In North Carolina, a host of indicators show that many immigrant teens are not succeeding:
* Dropout rates for Hispanic students are higher than for any other group in the state. In the 2005-06 school year, nearly 9 percent of Hispanic high school students dropped out, compared with less than 4.5 percent of white students.
* More than half of North Carolina’s Hispanic girls are expected to be pregnant before their 20th birthdays.
* A recent study of nearly 300 Hispanic immigrant teens in North Carolina, done by the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work, sketched a picture of a population with emotional scars, uneducated parents and the pervasive feeling that they are not accepted by Americans.
More than 40 percent said they had faced ethnic discrimination, most frequently by their classmates.
Sixty-five percent of the teens agreed that “Americans generally feel superior to foreigners.” Only 5 percent said they received any counseling.
A national survey by New York University professor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, tracked immigrant teens for five years. At the end, half were doing worse in school than when the study began.
Juana Martinez, 17, a senior at Wake Forest-Rolesville High School, is president of the club Latinos Constructing a Better Future, formed as part of a gang- prevention effort. At a recent meeting, she said, several boys talked about taunts from classmates.
“They said that some people have told them, ‘Hey, go back to Mexico,’” Martinez said. “And some of them aren’t even from Mexico. They were born here.”
Martinez said she has watched many of her Hispanic classmates drift into trouble: girls getting pregnant, boys wearing gang colors and forming segregated groups, others dropping out to take low-wage jobs.
Some Hispanic boys at her school, she said, feel that a grade point average higher than 2.5 is “too smart.”
Gangs growing fast
A 2005 study showed that Hispanic gangs were the fastest-growing segment of North Carolina’s mounting gang problem, accounting for a quarter of the state’s nearly 400 gangs. Many carry the names of notorious groups such as the Latin Kings or MS-13 that originated in California, Mexico and elsewhere.
Many of North Carolina’s gang members are homegrown—youths who felt isolated by language barriers or poverty, who were bullied and scorned by classmates, and who looked to a gang for acceptance.
Like the waves of immigrants before them—Eastern Europeans, Italians, Irish—Hispanic youths are banding together in the face of a foreign environment, according to researchers, educators and social workers. As anger rises over a wave of Hispanic immigration, some say they fear that more Hispanic children will become alienated and turn to gangs.