The sixteen page report released by the Community Service Society in early November on Latino Youth in New York City is cause for alarm in all Latino neighborhoods, especially in the Puerto Rican community.
Puerto Rican youth who are concentrated in the poorest areas of this wealthy metropolis are among the most deprived, the most unemployed, and the least academically educated according to the report. This is not news to Puerto Rican political activists who have been involved in some form of community organizing in past years. They have long said the schools are failing too many of our youth and crippling their ability to compete in the changing labor market. Most disturbing is the benumbing of poor youths’ ability to critically perceive and comprehend their reality as the first step in changing it. This, their elders must help them do through the struggle for social change and justice.
The report describes an emergency situation that demands immediate intervention by government, non-governmental organizations, and private citizens. Many in our community who have left our neighborhoods are returning. Some of us have never left but have chosen to focus on specific objects of interest. We must take the time to engage our youth in a dialogue about their reality at their level and where they live or hangout. This outreach will have a positive impact on all communities of color and by extension the entire city because it will set a different tone and approach to tackling the challenges we encounter.
The report asserts that Puerto Rican youth are the most disadvantaged group in the city. The tide that elevates Puerto Rican youth will elevate the youth of all impoverished communities navigating in a similar reality. The tide I speak of is an informal educational process through everyday community organizing. We all must become community organizers. Community organizing is simply the process by which people come together to identify common problems, articulate an affirmative vision of the future, and set the short and long-term problem-solving objectives to be achieved.
In this context we need to recognize that youth living in poverty are oppressed human beings. They are unjustifiably frisked on the street by police. They are perceived with low expectations by a broken public school system. They are treated with suspicion by the local merchants. And they must constantly strategize about how to avoid, prevent, or sometimes commit violence in a world of force and deception in which they live. This is the reality of oppression; a reality our poor inner city youth face daily. How can this not cause our youth a sense of self-depreciation; a perception projected onto them by those who oppress.
It will be only when our youth discover the source of their oppression and begin to struggle to free themselves from it that they will start to believe in themselves. This is what community organizing and empowerment is all about. It is a life-long process of teaching, learning, and acting to change the world as we know it. There are efforts taking place around the city where young people are in fact organizing for themselves, demanding a better future for themselves and their community. But it is not to the scale and depth that’s needed. Our youth, our children are hard pressed. We have no time to lose.
November 9, 2010
Spanish version: “Organización salvará a nuestra juventud” (Zoilo Torres, El Diario-La Prensa, 13 Noviembre, 2010)
See also: “La condición colonial de los puertorriqueños” (Olga I. Sanabria Dávila, El Diario-La Prensa, 2 Noviembre, 2010)