Updated: Sep 7, 2021
While the Hispanic and Latinx culture is large enough to influence cuisine, culture, and art all around the world, Hispanic and Latinx people are often left out of leadership roles in the government, education system, and other decision-making positions on the local, state, and federal level. Louisiana is known for its rich culture, diverse community, and colorful history. Though Louisiana has historic ties to Spain, many Hispanic and Latinx people don't feel seen, acknowledged, or protected by their leadership and government.
In time for National Hispanic Heritage month, Walls Project wanted to shed light on cultural and language barriers, especially affecting Hispanic and Latinx people. Walls Project's One Rouge Coalition is centered around addressing and combatting the nine drivers of poverty which includes the eighth driver: English proficiency and cultural differences.
We spoke with local professionals Alfredo Cruz, a nonprofit consultant, and Alex Torres, assistant director of Latinx Affairs at LSU, to hear their thoughts on how Hispanic and Latinx people can feel more represented, safe, and celebrated.
How represented do you feel Hispanic and Latinx people are in today's community and leadership?
Alfredo Cruz: We have a lot of improvement to make there. Honestly, I think that since I’ve been here, I’ve been looking for people like me and finding a lot of them working in support roles like construction jobs, service jobs, not necessarily in a lot of manager positions. What's been disappointing to me is the lack of safety for Hispanics because of a 287(g) agreement that the Sheriff's Office has with ICE.
Alex Torres: Baton Rouge has historically been a city that has had to contend with a white and Black racial dynamic. Now that more Brown and immigrant populations are growing, the conversation has to shift to the inclusion and representation of Hispanic and Latinx populations.
When I look at the current leadership at the local and state government level, I do not feel represented.
What areas do you think Baton Rouge could improve the most when it comes to Hispanic inclusion and representation?
Alfredo Cruz: There's a lack of affordable housing for everyone. It's no different for Latinos in Baton Rouge. The lack of quality, safe, affordable housing is also a problem in the community. We have additional barriers, not just language, but the documentation, the credit history necessary to access affordable housing. It does become a greater hurdle for the Hispanic community and Latinos to access housing. You can’t live here if you don’t have a home.
Alex Torres: I think there should be more funding available for Latinx-led organizations or those serving the Latinx population. I also think as a whole city, we could have more cross-cultural discussions about what allyship looks like for everyone. What does it look like for those who identify as Black, as LGBTQ+, as an immigrant, as Latinx, as Asian/ Asian American, as Native American/Indigenous, and what does it mean for those who stand at the intersections of these identities? Practically speaking, the Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office needs to end its 287(g) agreement with ICE. Studies show these 287(g) agreements disproportionately discriminate and racially profiles Latinx populations. Similarly, a number of English Learning students in the EBR school parish are Hispanic/Latinx. I encourage people to ask their school board rep and local schools what they are doing to ensure that this population is getting the resources they need and what programming is implemented so that they are not being bullied and feel included.
How would you like to see Hispanic culture celebrated for National Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond?
Alfredo Cruz: I would love to see more things in Spanish. I would love to hear more Latino music on the radio. I would even love to see more of the Telemundo broadcasting or more Hispanics going on the radio talking about their experiences. There needs to be more sensitivity when we’re developing programs that help families by translating things in Spanish and removing language barriers for people. We should be investing in the translation of the city's website, university, schools, and other websites that have useful information.
Alex Torres: Mostly, I want National Hispanic Heritage Month to be celebrated with nuance. By that I mean again that the Hispanic/Latinx population is not a one size fits all category. We don't even have a name that encompasses us all. Some people do not identify with the term Latinx and some don't like the term Hispanic since it prioritizes Spanish-speakers over those who speak an Indigenous language or any of the other languages that are spoken in our countries. I want to see the nuance in more conversations about our Indigenous and African roots as well as the consequences of colonization and the current exploitation of our countries by first-world countries. More than anything I want the month to be celebrated with the nuance that we are diverse and resilient and incredibly rich because of our culture. I also want us to be wary of performative allyship to the Latinx/Hispanic community without doing genuine work of interrogating personal biases as well as joining efforts to change damaging policy, like the 287(g), or promoting a pathway to citizenship, or figuring out how to free the many Brown children in detention centers.
What makes you proud to be Hispanic/Latinx?
Alfredo Cruz: I was fortunate to grow up in South Florida where I was able to look around at council people, the mayor, there were people like me that were Hispanic. I did not have a complex growing up Latino because it was predominantly Latino. I grew up with a tremendous sense of pride being bi-lingual and then tri-lingual when I polished up my Portuguese.
I still think and dream in Spanish.
I am extremely proud of what it allows me to do and how I can communicate with a whole range of people.
Alex Torres: I love how resilient and diverse we are. The Hispanic/Latinx population is incredibly diverse. We span from more than 33 different countries with their own cultures and traditions. Much like how the South is a grouping of states with a similar culture, but all states have their own flair. This is how it is with the Hispanic/Latinx community. It's a whole lot of countries with similar aspects but each country or territory has their histories and culture. I love that there are even similar values with Latinx and southern Louisiana traditions of loving life, food, family, and a good party!