Sign language in Spanish


Left to right: Felix, Mr. Sanchez, Mrs. Sanchez, and Hector. Enrique in the front.

Irma Sanchez has three young sons who love football and video games, so when they’re all home, visitors might be surprised by what they hear: absolute silence.

Sanchez’s three sons were all born Deaf and must communicate using American Sign Language (ASL). Inspired by her journey to learn ASL, Sanchez started the group “Deaf Latinos” – a free weekly class at her South Los Angeles home where Sanchez teaches ASL in Spanish.

Felix was eight months old when Sanchez had him tested for hearing loss. A red flag went up for Sanchez when she noticed that her child wasn’t turning around for loud noises, like when the vacuum cleaner was on. Doctors diagnosed him with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss – he was deaf. Sanchez was shocked to learn Felix was deaf. “I recall coming home and sitting down and thinking to myself, ‘Okay, so I have a deaf child, what am I going to do?’” [Read more…]

Why saving for retirement is hardest for Latinos

Salvadoran immigrant Obdulio Hernández, now a U.S. citizen who lives in South Central Los Angeles with his wife and two daughters, has worked steadily since he arrived in the country 17 years ago. He has some savings for emergencies, but has never saved for retirement.

image“I don’t trust that my money will be there for me at the end,” says Obdulio Hernández. “I’m afraid of the risk. What if the company goes bankrupt? Then I’ll have nothing!” he exclaims. “Maybe if I understood how the plan works, I’d be willing to invest,” he says referring to retirement plans.

He’s not alone. Thousands of first-generation Latinos in the country don’t understand the concept of financial planning for retirement. Fear, distrust of financial entities, and lack of financial literacy contribute to the problem.

Unemployment and the economic recession has also taken a heavy toll on this community. Dreams of financial success – or even sustainability – seem to be further and further away for millions of minorities who can barely make ends meet.

The harsh reality is that Hispanic households suffered the biggest drop in wealth of any ethnic and racial group in the country during the recession.
According to a Pew Research Center study, on average, their wealth fell by 66 percent. African-American households also suffered a big setback – a 53 percent drop in wealth from 2005 to 2009, the most recent data available. White households, however, only experienced a 16 percent drop in wealth during the same period.

This drop in wealth means there’s less money earned and less money saved. That makes it harder for anyone to think about saving for the future. It’s even harder for many Hispanics, who are less likely to have employer-sponsored retirement plans (such as 401(k)s, because they work in service jobs or small businesses that don’t offer them to their employees.

Hernández, for example, works as a sign installer for a company that hires him as a subcontractor. He gets no health insurance or retirement plan options through his employer. He admits he’s concerned about his finances “cuando esté viejo” – when he’s old.

“I don’t think Social Security is going to be enough for my wife and I to survive,” he worries. But even though he recognizes the need, he’s still hesitant to take the first step in retirement planning. “I think it’s cultural,” he says. “Back in El Salvador, you just don’t think about saving for old age.”

imageFor those Latinos who are fortunate to have employer-sponsored 401(k)s, many don’t participate in the retirement plans or don’t save enough, and some who do, make mistakes that can cost more than they bargained for.

“Latinos stash their money in 401(k)s and then take it out before they’re supposed to,” says expert Julie Stav, who specializes in financial issues and literacy in the Hispanic community. “In doing so they end up paying penalties and fees. The moment you put money into a retirement account, you can’t touch it.”

An Ariel/Hewitt study shows 50 percent of Hispanics with 401(k) accounts were more likely than whites to take hardship withdrawals from their plans.

It may be a tempting proposition to tap into your retirement savings if you’re unemployed, but pulling money out of your 401(k) before age 59-1/2 means you’ll have to pay income taxes plus a 10 percent penalty. Any advantage gained in your investment will be lost.

This is the first in a series of stories on the importance of retirement planning. In part two, we’ll address the problems the immigrant Latino community faces in saving for retirement. Throughout the series, we’ll be providing savings advice and retirement planning tips from expert Julie Stav.

OPINION: Dangerous Distortions: Anti-Abortion Fascists and Third World Allies

By Sikivu Hutchinson and Diane Arellano

imageOn a recent Los Angeles talk radio show Louisiana state legislator John LaBruzzo lamented the “massacre” of millions of “baby women” by abortion. In this fascist’s warped mind abortion infringes on the civil rights of fetuses. LaBruzzo is the author of a bill that would abolish abortion on the grounds that denying fetuses civil rights is akin to the violent denial of black civil rights under slavery. According to male anti-abortion fascists like LaBruzzo, poor single women get abortions because they are forced to by predatory deadbeat dad boyfriends in training or by fathers who have committed incest. Hence, overturning Roe vs. Wade is consistent with gender equity and social justice.

As the national hijacking of women’s rights continues, the Right has become more and more skillful at manipulating pro-death anti-choice messages designed to make women believe that their interests are being served by powerful white conservative foundations and their “third world” allies. In Los Angeles, conservative Latino groups are now targeting Latino communities with a new wave of anti-abortion billboards similar to those aimed at African American women. The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles is the architect of this latest assault on reproductive justice for women of color. As with the abortion-as-black-genocide billboards unleashed by the far right Radiance Foundation, the Latino billboards evoke reductive hyper-religious narratives of sinning promiscuous bad women and “breeder” good women.

The billboards claim that “the most dangerous place” for a Latino child is in the womb. Yet the reality of Latina fertility rates—three children are the national average for Latinas in their childbearing years—would seem to belie the need for this campaign. But of course reality in fascist propaganda is an oxymoron. Crafted as they are at the height of the recession, the economic subtext of these moral panic narratives must be exposed. The subtext of the campaign is that any form of access to abortion threatens the stability of patriarchal Latino families. Like black women, Latinas’ bodies are territory to be manipulated, controlled, and strictly policed vis-à-vis the regime of authentic Latino gender identities based on Catholic piety and female submission. As the most underrepresented and lowest paid group in the American economy, Latinas are especially vulnerable to socio-cultural narratives mandating that they stay barefoot, pregnant, and underemployed.

In the Latino community, the assault on women’s right to self-determination is also being spearheaded by former Latin American telenovela stars ready to lend their “expert” opinions on what Latinas in the US should and should not do with their bodies. The most vociferous of these is former boy band member and telenovela heartthrob Eduardo Verastegui. In 2008, Verastegui vied for the heart of the Religious Right with media appearances encouraging Spanish speaking Latino voters to vote yes on Proposition 8, California’s anti-same sex marriage initiative. He has returned to the spotlight as a founding member of Manto de Guadalupe, a nonprofit focused on “defending life from conception to natural death.”

On June 12th, Manto de Guadalupe sponsored a fundraising event in support of the development of the largest “pro-life” women’s clinic in the United States. This facility is slated to be built in South Los Angeles, which has one of the highest poverty rates in L.A. County. At the event, legendary Mexican telenovela star Veronica Castro introduced Texas governor and rumored presidential hopeful Rick Perry. Just a few days before the fundraiser, Perry introduced SB 9—sweeping legislation which would ban “sanctuary cities” or non-existent safe havens for undocumented immigrants—into the Texas Senate. SB 9 would further criminalize Texas Latinos by allowing law enforcement to inquire about the immigration status of those arrested or legally detained. Still, at the fundraiser, the predominantly Spanish speaking immigrant crowd cheered wildly for Perry.

The connection between the right’s anti-immigrant and anti-choice agenda is no coincidence. Criminalizing choice and undocumented immigrants is part of a larger scheme in which big government eliminates the rights of the underclass and expands “social welfare” for corporations, the wealthy, and the military industrial complex. Thus, right wing propaganda in black and brown communities must be met head on. Access to safe and legal safe abortions is not only paramount to women’s health but to economic and social justice. Pro-choice politicians like President Obama who waffle on the morality and necessity of abortion (talking only of the need to “reduce” the number of abortions), further distort the connection between unrestricted access to abortion and human rights. Indeed, the Left’s marginal response to far right anti-abortion fascism has enabled a climate in which Planned Parenthood has now been defunded in three states. If the war on safe and legal access to abortion does not shift to a national movement centered on how family planning and abortion are a fundamental human right, then the lives of black and brown women will continue to be expendable. And if the right wing of all hues continues to be allowed to define the terms of human rights and “social justice” women of color will be on the frontlines reliving the horror of the back alley.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the author of Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics, and the Values Wars. Diane Arellano is a photo documentarian and youth advocacy educator based in Los Angeles. Her work examines sociocultural instability and flexibility, the intersections of marginalized communities, race, class, and gender roles. Sikivu and Diane run the Women’s Leadership Project, A South L.A.-based feminist mentoring program.

Making children count in 2010 Census