Lost in America
Elsa Flores fled El Salvador's civil war in 1980, moved to Los Angeles
and cleaned offices until she had saved enough money to open a small
clothing store. But her American dream fell apart in 1992 when racial
05 tensions, videotape and a controversial court verdict erupted into the
Rodney King riots*. Flores huddled with her four children in a back
bedroom. They could hear gunfire and shouting outside. Watching the
news on TV, they saw flames dance from the window of her clothing
store. Flores assumed the rioters who destroyed her business were
10 black. But then she caught a glimpse of them on camera. They were like
her: Latinos. Now she says: "They are not bad people, but they become
The ambiguous role that Latinos played in those events underscores, a
muchphenomenon: the vast new wave of lowimmigrants
15 has yet to find its place in the United States. Like Flores, who scrimped
and borrowed and rebuilt, most Latino immigrants bring enough ambition
with them to compensate for a lack of education. About two thirds
achieve at least a workingincome. But many others, though
equally determined, fail. nd more significantly, their children often fail.
20 Latinos are in danger of becoming locked into the same distinctly
American form of poverty that has been perpetuated through
generations of innerblacks. In fact. if current trends persist, in
another decade, Latinos will replace blacks as, the United States'
biggest underclass. More than 30 percent of Latinos who arrived in the
25 1980s live below the poverty line.
For many immigrants, the journey north is an attempt to overcome
centuriesbarriers of race and class. What they find is new barriers of
class and race. The immigrants who have the strongest memories of
home do best in the States; however bad, it is still an improvement.
30 But for their children, who often have no rnemory of home, America
seems like a raw deal. They watch their parents and see only toil and
poverty. They watch American TV and see only affluence. Public
systems on the brink of collapse fail to give them the tools they need. "I
can tell by looking in their eyes how long they've been here." says the
35 Rev. Virgil Elizondo, of San Antonio, Texas. "They come sparkling with
hope, and the first generation finds that hope rewarded. Their children's
eyes no longer sparkle. They have learned only to want jobs and
money they can't have."
Take the case of Mexican newcomers. Last year the National Research
40 Council, America's most distinguished society of scholars, found that
Mexican immigrants start out with the lowest wages of any nationality –
and that the wage gap grows the longer they live in the United States.
The statistics for their children are even more troubling. Nationally,
teenage births are declining. But not so for girls of Mexican descent,
45 for whom the rate has risen by a third during the 1990s. Last year nearly
11 percent of Latino teenage girls gave birth double the rate for whites,
and for the first time surpassing the rate for blacks. Schoolrates
are also gloomy. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that 44
percent of foreignLatino youths between the ages of 16 and 24 are
50 dropouts. That number for Americanchildren of immigrants is 17
percent: for blacks it is 13 percent, for whites, 17 percent. Because
secondLatinos are the fastestsource of new
American workers, their lack of basic skills could put a brake on the
55 In the search for solutions to America's growing Latino underclass, the
simplest proposal has been to reduce the flow of lowimmigrants.
That may be politically expedient, but it won't work. The truth is that the
United States needs these people. In a decade, when the bulk of the
babygeneration* hits retirement age, there will be a tremendous
60 shortage of young workers. More than a third of the Latino population is
under the age of 18. The vast majority are nativeUS citizens, and
they are not going anywhere. They are the nation's future. Unless new
avenues of opportunity open up for Latino immigrants and their children,
the nation as a whole will suffer. Remedies are still possible. A
65 generation of young people is still in school waiting to be taught, and
expectations are still alive. But the opportunities are rapidly dis-
from: Newsweek, 15 June 1998
* Rodney King riots: reference to the riots that broke out in ethnic neighbourboods, especially black areas, of Los Angeles in 1992, when a court acquitted several white policemen accused of beating up a black driver, Rodney King; the incident had been filmed on videotape.
* babygeneration: the generation born between the late 1940s and the early 1960s, when the birth rate after the war was high.
Note: Read all the questions first, then answer them in the given order. Use your own words as far as is appropriate.
1.1. Describe Elsa Flores' "American dream" (l. 4). What happened to it and what were her reactions to this experience?
2. How successful are Latinos in the USA? (Refer to lines 13 25.)
3. What do statistics reveal about the problems of Latino youths in comparison with their black and white peers?
2. Analysis and discussion
2.1. Find a suitable title for the text in question.
2.2. Divide the text into its constituent parts. Explain your decisions.
2.3. Explain the difference in attitude towards life in America between the first and the second generation of Latino immigrants.
Write about 120 to 150 words.
2.4. What is the writer's position in the political debate about a growing Latino underclass?
2.5 Show three different ways in which the writer tries to arouse the reader's interest in his topic.
2.6. Melting pot or cultural pluralism? Which idea seems the more promising?
Discuss this issue with reference to the United States. Take your reading knowledge into consideration.
2.7. Would you like to live in the United States? Explain why or why not in not more than 200 words.