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Hispanic Heritage Month tipsheet

Sept. 13, 2007

EDITORS: The following Indiana University Bloomington professors have prepared comments about Hispanic issues. Hispanic Heritage Month begins Saturday (Sept. 15) -- which is the anniversary of independence for five Latin American countries -- and continues until Oct. 15. Contact information for each professor is listed below.

Easing the school transition for Latino students
New research sheds light on the Yoemem people in Mexico
The immigration debate's influence on public health
Immigration's coming storm
Views of Latinos shift after 9-11

Indiana residents should become more aware of Latino culture to help ease the transition of immigrant students into schools, said Rebecca Martinez, assistant professor of counseling and educational psychology in the Indiana University School of Education. She said it's important not to paint all Latino newcomers with the same, broad brush. Teachers and administrators should be aware of differences in regional Spanish dialect. "For example, a word that is perfectly acceptable in Mexican Spanish may not be as appropriate or polite in Puerto Rican Spanish," Martinez said. "The differences are subtle, but teachers may want to know these differences so that they do not offend parents or students."

Schools must also take into consideration that a child might already have received instruction in another country. Some children come prepared for school in the U.S. because of their previous experience, while others may not be so far along. Martinez attended school in Mexico before moving to the U.S. with her family. She said although she had advanced well in her Mexican education, U.S. teachers placed her in a special education classroom. Martinez said Hoosiers should have a "curious respect" for those who are different from us. That requires empathy for the challenge that English-as-a-Second Language students may face. Martinez said those students must be nurtured to be bilingual and bicultural. "We must never expect, demand or ask anybody to lose what is at the core of who they are," she said. "And culture and language are at the core of who and what we are."

Martinez can be reached at or 812-856-8324.

The Yoemem, an indigenous tribe living in Mexico, have been misrepresented by non-Yoemem people, but new research is shedding light on their culture and struggles. David Delgado Shorter, assistant professor of folklore and ethnomusicology at Indiana University Bloomington, has been studying the Yoemem (also known as "Yaquis") of Northwest Mexico for the last 15 years to understand the relationship between the Yoemem and Mexicans, and how that plays out in religious rituals. With permission, Shorter started filming inside the tribe and created a Web site to teach people about the tribe. "Yoeme Cuaderno" is the first Web site that features information about the tribe in three languages: English, Spanish and Yoeme. The Web site builds a bridge between researchers, the public and Yoemem by showing photos, videos and recordings of rituals.

Shorter hopes his Web site and research will not only teach people about the Yoemem culture, but also bring attention to the issues the people face, such as border issues and how they not only impact the people of Mexico but indigenous people as well. "I think when people in the middle of America think of border issues, they are more prone to think of Canada," Shorter said. "I think it's important that I'm here to work with students who have an interest in the U.S.-Mexico border. It's something that's obviously a very hot topic right now. A lot of people on the U.S. border have a monolithic view of the south side of the border, and by doing native studies, we show there is diversity within a national boundary. Every time you cross a state you may cross into another native group in Mexico. To me it's very interesting that I'm working with a tribe looking to get passports for unfettered access to cross the U.S.-Mexico border." To view Shorter's Web site, go to

Shorter can be reached at or call 812-856-1863.

The national dialogue about immigration touches on public health. The national debate about immigration reform is challenging public health outreach efforts directed to some Latino communities, said Indiana University medical anthropologist Zobeida Bonilla. Bonilla's research directly involves the Latino community, particularly Latinas' health and the use of promotoras de salud (community health workers) in public health programs. Her research interests also include the development, implementation and evaluation of public health programs and interventions that are participatory, evidence-based and responsive to the community served. She began noticing that recent immigration debates seem to be affecting outreach efforts in the Latino community while evaluating a mentoring program involving grandmothers and granddaughters. She is finding that outreach workers seem to be having more difficulty than before the debates reaching people in the communities. "They have had more trouble than we have had in the past getting to people, gaining their trust, conducting workshops and providing health education, and we are concerned that these difficulties may be related to the current immigration climate." said Bonilla, an assistant professor in IU Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science. Because of this, public health and community health workers might need to bring new dimensions to their efforts, making sure they are current on relevant legal and immigration issues, particularly as they relate to the health and well-being of communities affected, in addition to language and cultural issues.

Bonilla can be reached at 812-856-5122 and The Department of Applied Health Science is part of the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Top

Immigration's coming storm: Crises intensify in education, healthcare, housing, poverty and disenfranchisement. Immigration reform remains a top issue in the U.S., especially at the local level, said John Nieto-Phillips, a professor of history at Indiana University. "The defeat of major immigration reform will only defer solutions to problems that affect communities nationwide," he said. "Immigration -- legal and illegal -- will continue to grow. Local officials and lawmakers will continue to feel the effects of a growing undocumented population, including strains on community resources, the education system and law enforcement. Legislative, political and even physical attacks on undocumented immigrants will not disappear. As long as undocumented immigrants are segregated from and not integrated into society, the chances of addressing issues fundamental to the well-being of communities are nil. I think a storm is brewing in the form of growing crises in education, healthcare, housing, poverty and disenfranchisement."

Standing in the way of beneficial reforms are widespread misconceptions about the impact of foreign-born workers on the U.S. economy, Nieto-Phillips said. "The media continue to promote misperceptions that undocumented immigrants lower wages, take 'American' jobs, and take more in social services than they contribute in taxes. In fact, research shows no direct association between immigration trends and native-born employment or wages. Undocumented workers accept types of jobs that many American workers refuse. And, they pay up to $7 billion a year in Social Security taxes which they will never be eligible to receive. This amounts to a subsidy of the federal system that never trickles down to the communities."

Mistaken beliefs about the impact of illegal immigration feed attitudes towards immigrants and their families that are clearly inhumane, he said. "The de-humanization of undocumented immigrants is evident from the use of the term 'illegals' as a noun to describe people. Then you look at proposals like Texas state Representative Leo Berman's plan to deny U.S. citizenship, healthcare and public education to their U.S.-born children -- which is a profound challenge to the Constitution. It's a fundamental concept of the developed world that children cannot be punished for the alleged crimes of their parents. We don't punish the children of drunk drivers or serial killers, yet there's a segment of American society that is tempted to use children as leverage or as hostages in the immigration debate."

Nieto-Phillips said it's time for lawmakers and the public to come to grips with the reality of ongoing immigration, which he says will not be slowing down anytime soon. Attempting to build an impenetrable wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, he said, is clearly absurd and a waste of taxpayer money that could be used on education and healthcare. "The idea that we can somehow shut our doors to immigrants by spending billions of dollars on a Berlin Wall-type thing is terribly naive," he said.

Nieto-Phillips studies race and citizenship in the United States, with a particular focus on 20th-century immigration from Latin America. He is available for interviews in Spanish and English. He can be reached at 812-855-8589 or by email at

History is on the side of immigrants succeeding in the U.S., but mass detentions following 9-11 could cause some groups of Latinos to be viewed as criminals into the foreseeable future, said Khalil Muhammad, a professor of history at Indiana University who studies race relations and immigration. He referred to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which abolished the quota system established in the 1920s, as a move primarily intended to correct a racist past. The current debate, in contrast, is framed around questions of amnesty. This approach casts Mexican immigrants as law breakers first and foremost, unlike earlier waves of immigrants who were seen as settlers pursuing a better life. "Here we have a moment where the rationale is defined by a problem of security, and forgiveness seems to be at best economically motivated," he said.

Wide-scale INS detentions in the wake of 9-11 effectively reinforce the criminal characterization of undocumented immigrants, especially Mexicans. He drew a comparison to the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans who are incarcerated, and how this phenomenon is seen as proof of black criminality. "In this country, if you are incarcerated it is ipso facto proof that you are a criminal," he said. "The fact that 50 percent of the prison population is African-American is seen not as evidence of a problem with the criminal justice system, but as a problem of racial inferiority."

Similarly, the 275,000 immigrants who are now held in custody may be regarded as a testament to the criminal tendencies of some Latin-American groups. "The use of detention to deal with immigrants is likely to result in an enduring cultural association of criminality and immigrant status, regardless of how legislation eventually plays out," he said.

Muhammad studies race relations and racial ideology, immigration and urbanization, and social science and social reform. He can be reached at 812-855-7504 and