Latinos migrants face clash of cultures
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 7, 2005

Yvonne Wingett

Dressed in a white housedress embroidered with bright flowers, Martha Ruiz stands on her front lawn and points across a central Phoenix street to people whom she considers a nuisance: immigrant neighbors.

They don't control their pets and little children, and let them run all over the neighborhood and into her yard, she says. They crank that ranchera music so loud "the whole neighborhood has to listen."

Wearing a designer belt and gold rosary, Mexican immigrant José Gutierrez describes his problem: "racisto Latinos Americanos," or racist American Latinos. They should be happy for the immigrants who are living the American dream. Instead, "they are jealous of the people who come here for jobs, homes and cars," the 28-year-old said.

Friction over lifestyle and culture plays out in neighborhoods across the Valley as Latinos and recently arrived immigrants come face-to-face with each other. Many of them often share skin color and last names, but the similarities sometimes end there.

The culture clash is a classic American example of assimilation, experts say, of the tensions that occur when acculturated people mix with unacculturated newcomers. Hispanic non-profits, colleges and cities acknowledge the issue and are trying to lessen the strain and raise cultural awareness through diversity-focused lectures and roundtable discussions.

Some Latinos perceive immigrants to be a liability, experts say, and go out of their way to stress their "Americanism" by avoiding association. Some immigrants believe Latinos are in denial of who they really are, and call them sellouts because they don't speak Spanish or celebrate customs.

"(Latinos) are here longer, they have a feeling of belonging, that this country is ours and that the new people aren't socialized well," said Edward Escobar, an associate professor at Arizona State University's Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.

"That causes major, major problems. There's tension over jobs, over dating and parks and facilities . . . they way they dress, the way they talk."

Extreme example

The killing in south Phoenix last week, where Latinos are accused of murdering a man believed to be an immigrant, is an extreme example of the violence that can escalate from cultural conflicts. Stephanie Ybarra, 30, her nephew Anthony Ybarra, 19, and her 15-year-old son are believed to have attacked the immigrant after a family member said he made lewd remarks to two young female cousins. The three were arrested for first-degree murder and jailed.

Relatives and neighbors blamed the incident on neighborhood tensions between Latinos and immigrants. Rarely do cultural tensions escalate to violence, say police, who respond to calls that are sometimes rooted in those differences: booming Spanish-language music, streets clogged with friends and family, and late-night comidas, or cookouts.

"They feel like the neighborhood is being overrun by immigrants and they're trying to protect it," said Joe Trujillo, a community action officer with Phoenix police, who works heavily immigrant and Latino neighborhoods. "A lot of them are not happy with the way their neighborhood has changed."

The changes will continue and become even more complex, experts say, as families from Mexico and the world's other Spanish-speaking countries migrate to Arizona. Both groups must overcome their differences, experts say, or tensions will increase in a neverending cycle of social conflict, political division and violence.

Pointing out differences

Latinos complain that immigrants dress differently, with gigantic belt buckles, cowboy boots and plaid shirts with pearl buttons. Their Spanish is a mix of regional and indigenous dialects. If they're from rural Mexico, they dry their clothes outside, not in machines. Instead of dogs and cats, they have barnyard animals as pets. They barbecue and hang out in their front yards, not in the back. They listen to norteña, mariachi and corridos instead of reggaeton, hip-hop or blues. They hit on girls by blowing kisses and yelling long, drawn out "¡Oooorale!"

Immigrants complain that Latinos resent their success in this country. That Latinos look down at them and shout ethnic slurs at them. That they aren't as close to their families are real Mexicans are. That they have betrayed their country by speaking English and not celebrating the Mexican holidays.

"I've noticed it a couple of times," said Oscar Montoya, whose immigrant family from Aguascalientes, Mexico, lives in a heavily immigrant neighborhood near 24th Street and McDowell Road in Phoenix. "Our Mexican-Americans are even racist against our own people. It's stupid. Their parents were immigrants, too."

Hispanic community groups, schools and cities hope to break down cultural stereotypes and perceptions through education, brown-bag lunches and lectures. The city of Phoenix hosts a monthly Faces of Diversity Brown Bag lunch series where people of different ethnic backgrounds speak about culture, social relationships, education, economy and health care. Last month, the city partnered with ASU and the Maricopa Community College District to put on "Healing Racism," where community leaders, counselors and social experts discussed race relations. It was the first in a series of discussions on race relations and runs through next year.

"This is really a complicated issue . . . from both sides," said Luis Ibarra, president and chief executive officer of Friendly House, a non-profit organization that works with mostly immigrants, but also with first-, second- and third-generation Latinos. "Our whole thing is to be able to get to the point where we understand each other. There's more  similarities than differences."