Latino USA

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#1509 – I Woke Up Like This

Why are Latino kids perceived as shy in the classroom? And how can Latinas grow older with confidence? Latino USA examines issues of self-esteem at all ages, and asks what the “U.S. mambo” on immigration affects those counting on immigration reform.

Are Latino students shy in the classroom?

“So…what is your name?” Jennifer Navarro-Butler, a teacher at Lyman Hall Elementary in Gainseville, Georgia asks her fifth grade student, Yahaira Sotoa. It takes Yahaira at least five seconds to finally reply at a barely audible volume, “Yahaira Soto.”

“How do you think you were in the beginning of the year?” Ms. Butler asks.
“I was a little bit more shy…”
“I kind of didn’t raise my hand…”

Yahaira Soto is first-generation Mexican-American. Her “shyness” can be described as an internalized behavior.

“Which are behaviors that are directed more inwards. So anxiety, depression, anxiousness,” says Brian Collins, an assistant professor of bilingual education at Hunter College. He draws a distinction between internalized behaviors and externalized ones: aggression, conflict, hyperactivity.
Professor Collins says that different cultures tend to see similar rates of these behaviors across the board.

“However, there are other considerations and factors that you have to consider. Because many of the Latinos in the United States are facing many other barriers and struggles that could contribute to higher instances of internalizing, externalizing behaviors.”

So it’s not that these students are shy by nature. There are series of factors that can make it difficult for Latino students to feel comfortable participating in class.

“Latinos have been shown to have unique sets of values that they bring with them from their home countries,” says Collins.

Values like being able to work well collectively. But in the U.S. school system where individual achievement and test results are emphasized it can be difficult.

Bulter is focused on measuring her students’ reading comprehension but she says her students are happy when they get to work in groups.

“They were excited about the activity and they were talking. They were really talking. I mean you can hear an ‘orale’ or little things like that and I’m like ‘oh my god,'” says Butler.

So working well collectively with peers is a value that may or may not translate into the U.S. classroom. But it’s a whole other deal with authority figures.

Many Latino families value respect for authority. Ms. Butler grew up in a Puerto Rican household in New York City and says that like her students – she too held back from participating in class.

“I think in the beginning it was more, just to be respectful of your teachers. I may have been loud with my friends but once I was in class, no way, it was just quiet,” says Butler.

Collins says he recognized this back when he was a teacher,

“I could recognize that fairly quickly from the parents’ attitudes of really handing over the responsibility of educations, entrusting educations towards the teacher,” says Collins.

So these parents aren’t like some overactive P.T.A. moms, always cued into what their children are learning.

“American families play this active role and it’s almost expected in the american education system for parent involvement,” says Collins.

For many of the parents of Latino children, especially undocumented immigrants, taking time to talk to their kids’ teachers is just about impossible. Butler has experienced this with the parents of her students.

“Because most of my parents, some of them are illegal, they’re afraid to ask for the day off because if they don’t go to work they’ll be fired. They’re constantly afraid,” Butler syas.

But that doesn’t mean that these parents don’t care about their childrens’ education.

“They want the teachers’ help because they do respect the teachers a lot. They look for advice on how to raise their kids. They have questions they want to ask, they want to know what’s going on,” says Butler.

According to Vanessa Rodriguez, former middle school teacher and author of The Teaching Brain, ‘knowing what’s going on’ is key to students and teachers’ success.

“So I often talk about having an awareness of the learner and an awareness of yourself. For me, teaching is really an interaction and the way you create successful interactions is by really working on the relationship,” says Rodriguez.

For Ms. Butler, opening up to her students was a way to invite them to open up to her.

“I’m very honest with them. And I think that’s why my girls can open up. I tell them listen,  I didn’t live in this big house when I was a kid. I lived in a little apartment. My father worked in a factory too,” Butler says. “I don’t know if me being Hispanic too makes them feel more comfortable…I don’t know.”

According to Rodriguez, a good teacher-student relationship does not have to be based on sharing a similar cultural background.

“In any interaction it’s really about understanding yourself, so you can understand the other. We might argue that that’s easier when you’re more alike and so in that context it may seem like people teaching one and another of the same race, culture or socioeconomic class seems like a really great idea. But there’s also a great loss. The diversity also helps us to manage difficult relationships,” says Rodriguez.

There are cultural barriers in the classroom, but there is another major factor that goes beyond these differences that makes it difficult for many Latino students to speak up in the class: language.

“The issue of shyness is related to typical patterns of learning a second langauge,” says Collins. “So you can imagine if you were plopped down in China, for example, and you needed to eat and you knew no Chinese – you’d try to communicate in English in order to eat. And if no one understood you, you’d need to step back and reassess and recognize, they’re not understanding English and how am I gonna communicate? And this happens to immigrant children as well. When they’re immersed into a new linguistic setting, the school, they go through what’s sometimes referred to as a silent period.

Pretty much all second language learners go through a silent period, including Yahaira.

“She didn’t really talk at all, and she can speak English, but she really had a silent period,” says Butler.

Most of Butler’s students are second language learners.

“In my class alone I have 28 students and I believe 14 of them are ESL students.”

ESL stands for English as a Second Language.

“The ESL program wouldn’t be like a bilingual program. It’s teaching them English as a second language. If they’re so lucky they have a teacher that speaks Spanish, they will use Spanish. But they really don’t want the teachers to do that because they feel that then they’re not being really immersed in the english language,” says Butler.

In 2011, Collins and his colleagues published some research that showed that bilingual children were coming into elementary school with average to above-average inter and intra personal skills.

“We found that these strengths that kids come into school with that are sometimes above and beyond what the average monolingual has are attributed in separate ways to their English ability and their Spanish ability,” says Collins.

In other words – students can’t use their skills as well in a language that is less familiar to them.

“Your ability to interject and act independently – to express your opinion, those abilities are valued in the american situation,” says Collins.

And doing that, obviously, can be very hard if you don’t speak the language.
“I use my Spanish every day. Because if they don’t get it in English… Oh yeah, I go back and forth all day long,” says Butler.

Butler says the alternative is worse.

“What happens is they become non-lingual.”

And Butler is incredibly dedicated to her students succeeding. She often encourages Yahaira.

“What does Ms. Butler always try to tell you guys?”
“To speak up,” Yahaira says.
“Why? Why do you think I’m always telling you to speak up?”
“Because when you go to middle school the teachers are gonna fail you if you don’t raise your hand to speak up.”

Butler is an example of a teacher who has built an individual relationship with her student. She knows Yahaira’s family and school history and that let’s her address her specific issues.

But there isn’t a Ms. Butler for every Latino student out there.

Brian Collins believes there needs to be more bilingual programs to address the needs of a changing student population.

“Because our nation, school system, is becoming more Latino – it’s upon us as educators working in the school systems to better understand this population,” says Collins.


Photo credit: ELMER MARTINEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The U.S. immigration mambo

Last week, immigrants seeking legal status were disappointed to hear that a Texas judge stopped Obama’s immigration action in its tracks with a legal maneuver called a “temporary injunction,” just one day before parts of his plan were to go into effect.

 It’s the latest step in a dance Maria Hinojosa likes to call the “U.S. immigration mambo.” Just like the real mambo, you take two steps forward (The Senate passes an immigration bill in 2013); then take a spin and take two steps back (but the House refuses to vote on it). Then in 2014 Obama says he’s open to fixing immigration through executive action — but wait, just a few months later he says executive action is off the table. When the executive action finally comes, it gets blocked the day before immigrants can go and sign up for protected status.

 All this back-and-forth can put immigrants in a difficult situation where it’s very hard to find stable ground and plan for the future. Just when they think there’s a way to regularize their status, the rug gets pulled out from other them. How can they trust the U.S. government enough to sign up for these programs?

Angela Fernandez, a laywer and director of Northern Manhattan Coalition For Immigrant Rights, a non-profit advocacy center and legal clinic, join Maria Hinojosa to discuss the human cost of this “immigration mambo.”



Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 4.22.45 PMAngela Fernandez, Esq., is the Executive Director and supervising attorney of Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights. Within the immigrant rights movement, Angela has helped build broad city-wide coalitions that have reversed policies that would potentially be devastating to vulnerable New Yorkers. Angela’s experience in government, first as an aide to Senator Bill Bradley and then later as the district chief of staff to US Congressman Jose Serrano, has given her a clear understanding of the current policy gaps and the progressive solutions to fill them. Additionally, Angela is a key contributor to both the civil and legal rights of immigrants as a columnist in El Diario and on-air contributor to Univision, Telemundo, NY1, Radio WADO and CNN.

Zoë Damacela Means Business

Zoë Damacela started sewing clothes for herself when she was 13. Word got out and her family and friends started buying from her. Soon after, she was hiring a team to help her keep up with demand. She founded Zoë Damacela Apparel a year later, at age 14. And her business made her famous.


She appeared on the Tyra Banks show, was featured in the Chicago Tribune and on the cover of the October 2011 issue of Seventeen Magazine. She was also invited to meet President Obama at the White House on two occasions, and was a speaker for the “Startup America,” a White House initiative for new, small businesses.

At 22, she graduated from Northwestern University and moved to New York to work as a designer for Macy’s and for her own brand. From her apartment in Brooklyn, where she lives with fellow designer and boyfriend, Brian Longwill. As a young businesswoman of color making her way in the fashion world, she tells us where she gets her confidence.


Photo by Ernesto Cuevas. 

How Latinas can age with style

Sometimes it can be shocking to look in the mirror and realize that you’re getting older.  But one friend of Latino USA is here to help. Lorraine Ladish is the founder of, a website geared mostly towards maturing Latinas. Lorraine talks with Maria about how to stay confident and age gracefully, about the importance of role models in aging, and how marathon running and crochet can both be part of the picture.

Sabiduría: What a job can mean

One coffee shop in New York is serving both cappuccinos and community. Father Jim O’Shea and Efrain Hernandez started a project called Reconnect as a way to get kids out of gangs and off the street. They run a café, a bakery and a graphic design company that employ a couple dozen young men. 85% of them go on to keep legitimate jobs and stay out of jail – a dramatically low recidivism rate.

Photo by Sarah Barrett

#1508 – A day at the Bodega

On this week’s Latino USA, producers spend a day in a bodega in Harlem, NYC — home to one of the biggest Dominican populations in the U.S. They uncover stories about nutrition, migration, community, and the slow threat of gentrification.


Photo by Marlon Bishop

Prologue: What’s a Bodega?

Convenience stores and corner stores are staples of American life, but New York City’s bodegas take them to another level. These modern day general stores are woven into the fabric of city life, temples of necessity as integral as the subway system and bagels. So with the help of average New Yorkers and not-so-average New Yorkers Dallas Penn and The Kid Mero, we explain what a bodega is and why we decided to spend a whole day in the Red Apple Deli in Harlem.


Photo by Marlon Bishop

Chapter 1: The Morning Rush

At the start of our day in a Harlem bodega, producer Michael Simon Johnson introduces us to a colorful cast of characters including loyal customers who arrive before the store even opens, the gregarious owner Ramon Murphy and his opinionated children, plus the cat who acts as the bodega’s mascot.


Photo by Marlon Bishop

Chapter 2: Beiconeganchí for breakfast

In New York City, many bodegas are run by Dominican families and this has made them a kind of buffer between the country of the Dominican Republic and the New York-based Dominican diaspora. Producer Camilo Vargas hangs out with Juan Carlos Hiciano, aka. Gary and sometimes Pedro, the man behind the grill. Camilo finds out his immigration story, his plans for the future and how it all relates to the history of Dominicans in New York.


Photo by Marlon Bishop


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