Latino people constitute a growing but often overlooked part of the American middle class population. That was the message from the three speakers Thursday evening as part of an event for La Casa’s celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month.
“While, on average, the population the Latino population is of lower income and lower education in comparison to the majority of the population, we tend to focus on those issues,” IU professor Sylvia Martínez said. “We also know it’s a diverse population, and I know from a personal place that there are middle class folks in this population, and we just don’t see the scholarship.”
Jody Aguis Vallejo, sociology professor at the University of Southern California, spoke about the problems Latinos are facing in integrating into the middle class. She said often Latinos are studied from below, or from the aspect of poverty, even as they become a part of the middle class.
“The socially mobile confront very rigid racial and class boundaries in middle class institutions, in places like universities and the workplace,” Vallejo said.
Vallejo also discussed the racist social narratives that occur in everyday life for middle class Latinos, including displeasure when Latinos speak Spanish in the workplace and the distinguishing of Latinos as immigrants or “the help.”
“I hope (attendees) got the other side,” Martínez said. “The more positive story about the Latino population, that there is a growing number of them that are socially mobile.”
Martínez had struggled to find scholars that have studied the Latino middle class. She said her favorite part of the event was the interdisciplinary approach, as each speaker focused on a different theme. These included folklore, sociology and English.
Rachel González-Martin, assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin, spoke about the role of quinceañeras for the middle class in terms of how the events are staged and how people react to them. Elda María Román, assistant professor at USC, focused on literature and media’s definitions of the Latino middle class.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers at the end of their presentations. Sophomore Van Denny, who is in a Latino studies class, said her favorite part of the event was the discussions at the end and the audience reactions.
“A lot of times I hear about these discussions, and it’s usually my friends just talking about stuff they saw on Twitter,” Denny said. “These were actually experts who know what they’re talking about.”
Martínez said she hopes the National Hispanic Heritage Month provides education and information to IU.
“We had students here who were, for the first time, exposed to Latino content,” Martínez said. “It’s exposure to new ideas and new scholarship, because that’s what higher education is about.”