What teens in today's America face
CHICAGO -- If you know a teen -- a relative, a family friend or even just the kid behind the counter at your local pizza joint -- give them a gift today: Look them straight in the eye and assure them that everything is going to be OK.
It's the time of year when tensions are especially high for older children. Recent high school graduates might soon be saying goodbye to lifelong friends as they head off to college and oftentimes-daunting independence. Meanwhile, the pressures on high school juniors and seniors are ratcheting up as seemingly everyone asks the innocent but heart-stinging question: What are you doing after you graduate?
And this is the very least of their stresses.
It doesn't take into account the complicating day-to-day factors of life as an adolescent. Many worry about being able to afford a post-high school education or living arrangements. Others struggle with issues related to sexual identity that can emerge during these years. Some, of course, deal with chronic medical or physical conditions. And there's the mounting stress for many of simply being nonwhite in an America that is increasingly racially hostile.
Can you begin to imagine being a teen and starting the new school year feeling like you've got a target on your back because you have a dark complexion and maybe an accent from another country?
"Personally, I didn't want to go to school," 17-year-old Roman Pastrana told Education Week. Pastrana explained that when his senior year at El Paso's Eastlake High School began two weeks ago -- before the mass shooting there that apparently targeted Latinos and killed at least 22 people -- he felt anxious even though his family is documented and living in the country legally.
"Regardless of that fact, we're just scared. We're afraid that something can go down … Anywhere I go, I feel threatened," Pastrana continued. "A minor who hasn't even voted yet shouldn't have to be afraid of being in school or afraid of being Hispanic."
Education Week reported that similar concerns are shared by officials in school systems that serve large populations of U.S.-born Latino students and legal immigrant and undocumented youth.
"It's the first catastrophic, mass-killing event that targeted individuals -- adults, children -- just on the basis of being Hispanic, being Latino," said Alberto Carvalho, the superintendent of the Miami-Dade district, where 71% of students are Hispanic. Carvalho noted the appalling likelihood that some of the victims at the El Paso Walmart were doing their back-to-school shopping.
It might have been the first mass murder to target Latinos in this country, but it may not be the last.