October 22nd, 2009
05:32 PM ET

Latinos… no more skeletons

Ivan Sanchez
Author, Youth Advocate and Public Speaker

Several weeks back I was invited to attend the advanced screening of CNN’s Latino in America hosted by Soledad O’Brien with my friend, writer/director Franc Reyes.

As I sat in the audience watching the documented stories come to life on the screen, my eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with a weird mixture of anxiety, joy, sadness and at times a little laughter.

My tears were driven by the fact that I related to all of the stories from the young Garcia teens living in North Carolina who had lost their connection to their Nuyorican roots, to Isabel Garcia’s fight for justice against a sheriff (Joe Arpaio), to the fully assimilated town of Pico Rivera, to the young teenage girl falling in with the wrong crowd, now living in a “nicer” part of town, finding it difficult to identify with an unfamiliar home.

And most importantly I cried for Luis Ramirez, who was beaten to death by a group of boys who thought that pounding an immigrant to death was the way to go in their Shenandoah, Pennsylvania town.

At the conclusion of the 45-minute advanced screening there was a panel discussion with Soledad O’Brien, Franc Reyes, Julián Zugazagoitia (Director & CEO, El Museo del Barrio), Maite Junco (Editor of Viva, NY Daily News) and Mark Nelson (VP of CNN Productions) as well as my personal favorite panelist, Lillian Rodriguez, President of the Hispanic Federation.

Ms. Rodriguez found it necessary to state that a G.E.D. (General Educational Development) meant you had dropped out of and didn’t equate to graduating high school. She made it clear that obtaining a G.E.D. in her eyes was no great accomplishment.

When the floor was open for questions I made sure to let Ms. Rodriguez know that I was a product of a G.E.D. And that now as a college educated professional and author of two books, I was more capable of reaching the under-served youth of any inner-city, than a person with a Masters Degree or PHD, who had become fully removed from the realities our teens deal with on a daily basis on the streets.

I didn’t have any questions for the panelists, just a strong statement for the audience that as a society we better wake up and realize that we’re failing our teens in a catastrophic way.

In a way that will surely lead to utter chaos in society if intelligent plans of action are not put into place to combat the damage that has been done by my generation.

It’s a generation that brought more guns, drugs and violence into the communities than any before us.

After the experience that night, in which Franc Reyes said it would be the last time he introduced me to any crowd, I set out to promote Latino in America as I was honestly impressed by the work Soledad and CNN had done to profile our struggles as a people.

Tonight I read the hundreds of messages tweeted and posted on Facebook about the documentary. And I was dumbfounded and disappointed to read what many perceived as yet another stereotypical reporting of Latino life in America.

Can someone please explain to me exactly what stereotypical means?

Don’t we all struggle as Latinos? Don’t we all face hardships, disappointments, addictions, racism, classism and many other things profiled in the documentary?

What is stereotypical about that?

I don’t get why as Latinos we equate everything we read, hear or watch to stereotypical jargon. Wake up mi gente.
This is our reality.

Over the last several years that I’ve lectured throughout the country about the hardships of growing up in the hood, I’ve heard horror stories the likes of which couldn’t be made up by the most imaginative writer.

The story of a teenage boy in Chicago who told me his father drags him out of bed every night to beat him in front of his gang, the Latin Kings, for entertainment.

The story of a teenage girl afraid to go home after school on a Friday, because it’s payday and her father drinks heavily, beats her and molests her every Friday night like clockwork.

As well as the story of a young teenage boy, Chuchi, in the South Bronx having to watch his friend die with a smirk on his face in 2009, due to a MySpace beef that started with teenagers posting how tough their neighborhood was.
Chuchi told me he’d never forget the look on his friends face as he took his last breath, “It was as if he was laughing to be dying for something so stupid.”

Wake up mi gente. There is nothing stereotypical about any of this. This is our life.

If we don’t speak out about the difficulties in our communities how are we ever going to find solutions?

The first part of resolving any negative equation is to discover all of the negative variables to the problem.
And if we don’t at first discuss, report on and shed light on the negatives it would be impossible for us to find a viable solution.

What I’m hearing tonight on Facebook and Twitter is that we’re simply not interested in the problems.

Apparently, we only want to speak about the Latino successes.

But I ask you, where does that leave the majority of Latinos who are struggling to realize their dreams because the odds continue to be stacked against them economically, educationally, mentally and in so many other ways?

If honest and sincere change is ever going to come to us as Latinos, we cannot wait until 2050 to begin that progression to positive change.

Enough is enough, let's speak out about our shortcomings and utilize documentaries such as this to begin open and honest dialogue about what changes need to occur to find success in America before it’s too late.

Just because it’s Halloween doesn’t mean we need to continue to bury our skeletons in the closet.

To continue that kind of behavior is to fail as a people and as a culture.

The time is now and I personally want to congratulate Soledad and CNN for turning on that light.

Who is going to stand up and follow me into that light?

Editor's Note: Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on an anthology about successful NY Latinos.

Filed under: CNN Latino in America
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. miriam zapata

    As a reality, we also need to change our view of success to a smaller scale. Small changes need to be applauded just as equally as the grand ones. CNN may bring to light what our problems are, but ultimately our involvement and committment to ourselves, families, and communities will be the ones to really change it.

    October 22, 2009 at 8:00 pm |
  2. Jose Roldan

    Thank you Ivan for this note. I too was shocked at the responses that I saw on facebook. this documentary also had me in tears. Yes, I saw a lot of struggling and hardships, but that is the reality of Latino life in America. the Successes are great but the majority of out people do not have those Success stories.

    In order for us to grow we need to be true with what we are dealing with. Then and only then will we learn and grow! I too would like to congratulate Soledad and CNN for a job well done on Latinos in America. I look forward to tuning in tonight and continuing this documentary!

    October 22, 2009 at 6:53 pm |
  3. margarita rivera-velez

    I will stand up and follow. Looking forward to seeing tonight's airing

    October 22, 2009 at 6:18 pm |
  4. Elisabeth


    I'd stand up with you any day. AMAZING & POWERFUL article. Thank you for puting REALITY out there. Its time people wake up. Keep doing what you do.

    Lisa Castro

    October 22, 2009 at 6:04 pm |