While growing up, I often witnessed discrimination against Latinos. In school some kids made insensitive and inflammatory comments about Latinos. Others made sweeping generalizations about us, equating all Latinos to the stereotypical depictions seen on television or laughing about “illegal aliens” that swim across the border and supposedly steal US jobs. “It was just a joke,” they’d say. I was overreacting, sensitive and bitter.
These instances became less frequent after high school, but they didn’t stop. From time to time, I’m still asked if I speak “Mexican” or how my family celebrates Cinco de Mayo. Despite my own experiences and the more troubling experiences of my family members and friends, however, it never ceases to amaze me that people can be this close-minded and can lack so much understanding despite living in the information age and at a time when Latinos are the fastest growing minority group.
I know the Latino community has made progress in this country. Members of our community have made great strides to spread cultural awareness. Today, though, Target’s failure to understand their Latino demographic, as well as their offensive attempt to educate their managers reminds me of how far we still have to go in order to inform others about who we are as a community.
Like all other races and ethnicities, even if we belong to the same cultural or ethnic community, we are not all the same; we, too, are individuals. While, little to their credit, Target does acknowledge that not all Latinos eat the same food, dress in the same fashion and dance to the same music, this only serves to show their depth of comprehension is emerging and superficial at very best.
Furthermore, their additional descriptions of Mexicans prove the prevalence of more dangerous stereotypes that exist: all Mexicans lack education and many are undocumented.
I am saddened that Target has given me yet another reason to defend my culture and stress the fact that not all Mexicans are uneducated or undocumented.
Of course, as in all other racial/ethnic communities, there are some Mexicans that lack education in the American sense (the idea of educación, or education, is more often used by Mexicans to describe a person’s manners and values, as opposed to level of degrees completed) and that live in the US without legal documentation, but Target should be aware of the circumstances that lead these to be true for some.
Let Target not forget the social structures and economic factors that don’t allow equal access to education and that contribute not only to educational disparities in minority communities, but that also contribute to low levels of education within nearly all racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Let them also not forget the reasons people (not just Mexicans) are practically forced to leave their homelands, the reasons that sometimes force people to bypass legal pathways to citizenship and the role the US may have played in creating those reasons.
Target’s poor leadership has missed the opportunity to eliminate discriminatory practices within the company, deepen their employees’ cultural awareness and expand their market. Instead, they offended an entire group of people, created a larger divide among employees and consumers based solely on race and ethnicity and have only managed to deepen some of their employees’ misunderstandings.
According to a statement issued by Target, though, they didn’t intend on offending anyone and they value and respect Latino customers. Unfortunately, however, their reprehensible actions don’t reflect this sentiment and I find it difficult to believe that they’d feel as sorry if they weren’t caught in the act.
It would be a step in the right direction if the three men suing Target for this act of discrimination win. Either way, we still have a long way to go.
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