By: Stephanie Edmonds and Brittany Wiafe
“God sees no walls from heaven. That is why all walls that are built one day come down,” Paul Cuadros wrote in his book, A Home on the Field.
Brandon Callender, a Chuck Stone Scholar, said from space you see the world as a whole, you don’t notice the visible barriers we have built as a people. There’s nothing standing in the way, in God’s eyes, so there’s no reason humanity can’t do the same.
As Callender said, stereotypes make you think you are above or below a certain race leading to the invisible walls we build in our minds. Rhonda Gibson, associate professor at the UNC School of Media and Journalism, said labels arise from the things we see and hear. This practice is known as the socialization process, the adoption of behavior from one’s surrounding culture.
“Stereotyping is a natural tendency; it’s something we all do,” said Gibson.
The walls we build are based on stereotypes. Callender said stereotypes lead to preconceived notions that could end up hurting their targets, leading them to feel like the walls are closing in. In Siler City’s case, the Latino community was the aim.
“The migration of Latino workers and their families has been like a shot in the arm to Siler City,” Cuadros said. “It has restored and spurred growth and development in a town that was dying.”
Although the revitalized economy in Siler City had positive effects, the residents saw the new neighbors as a threat.
The economic gains in Siler City statistically should have helped knock down discriminatory walls faced by the Latinos because they fueled the community’s rebound. However, as Callender said, natives of Siler City took the positives as a negative and used them as an opportunity to add another layer of brick to their own oppressive wall only making the walls stronger.
As Cuadros reflected on a rally that Siler City held, he wrote about the different signs that native residents held against the Latino community. “Many carried signs that read LA RAZA GO HOME; THIS IS OUR LAND!; REPORT ILLEGALS… and my favorite, the word FULL inside an outline of the United States.”
DoSomething.org attributes working under discriminatory conditions to the cultivation of depression, lack of self-confidence and bitterness. The division caused by these broad overgeneralizations, or invisible walls, extends past the workplace and into education.
In 2011, Hispanics had the highest dropout rate in the nation -17 percent- for students ages 16 through 29.
Callender said stereotypes stop people from advancing depending on where they are. As the walls of prejudice push in from work, education and questioned immigration status, Latinos find themselves with no way to advance.
“Employed Latinos are less likely to hold a college degree than whites or African Americans, and most are heavily concentrated in certain industries and sectors,” said Vanessa Cardenas and Sophia Kirby, writers for the Center for American Progress. Because of their limited opportunities in education, Latinos are far less likely to be employed in jobs that offer public influence.
Stereotypes can prevent relationships by creating invisible walls, which erect in an act of ethnocentrism, as Callender said.
“It’s a sin not getting to know a true person,” said Gibson.
Gibson often teaches about the tackiness of labels or the invisible walls we put up against people. Eventually the Latinos in Siler City began to adapt to the walls they were trapped in.
Cuadros succeeded in building a varsity soccer team in Siler City, but he also built a place where Latinos could find their strengths. Students at Jordan Matthews High School could connect as a team and chip away at the walls their community had built against them, creating Los Jets.
“If there was one place they could call home, a place where they could feel at home, it was here—between two goals on a dusty field,” wrote Cuadros in his novel when describing the community Los Jets found.
Latino-Americans have grown up between walls of differing cultures, stereotypes and languages, but the Los Jets players had found a way to adapt to their walls and find their place within them.
Greta Oliver, co-director of the Chuck Stone Program, said diversity allows students to understand the complexities of American culture. This is a lesson Siler City has learned, and this lesson is one that can chip away at walls Americans have toward diversity. Cuadros observed that Siler City is a metaphor for the whole country.
“I knew that the team had transcended the prejudices on all sides and brought the community to root for one team,” he wrote. “I knew then that these kids were no longer Latino kids…they were Jets. We were all on the same team.”
Gibson said stereotyping will never go away, but as Siler City exemplified, it is possible for residents of a community to knock down alienating walls they build and ultimately become connected.
Picture attributed to Flickr.com.