A Stroll Through Washington Heights
Walking around the Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and other culturally-loaded streets of New York revealed something to me that was obvious. The current sociopolitical climate, to say the least, is messy. For the first time in modern presidential history, we have a president who explicitly ran his election campaign based on fear of different cultures. Muslims, African-Americans, and women were among the groups he belittled, but perhaps the group that received the most criticism from President Donald J. Trump were Hispanics, especially Mexican-American immigrants. Are the things the president has said about this culture true? Do they have basis and are they supported by concrete facts? My walk in the city’s Hispanic community in action provides the answers.
To begin judging the validity of the statements made by the president towards Hispanics, one must first understand exactly what he has claimed about them. At 3:05 AM on June 5, 2013 – a mere year into then-President Obama’s second term – Donald Trump tweeted this: “Sadly, the overwhelming amount of violent crime in our major cities is committed by blacks and Hispanics -a tough subject- must be discussed.” At this point, Trump’s opinion was relatively easy to shrug off since he had no major political influence, but this would only be the start of the animosity he has towards Spanish-speaking nationalities. Later on during his actual campaign towards the presidency, he would speak of these negative sentiments towards the Hispanic community much more overtly. This began with his first campaign speech, in which, shortly after his introduction, he claimed that “[Mexicans] are bringing drugs, crime, [and are] rapists.” He would later go on to expand his comments beyond just Mexicans, but to the broader Latino community, adding that it’s coming from “all over South and Latin America.” But are these statements true? Or are they a result of a racistly biased point of view?
If one were to take a simple stroll down a Hispanic neighborhood like I did, one would see that quite the opposite is true, especially due to the development these neighborhoods have seen in recent years. The biggest Hispanic community in New York City, Washington Heights, located in uptown Manhattan is a great example of this. I intended to observe the Hispanic people of this community in a space that sees hundreds of them pass by every single day: the 181st Street 1-train station. However, the walk alone provided enough examples that prove the president’s claims false.
A picture has been painted that makes Hispanics out to be lazy, but this simply isn’t true. Walking along the Heights, I see the hustle and bustle of this community and can only relate it to the same hustle and bustle one would experience in a place like 42nd Street. I see Mexican men working hard in construction. A Puerto Rican street seller of fried foods fills up the nearby air with a greasy yet appetizing aroma. Mothers walk their children from school as they raise the next generation. A bus driver yells friendly greetings in Spanish to other bus drivers and familiar passengers. A Dominican preacher informs the population of divine goodness through a loud microphone. It’s diversity and hard working at its finest.
My actual fieldsite added on my initial observations and further proved the president’s remarks to be incorrect. Entering and exiting the station are commuters, who unlike those above ground, work more white-collar jobs. Hispanic men and women in suits and dresses step off the uptown train, likely coming home from work in some sort of office space. Perhaps these are first- or second-generation Hispanics, who were born here or brought here at a very young age and were able to take advantages of the opportunities this country affords minorities, as well as benefit from the hard work their parents did to ensure a better life for their children. They have a privilege, one that many immigrant Hispanic workers, like the food vendor and preacher, couldn’t obtain. I see myself in these individuals, recognizing my own similar privilege. I, too, was born of a Hispanic mother who worked arduously to ensure a more prosperous next generation. I, too, took advantage of scholarships and federal financial aid in order to get an education and socioeconomically elevate myself. I, too, am a hard-working Hispanic and I, too, defy Trump’s comments.
One could say I chose a fieldsite that on its own is technically biased. 181st is a major street of Washington Heights, where lots of economic activities occur and where many professional establishments are located. Therefore, one could argue, I chose a spot that’s going to give me exactly what I want: something that proves the president wrong. However, if one were to also delve into the facts regarding the United States’ Hispanic community, you’d find more or less the same information.
Facts, and not just mere observation, disprove the misconception that Hispanics simply stay home, collect government assistance, and commit crimes. The Labor Department of the United States released statistical information in December of 2017 that shows Hispanic unemployment rates have reached a new, 17-year low. It currently sits at 4.7%. Furthermore, the Hispanic workforce makes up 17% of he entire workforce of the United States, which is equal to that of the African-American and Asian workforce, combined (12% and 5% respectively). Lastly, a March 2017 study by the Cato Institute states that “[undocumented] immigrants are 44% less likely to be incarcerated than native[-born Americans]. [Resident/citizen] immigrants are 69% less likely. […] Immigrants are underrepresented in the incarcerated population while native[-borns] are overrepresented.”
As I leave the train station, satisfied with the notes I’ve taken, the downtown train lets off a large group of teenagers coming home from school. Seeing them, I can only think of how these are living examples of greatness that should eliminate all bigoted opinions had towards the people of their culture. The future Hispanic leaders of their community, of the world, stand right before me, and simply by being what they are, defy the malignant attitudes of the currently messy sociopolitical climate.