As LatinX In Nevada Grows, So Do Racial Challenges

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired Sept. 3, 2020.)

As the LatinX population grows in Nevada to some 30 percent of the total, they are adding to and transforming culture, business and politics throughout the state.

Tonight on Nevada Public Radio’s Race and Racism series, Emmanuel Ortega and Justin Favela, who created the podcast Latinos Who Lunch, host a special program looking at how the growth of the LatinX population is impacting Nevada.


On the term 'LatinX':

Justin Favela: “I don’t really like to use the word ‘Hispanic.’ I don’t identify with it. I don’t know if we’ll be using it a lot. LatinX, Latino, Latina – even LatinA. You might hear that during the show and that is what we’re referring to.”

Erika Abad: “LatinX is a contested term. Part of the addition of the X stemmed from the actual construction of the Spanish language as a gender binary and for some the X is to be more inclusive of those who identify as Latino or Latina who don’t fit either or don’t identify as a man or a woman. The term itself was a historic response among what were formerly called Hispanics to use a different term and not center Spanish ancestry as what brings us ‘all together.’”

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On separation by where a family originally came from:

Emmanuel Ortega: “One of the things that this testifies is the fact that for example Southern Nevada in terms of development, it’s much newer than those cities in the Midwest and the East Coast. When I think of Chicago, I think of pockets. Everything is so racialized. Everything is so segregated and there’s boundaries of the city that separate Mexican neighborhoods from the Puerto Rico neighborhoods from the more Anglo neighborhoods. And one of the things that I like about Las Vegas is that you have a little bit of everything throughout the entire city and you see that in other parts of Southern Nevada.”

Is Southern Nevada a safe place for LatinX?

Paloma Guerrero: “Las Vegas is a mixed-status city. What we see here is that one in 13 Nevadans are undocumented. One in seven school children have an undocumented parent at home. One of the ways that people who have been here for long periods of time, who have U.S. citizen children, who have never even gotten a traffic ticket, and are not in the deportation system is through law enforcement cooperation with ICE.”

Ortega: To be LatinX is not just one box that you fill in the Census. To be LatinX is to be an immigrant sometimes, is to be from this country several generations, one generation, documented, undocumented and that represents all kinds of different experiences.

Are the issues the LatinX community were facing before COVID-19 – affordable housing, health care, job security – are worse now?

Abad: “I remember reading sometime this summer that in terms of workers who are able to work from home the LatinX community has the lowest rates of those of us who can work from home. And I think that’s important for a variety of reasons, one: because that means we’re at higher risk of getting exposure; two: that means arguably as a result we have higher job insecurity… three: that means that’s going to translate into housing insecurity.  

On the challenges of reaching LatinX community with a message about COVID-19:

Abad: “I think it’s different from other communities in the sense that with regards to thinking its not just the Spanish language issue it’s also a cultural competency issue. One of the reasons a lot of LatinX can’t work remotely is because a lot of us work in the service sector.    

On fears about seeking help for coronavirus because of immigration status:

Guerrero: “I work mainly with people who are in ICE custody. So the question of COVID-19 for people who are detained in the facilities in Southern Nevada is a whole other issue.  We have three ICE detention centers just in the Las Vegas area… we have seen cases of people being positive for COVID-19 in all three detention centers."

"For my clients who have already been released, there is that fear. I have clients reaching out to me who are in immigration proceedings, don't have legal status yet, and there's just the question of, 'where do can I even get tested?'"

On mail-in balloting:

Abad: "Unless they figure out what is going to happen with the Post Office, we’re literally being asked to risk our lives to vote. Didn’t Black people fight for our right to vote and other brown people like 50 years ago? Didn’t they do that? Didn’t they do that so we didn’t have to risk our lives again? I was all about absentee but looking at how the administration is treating the Post Office and talking about the invalidity of absentee ballots it is incredibly disheartening."

Black Lives Matter protests versus no protests for children being held in immigration custody:

Guerrero: “In terms of the Black Lives Matter movement, I would love to see more intentionality in the Latino community being involved in that movement for Black lives. 

Trying to center family separation, children in cages, when the center of the whole nation is on Black lives just isn’t the thing to do at all because the movement for Black lives is all about all lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. And Black and brown people need to be united.”

Ortega: “It becomes very tricky because it’s not about one particular group participating or not or what are the main issues that are brought to the foreground the problem is that the information that our community received through the different mediums are precisely divisive in that nature."

Abad: "It's not either-or; it's both-and because the same system that informs why kids are in cages and families are separated is the same system that feeds the cultural normativity of killing Black people." 

On media representation of the LatinX community:

Abad: “What that means for me, as a viewer, with nieces and nephews and extended chosen and blood family looking for representation is that we have young people who will not leave the house and will not have content that looks like them. And further, thinking about non-LatinX youth, they will be consuming content that has that little diversity, which will then translate into arguable the things they can normalize as an affirming and positive and complex.

And the LatinX representation that’s out there sterilized on some stereotypes and there are shows that complicate it a little bit, but one of the beautiful things about the diversity that we had seen, all be it temporarily, was that we had LatinX families that weren’t just Mexican, that weren’t just from California, across the gamut. We had them queer, we had them straight, we had families that were together, we had middle-class ones, we had shows that had economic diversity as well as national diversity and we’re not seeing that right now.”

Favela: "Wouldn't it be nice just to see - imagine Seinfeld but Latinos. A show about nothing. It's not about our struggles." 

Ortega: "What a concept!"

Favela: "It's just us living - day to day - and we happen to be Latino. When we see that show on TV, I will be so, so happy to see that."

On the biggest challenges to the LatinX community when it comes to heading to the polls:

Guerrero: Right now, I think it's misinformation. We’ve been conditioned by media and other forms that our vote doesn’t matter. We hear this. We hear people say, ‘I’m not going to go to the poll, because in Nevada, Trump isn’t going to win. My vote doesn’t matter. I’m not going to go.’ But it’s that same rhetoric. It’s that same mindset that got us Trump in the first place. Right now, it’s legitimately a vote for our lives. If you are part of the Latino community, the Black community, the Asian-Pacific Islander community, the immigrant community, it is a vote for our lives to get this administration out."   

On generational differences:

Ortega: “I think it is up to us the older generation to also educate the younger generations because while these conversations are happening online they are happening in very superficial ways. We need to start contextualizing a lot of the ideas because one of the things that are happening is we are living in a politically correct era where we like to point fingers but the context behind that call-out culture is rarely discussed online. I always think about this idea: instead of just calling out someone for their racism, sexism, etc., etc., explaining the context behind some of these problems is important.”

On changes in Nevada to help the LatinX community:

Favela: “Just culturally being represented within our own institutions would be great.”

Ortega: “UNLV carried this flag of diversity yet the percentage of Black, indigenous, people of color professors, it’s not the same and it’s way, way lower than the number of students. And some of these issues that we’re talking about can and are brought up to the classrooms on the regular basis by professors of color but we don’t have that representation.”

Guerrero: The biggest change I would love to see in the whole state is pro bono defense. I am the only attorney that practices full-time representing people who are detained in immigration court. There is no infrastructure. There’s no organization that has a team of lawyers that does this as other cities and localities do. Nevada has nothing. It’s barren. After I’m done with my fellowship, that’s it.”

(Editor's note: This discussion originally aired Sept. 3, 2020)


Erika Abad, Assistant Professor in Gender and Ethnic Studies, UNLV; Paloma Guerrero, Fellow, Boyd School of Law Immigration Clinic


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