Hispanic Heritage Month: Disability and Visibility in the Latinx Community | Opinion

By Javier Robles

Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate the culture and contributions of the Latino/a/x community. As a Puerto Rican, I am proud of the accomplishments of our diverse and vibrant community.

I recognize great men and women as Roberto Clement, Frida Kahloand Sonya Soto, Mayor. We are truly a multi-layered, multicolored tapestry of people and stories. However, to celebrate this month without acknowledging the inconsistencies of our great nation when it comes to blacks and browns would be an oversight.

My experiences have shaped the way I teach, the way I advocate, and most importantly, the way I see the world. Growing up in the housing estates of Newark, I understand poverty like many people in our country. Having suffered a spinal cord injury at 16, I understand a disability like many others in our country do not.

The Latina/o/x community continues to struggle with issues of oppression and segregation. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how far we must go to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of those who came before us.

In New Jersey, the Latinx population was the largest group to succumb to the pandemic, with young men statistically overrepresented. The social determinants of health continue to negatively impact our community as chronic disease burdens black and brown people.

Segregation is pervasive in housing and the education system, which is how many of our young students climb the economic ladder. Brown v. School Board officially ended segregation in schools in 1954.

In 1946, a Mexican family fought and won a battle with the Westminster School District of Orange County, California, to allow their daughter to go to a whites-only school, as opposed to the log cabin where Mexican students learned.

As you read this, the Latin Action Network et al. v. State of New Jersey plays out in our justice system, declaring that black and brown children are separated by race and poverty in public schools and charter schools that violate the state constitution.

I am optimistic that we can work through the myriad of issues affecting our community and leave a legacy of prosperity and good health for future generations. But it starts with recognizing that a lot of work needs to be done before celebrating.

Javier Robles is a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health at Rutgers. He is president of the New Jersey Latino Action Network and chairs the New Jersey Disability Action Committee.

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