On our way to school the other morning my daughter asked me, “Why are most of the people who do construction work Latino?”
“That would be a better question to ask a Latino person who does construction.”
She was silent for a moment and then said, “But I don’t know and Latino people who do constructions and I don’t talk to strangers. Why do YOU think a lot of construction workers are Latino.”
“Ok, you’re right. Hmmm…it’s hard to say because I only know a couple Latino men who do construction and I know that Latino men in construction is a stereotype. Latino men, like Tata, and your uncles, and cousins are Latino, but they don’t do construction.”
“Ya, I know that not all Latino men do construction, but almost every time there’s someone doing construction they’re Latino” she stated.
“It’s probably because they have friends and family who do it and the friends and family teach them how to do the job and help them get jobs. To get a job doing construction does not require a lot of education so people can start learning how to do the job without going to college.”
“But white people can do that too.”
“Yes, and a lot of white people do construction too. We have white people and Latino people do work on our house.”
“Men, dad. Everyone who has helped at our house is a man.”
“Ok, white and Latino men. Sorrrrry.”
“Why don’t people who do construction go to college?”
“Some do, especially if they want to work for a company. But all the people I’ve known who do construction are happy being busy doing things like construction. Not going to school. And if they don’t speak English…
By this point I was parking the car in the school parking lot. As I turned off the car I continued…
”If they don’t speak English well it is very hard to go to school because most college courses are taught in English. Plus, people who do construction usually get paid a lot of money without college.”
I got out of the car and closed the door waiting for both the kids to get out and walk with me into the school.
As she unbuckled and got her bag she kept talking. I couldn’t hear her well for a moment.
“…at your college. Did they do construction?”
“I’m sorry my love, I could hear you because I was outside of the car.”
“I said, you had lots of students at your college that didn’t speak English well. Did any of them do construction?”
“I don’t think so. I know several worked in restaurants. A couple worked at the airport. I don’t know. Others didn’t have jobs because they were taking lots of college classes. Maybe a few of them did construction.”
“Ya, but most of your students were from African and Asian countries.”
We arrived at the cafagymatorium where the children wait before school starts. I kneeled down and gave both kids a hug and a kiss. I told my older daughter as I hugged her.
“Yes, most of my students are from African and Asian countries. I love you. Have a good day at school.”
“I love you dad.”
Conversations that address stereotypes are difficult. I have found the best approach is to always identify that it is a stereotype, try to talk about how the stereotype can be true but people are much more than the stereotype. I tried.