Color of Culture: Unacknowledged Marginalization and Discrimination of Latin American and Asian American in US

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Two different ethnic groups that experience the color of culture concept that is described by Martinez in Seeing More than Black and White are Latinos or Chicanos and Asians. Both groups do not fit in either category of black or white, and yet the cultures of both groups are forced into the different molds that society holds for them. The attributes of the cultures of both groups are perceived a certain way and this is largely because of the perception that is held in society of the master narrative. Their oppression is overshadowed and goes unacknowledged because all that is observed is the racism that has been inflicted upon blacks. This isn’t to say that the black experience is illegitimate because it is indeed a horrifying reality, but it is essential to look at racism in its full capacity. The belief that racism is dwindling is a lie that allows injustices to continue for not just Asian Americans and Latin Americans, but for any and all groups that don’t fit the cut of what is 'American”.

Martinez challenges the master narrative when she asks, “Doesn’t the Black-white model encourage people of color to spend too much energy understanding our lives in relation to whiteness, obsessing about what white society will think and do?”(Martinez, 1993, p.24). This question shows us how the color of culture comes into play, because of the fact that society holds what is perceived as white as the standard. Because whiteness is seen in this light, anything that doesn’t fit this narrative is seen as “other”, and this is when such cultural attributes either fall through the cracks and are simply not recognized, or are considered nonwhite and ultimately black.

When it comes to the American experience for Latinos, this group consists of various nationalities with very different histories and cultures, but their unique experiences are never talked about or acknowledged. The direct actions of the United States in relation to the nations of these various different groups of Latinos have forced them to migrate to the United States, and such groups are pushed into a society that doesn’t recognize their identities or their hardships. Historically, the United States has meddled in the affairs of other nations such as the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. The people of these nations were put in dire situations where migration to the United States was the only promise of a better life. There are groups that were previously in the territories of what is now the United States such as the Mexicans during the era of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, who were forced out of their own livelihoods simply because of the fact that they weren’t white. The United States has a pattern of starting wars for colonial expansion which also led to the migrations of Cubans and Puerto Ricans. All of these groups were pushed out of their homelands and when they came seeking for a better life they were met with the cruelty of cultural racism.

This cultural racism manifests in many different ways, but the prejudice due to skin color and a disdain for such cultures is clear. It is present in the education system, in the labor force, in the nation’s immigration policies, in our jails, and in our neighborhoods. There have been hundreds of people that have been brutalized or killed by border patrol officers, and yet this is completely overlooked. The fact that this can occur every day without making headlines is appalling, but this is the reality. There are even advocates of these extreme measures because of the anger that is felt towards undocumented people. Police brutality and hate crimes can occur and nothing is done about it. An example of hate crimes such as this occurred in the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, where young Latin men were attacked by U.S. servicemen simply because they were trying to express themselves and uphold a pride in their culture in the clothes that they were wearing.

Such attacks as in the Zoot Suit riots occurred with no intervention or help from the police force, in a climate that viewed these individuals as un-American. As Martinez states, “Abusive treatment of migrant workers can be found all over the United States.”(1993, p.28). This can occur with hate crimes such as the ones mentioned above, or with taking advantage of these workers in their circumstances and underpaying them immensely, if they are paying them at all. It can also occur with more examples that Martinez has mentioned, of women being fired from their workplace for speaking in Spanish or being fired for taking bathroom breaks and being forced to wear diapers at the factories they worked at.

This cultural racism occurs when something like speaking one’s own language is prohibited or frowned upon, as Spanish speakers have time and time again been shamed for not being able to speak English properly. The dropout rates of Latino Americans were among the highest of the country in recent years and this is all due to the fact that the education system sets these communities up for failure. Latino students believe that the fault is within themselves because they are made to feel that they aren’t capable of a proper education, but the reality is that the opportunities available to them and the material taught inside their schools isn’t inclusive of their needs or cultures. All of this is to say, the plight of Latin Americans isn’t all that different from that of the Asian Americans.

When reflecting on the cultural racism that persists for Asian Americans, the pervasive idea of the “model minority” myth is what stands out. This perception of a model minority paints a picture of a high-status immigrant that has made it in the United States, and its development came to hang over the heads of other immigrants such as Latin Americans. They are depicted to have a successful education, to be studious and hard-working, to make a name in the professional world, and to be stand up citizens who follow the ideals of the American dream. This illusion of Asian Americans is used to highlight the “deficiencies” of other immigrant groups who can’t seem to make it, and ultimately is a way to delegitimize the oppression that is faced by other groups as well as the oppression that Asian Americans face themselves.

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Despite being praised as the model minority, Asian Americans have always faced cultural racism and oppression. An obvious example of this racism is with the internment camps of the World War II era that Japanese Americans were forced into because of a disdain and distrust towards their kind. Asian Americans of all kinds, to this day, are distrusted because they are depicted to be conquering the economy and to be taking away jobs from all. Hate crimes and police brutality have occurred to all different types of Asian Americans because of this image. They are often used as scapegoats and have been killed pointlessly because of the resentment that is felt towards them. Martinez uses an example about an Asian American man who came home from the bar and had made a commotion, for which his neighbors had called the police. He waved a stick at the police who in turn shot him down. This excessive force was used on no basis other than the presumptions that are regularly made of Asian Americans. This type of story sounds all too familiar, because many similar crimes have occurred towards Latin Americans for similar reasons.

The reality for many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is that though as a whole they may fair better economically than other immigrant groups, their wealth gap is the widest than any other group in the United States. This means that there are many groups of Asian Americans that struggle immensely but despite this they are enmeshed with all Asian groups, and therefore encompass a false image.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Eight of the 19 Asian groups analyzed had poverty rates higher than the U.S. average. Hmong (28.3%), Bhutanese (33.3%) and Burmese (35.0%) had the highest poverty rates among Asian groups...” (2017, para. 10). There are also similar trends for such groups in the education that is attained, with only 17% of the Hmong having college degrees and 40% not attaining high school diplomas. (AJ+, 2017, 6:04). As Martinez points out, many Asian Americans are forced to work low paying jobs with horrible conditions, such as the environments found in sweatshops. This is even worse for women and according to the video “Why Do We Call Asian Americans the Model Minority” by AJ+, the suicide rate for Asian American women is 30% higher than that of whites, with a lifetime rate of suicidal thoughts of nearly 16%, as compared to 13.5% for the general U.S. population (AJ+, 2017, 7:34).

Due to the stereotype of the model minority, many Asian Americans feel as though they need to own up to the identity that is imposed upon them. Because of this fact, Asian Americans are the least likely to seek help for their mental health and other areas of their lives. They are also underrepresented in all fields other than the sciences and are given an identity that is impossible to live up to. As mentioned earlier this is done to cause a division with other ethnic groups, to make other ethnic groups appear more inferior, and to diminish the issues and injustices of Asian Americans themselves. It can be surmised that Asian Americans are given a label of whiteness where is convenient, but underneath it all a large amount inherently falls to the other pole with blacks. This is a type of contradictory existence that is not that different from what occurs with Latinos as well.

Latin Americans have also been given this label of whiteness at times because of the lightness of their skin, or because of their European roots, with those within this category turning against their culture to appease to the system that maintains the standard of white. Martinez refers to this when she says, “The ability to be accepted as white can lead Latinos to deny the reality of racism and thus to discourage solidarity among peoples of color, so that we become our own worst enemy.”(1993, p. 35). This is something that undoubtedly occurs to Asian Americans with the “model minority” label that they are given, this idea of them being the white minority is what tears their relations with other minority groups apart in a similar manner, where they strive to embody this stereotype that is thrown upon them. As for other similarities, as was mentioned earlier they both experience nearly identical patterns of oppression that isn’t acknowledged by society as a whole. Both groups consist of a variety of different rich and unique cultures and nationalities but are all thrown into one stereotype. Both groups immigrated to the United States for a better life and were met with the horrors of racism. It can be seen that are more similarities than differences in the American experience that they have been forced into.

It is important for both Latin Americans and Asian Americans to understand their commonalities and differences, because the only way to tear down the master narrative and approach an equal and inclusive multicultural structure is to learn about one another and share the stories and experiences of all groups. To focus on only one group’s injustices is to turn a blind eye on the insidious nature of racism and oppression, and it is essential for all groups to unify and stand up against the white standard that is prevalent in the United States. The division that is created by only focusing on one group or another is what maintains the master narrative and so it is more important now than ever for minority groups to work together. In doing so, this will change the relationship with the majority, as the oppression can no longer be ignored.

This type of cultural racism still goes on in today’s society, especially with the xenophobic and racist tendencies of the Trump administration. Lies are spread constantly through the lips of our president, he himself takes part in hate speech which sets the example for the rest of the nation. His stance on immigration is extreme and horrifying, with the formation of migrant detention camps where undocumented children are held and separated from their families. Racism is as alive as it ever was and if we are to win the fight against it, we all must come together through our narratives and stand up to this atrocious giant.

I myself have not personally experienced otherness or marginalization, being that I am a white female of Eastern European descent, but I have seen it with my own two eyes and have heard it with my own two ears. I have known people who fall into the master narrative and display pure ignorance to the realities of minority groups. It can be futile to argue such individuals against their perception because they have never been aware of anything else, living in their own bubble. I too had grown up in such bubbles in the past, and this is why the only way to make any type of change is to share the stories and narratives of all groups, because it opens eyes and shatters the illusion of the master narrative.

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Color of Culture: Unacknowledged Marginalization and Discrimination of Latin American and Asian American in US. (2023, February 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/color-of-culture-unacknowledged-marginalization-and-discrimination-of-latin-american-and-asian-american-in-us/
“Color of Culture: Unacknowledged Marginalization and Discrimination of Latin American and Asian American in US.” Edubirdie, 01 Feb. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/color-of-culture-unacknowledged-marginalization-and-discrimination-of-latin-american-and-asian-american-in-us/
Color of Culture: Unacknowledged Marginalization and Discrimination of Latin American and Asian American in US. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/color-of-culture-unacknowledged-marginalization-and-discrimination-of-latin-american-and-asian-american-in-us/> [Accessed 18 Apr. 2024].
Color of Culture: Unacknowledged Marginalization and Discrimination of Latin American and Asian American in US [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Feb 01 [cited 2024 Apr 18]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/color-of-culture-unacknowledged-marginalization-and-discrimination-of-latin-american-and-asian-american-in-us/
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