A movie producer’s words sum up America’s view of its largest ethnic group. By JOHN LEGUIZAMO
A well-intentioned producer once said to me, “John, you’re so talented, but too bad you’re Latin — otherwise you’d be so much further along.” When I pitched a movie about Latinos, another producer said: “Latin? People don’t want to see Latin people.” This is not just my experience but a typical Latino person’s experience in America.
Donald J. Trump has done one good thing. He has galvanized a conflicted and diverse community. For years, activists and politicians have struggled to get Latinos to vote and show their power. But not until Mr. Trump’s racist rhetoric shone a light on anti-Latino sentiment did we feel the need to make our voices heard on the issues that matter to us: from proper funding for our schools, better infrastructure in our communities and financial aid, to health care that doesn’t consider poverty a pre-existing condition.
There are around 56 million of us. We are the largest ethnic minority in the United States, at almost 18 percent of the country’s population. And yet Latino students drop out of high school at a higher rate than members of any other minority. We are victims of neglect, discrimination and ignorance. We have grown up amid an entrenched disrespect for Latin culture, and we have often internalized that disrespect.
The dominant narrative is that we have just “illegally” crossed the border or are “fresh off the boat.” In fact the Spanish are evidence of America’s first original sin: We were mistreating indigenous people here long before the British brought slaves to the colonies. People forget that Latinos founded some of America’s first cities.