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Privilege, or lack thereof, is whatever advantages or disadvantages you have in the beginning of your life, before you’ve taken any decisions or put in any effort of your own towards anything. Privilege comes in many facets, it’s racial, it’s economical, it’s social. For many it’s all three.
As a white Latina woman, I often check my privilege when it comes to my racial standing in our society. It’s impossible for me not to when considering the social-political realities of our country. But to others, it’s difficult to understand or recognize the systems that oppress me, and other Latinas. You have to look no further than how our education system and workforce treats Latina women to learn that most misogynistic ideals that founded this country are still alive today.
“Work twice as hard, to get just as much.” is not an exaggeration when it comes to Latinas in the workforce. It’s a factual statement that reflects the fact that in order for a Latina to make just as much as a white man, she would have to work 22 months to his 12 months.
While the lack of availability of job opportunities in a wide-range of fields may not seem to be linked to the low-income gap that plagues Latina women, it is. Not only do Latina women have the lowest probability of receiving an education or job offers in the highest grossing fields, making the pay gap not just circumstantial but institutional, but stereotypes plague Latina women when it comes to the job fields that we are boxed into.
Latinas are typecast in jobs involving care or a “maternal” aspect, such as nurse, caregiver, nannies, housekeepers, etc. This stereotype is not just symptomatic of being a minority in a country like the United States, but Latina women are also boxed into these professions in Latin-American countries, where machismo and patriarchal society reigns, and women are often not encouraged to pursue careers outside the household.
These fields include not just some of the lowest grossing careers, but also the ones with the least regulation, making it nearly impossible not just to demand fair and equal wages, but also to fight for fair benefits, like health-care and maternal leave.
Latinas face the greatest pay gap in America. The average Hispanic/Latina woman only makes $0.54 to the average non-Hispanic white man’s dollar. Nearly 20% of Latinas live in poverty line, according to the National Women’s Law Center, which is unbelievable considering that every 1 out of 5 women in the United States is Latina.
Latinas are also the least likely of all women to complete a college degree, at just 19 percent compared to nearly 44 percent of white women. It can be difficult to understand why the suppression of Latina girls and women in both lower and higher education contributes to the pay gap, but when your opportunities seem limited due to a deeply ingrained idea that you are not “made to be the same or achieve the same as others”, not only is your ability to grow cut short, but it takes a toll on the confidence of Latina women to achieve and expect more as well.
When you’re in that mentality, when you’re in a society that perpetuates these injustices, it’s very difficult to break yourself out of it. You find yourself doubting your abilities, in small ways (like how I’m constantly doubting that I’m good at math because, even despite my family saying otherwise, I grew up surrounded by a stereotype that women “are just not math/science-oriented”), but for other people it could be bigger and greater doubts, like whether or not they have the capability to achieve their dreams or be economically self-sufficient.
As young Latina women, it’s our responsibility to break those molds. To every day challenge ourselves to break away the stereotypes that hold us down. It’s our responsibility to support and lift each other up, and to continuously fight for an equal and just world in which our hard work is valued exactly the same as anyone else’s. But we can’t do it alone. It’s the responsibility of those with more privilege than us to demand more of the systems that oppress us. To recognize the power in your position and grant your platform to others who are struggling to be heard, to allow our voices to carry the conversation for ourselves.