seated desire to succeed. And the second thing is a role model, and a role model really helped me get through undergraduate medical school. So I think as soon as I'm able to find that, it really helps improve the chances of getting through, you know, a school and, you know, succeeding later on.

CONAN: Gustavo Arellano, did you have a role model to help you?

ARELLANO: My parent - my dad. My dad, a fourth-grade dropout who - only thing he taught me in this country - he didn't teach me English, but he did teach me that the most important thing that matters in this life is the work that you do.

And, at first, he was against me going to college. He was a truck driver - was a truck driver, got laid off a couple of months ago - but he wanted me to be a truck driver like him, but he wanted to create a trucking company. You know, father and son. I didn't want to do that because the truck driving industry is in shambles and also it's just too much hard work.

So instead, I went to college. My role model there, a couple of professors, but mostly my peers - people just like me, the children of immigrants, and we supported each other all along the way. Then later on, my dad - he realized the importance of a college education. So when it came to my sisters, he made sure that they went to college. Then my youngest brother, he's going to college right now at the community college level.

CONAN: All right. Roberto, thanks very much for the call.

ROBERTO: Sure.

CONAN: Here's an email that we have. This from Silverio(ph). He writes, I'm a first generation Dominican, born in New York. Although culturally, we Latinos are diverse, we also have issues with race. There are still exists a colonial mentality. The lighter you are, the better you are. I say that because racially, I identify myself as black. Culturally, I am Dominican. Can your guests touch on this please?

And let's have Ruben Navarrette. Is he right?

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. He is right. He's right that you have an element of racism within the Latino community. If you are Afro-Cuban, Afro-Latino, you have one experience. Oftentimes, whenever I get together at conferences and symposiums where this conversation comes up, it's hard to deny that that is a part of the community.

There are also other distinctions as well - class lines, education lines, people who belong to one group over another. If you are a Latino employer, you may see the issue of immigration differently than if you're a Latino employee. And so there are plenty of distinctions.

SHARISE: drop outs, gangs, and teen pregnancy. And this study talks about all those things. It talks about the fact that we have way too much teen pregnancy, way too much out of wedlock births now, when didn't use to have that. And I think that - getting back to what an earlier caller said about the family - if the family really is going to remain the central unit in our community, you have to understand that you directly shame the family through teen pregnancy, through involvement in gangs and through dropping out of high school.

And until you start giving the Latinos that kind of tough love within the family, I don't think we're ever going to get ahead. And that's the main point here. This is a very sobering report in that regard, because no matter what you want to say in defense of Latino community, shame on us because of the dropout rate, the gang problem and the teen pregnancy.

CONAN: And I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there. But we want to thank you both for your time. You just heard Ruben Navarrette, a nationally syndicated columnist for the San Diego Union Tribune, with us today from his office in San Diego. Thanks very much.

NAVARRETTE: Thank you.

CONAN: Also with us, Gustavo Arellano, the author of "Orange County: A Personal History," a staff writer for the OC Weekly, who writes a syndicated column "Ask A Mexican." Gustavo, thanks again.

ARELLANO: Gracias.

CONAN: And he joined us today from KUCI in Irvine, California.

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