The Danger of Derailed Dreams

December 9, 2011

The Dream Act is good for everyone in California, not just Latinos

By Raul Ramos y Sanchez

   A just-released USC poll shows a disturbing difference between Latinos and Non-Hispanic Whites in California…

   79% of Latinos favor the recently enacted California Dream Act. Meanwhile, only 30% of Non-Hispanic Whites favor the law which would give undocumented students who have graduated from California high schools equal footing in qualifying for in-state college tuition rates.

   The poll results are troubling for two reasons.

   First, it shows the political chasm between Latino and mainstream communities growing larger. Widespread support for laws like Arizona’s infamous SB1070 and similar legislation enacted in Georgia, Alabama and on the docket in other states have already been a source of discord that has alienated many Latinos. The lack of support for the California Dream Act, which most Latinos see as a fair and sensible first step toward immigration reform, will only increase the perception that prejudice is the prime motive behind these attitudes.

   Second, and perhaps more ominous, is the increasing alienation of the fastest growing age group among the nation’s fastest growing ethnic group: Latino youth.

   What happens when a generation of intelligent, motivated young people find themselves marginalized and their potential stunted by societal forces? A look around the world – and at history – indicates that a very likely outcome is social upheaval including protests, rioting and even open rebellion.

   For proof, one only need look at this year’s Arab Spring, the recent riots in England and France, China’s democracy movement culminating in Tiananmen Square, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, and Castro’s revolution in Cuba. In all of these uprisings and many others, disillusioned young people have been the spark and fuel for turmoil.

   In California, a state where the school age population is already nearly half Latino and expected to grow, the risks of future turmoil are very real.

   But we should not simply point the finger at the mainstream community and say “get over your prejudices.” That answer is too simple – and ultimately ineffective. We in the Latino community must do a better job of framing this debate.

   Our public message must emphasize the economic benefit of educating the best and the brightest. We all gain when motivated young people are allowed to flower into their full potential. It will mean more workers paying more in taxes and fueling consumer demand, more entrepreneurs creating jobs, and fewer demands on social services.

   In contrast, denying equal opportunities to these young people who have committed no crimes will hurt everyone in California.

   I wrote the novels America Libre and House Divided as a warning to the potential of an ethnic conflict in the United States. The trends we are seeing today make me fear my cautionary tales may be prophetic instead.

   The California Dream Act deserves your public support. As Latinos, we must make it clear why the Dream Act is good for everyone.

Sanchez is an award-winning author of America Libre and House Divided from Grand Central Publishing.

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