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Why it's important to recognize the richness in LatinX culture

maura toro morn image 1.jpg
Maura Toro-Morn
From left, Illinois State University Professor Maura Toro-Morn, University of Illinois Professor and Advisor Maritza Quinones, and Illinois State University Professor Daynali Flores-Rodriguez. Toro-Morn said that while there may be differences between Latinos and non-Latinos, she believes we must first recognize humanity and find ways to communicate to bridge the gap that's existed for centuries.

Esta historia también está disponible en español.

According to 2020 data from Pew Research, the Hispanic population makes up approximately 19% of the U.S. population. The overall U.S. population increased by over 22 million between 2010 and 2020. Hispanics made up 51% of that growth. The number of Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S. is rising faster than other groups.

This increase in Latinos has brought many parts of Latin America into U.S. culture through music, food, dancing, Spanish language, and even media attention. Yet many Hispanics and Latinos to face a multitude of challenges living in the United States, regardless of immigration status.

Maura Toro-Morn is director of the Latin American and Latino Studies program at Illinois State University. She came to the United States in the 1980s. Toro Morn says her experiences lead her to believe one of the most difficult challenges for Latinos is the lack of immigration reform. Immigration fights continue to play out in court; the Biden administration recently appealed a federal court ruling in Texas that found the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program unlawful.

“We have so many young people that are so eager to work, to share their art, music, poetry, writings, their educational experiences, and now we have a segment of our community that is actually in a permanent hold. You have liminal legality," she said.

Toro Morn said many Latinos feel rejected and not valued for their global contributions.

LatinX and Hispanic Heritage Month (which ends Friday) does not solve these challenges, but it does try to get people to recognize the impact of slavery, colonialism, modern-day racism, displacement, and fear that centuries of Latinos have endured. And the occasion celebrates the success and contributions of Latinos in the United States.

Michelle Mancias, an assistant vice president and counsel for State Farm, said she is proud of her Mexican American heritage.

"I’m glad there’s a lot of recognition and the ability to be proud of where you come from and where your ancestors come from."
Michelle Mancias

“It’s nice to be able to recognize one’s cultural identity and have others recognize it and talk about it freely. It’s great to have pride in one’s ancestry and one’s ethnicity. I’m glad there’s a lot of recognition and the ability to be proud of where you come from and where your ancestors come from," Mancias said.

Mancias said one of the beautiful things about LatinX culture is there is no one single culture.

“There are some common things, but I think the Afro-Latino experience could be very different than a blonde hair-blue eyed person who has Argentinian roots or Spanish roots for example. So, it’s easy for people I think to paint the broad brush and not really recognize the richness of the Hispanic and Latino society and community as a whole.”

Beyond stereotype

About 5.2% of McLean County's population was Hispanic or Latino in 2019, according to the Census.

To be brought to a better understanding of the richness of the LatinX culture, people must not base their ideas of Latinos from stereotypes, according to Martha Saldana, administrative assistant and food pantry director at the Western Avenue Community Center in Bloomington.

"In general, people need to give themselves opportunities to grow through the view of the cultural vision of all the like-minded people that they share with. Although we are a minority, we are a good amount," she said. (Saldana spoke in Spanish and her comments were translated into English for this story.)

For Latinos in the United States, Saldana says to value oneself and one’s heritage, you have to be proud of where you are from and of your traditions.

"You have to know where you come from and where you are, value where you are, and of course form your new vision of the world and your culture. To understand today, the society that was not necessarily your parents' is yours today," she said.

Saldana and Socorro Alvarez, the Hispanic outreach director at the Western Avenue Community Center, said it is important to share traditions promoting Latinidad, the shared culture of Latinos in the United States.

Alvarez said in adapting cultural aspects of the United States, especially for those not born in the U.S., it’s fundamental to continue living out Latinidad. The traditions surrounding family, music, food, language and more are to be preserved not only for the LatinX community, but to build deeper connections between Latinos and non-Latinos.

As the Latino share of the U.S. population continues to increase, ISU's Maura Toro-Morn says society must recognize that Latinos and non-Latinos are both working towards the same goal of sustaining themselves. So, Latinos and non-Latinos must support one another.

“To start with that recognition of that humanity. We are different, but we are not less than. We speak a different language, but we can still communicate. Just because I may not be able to speak English properly it doesn’t mean that I am deficient. It means we have to find a way to communicate.”

Toro Morn says non-Latinos can gain a stronger understanding of the richness of the culture by maintaining an open mind and listening to the perspectives of Latinos within their communities.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021.
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