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More Hispanic Kids Are Depressed Than Their Peers As Anti-Migrant Rhetoric Rises


Studies tell us that young Latinos exhibit higher rates of depression when compared to their black and white peers. And the shooting here in El Paso over the weekend has deepened that anxiety for many Latinos. Here's NPR's Leila Fadel.

KATY: My name's Katy. I'm 16 years old. I'm going to be a senior in high school right now.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Katy's sitting in her living room in Las Vegas with her dad Nery Martinez and her brother Erick. The shooting, she says, made her angry, especially after the explanation of the shooter's motivation offered by President Trump and others.

KATY: Oh, he did this because the violent video games, his mental illness. And it's like, no. It's just, like, white supremacists targeting - they're just racist. That's the bottom line of it.

FADEL: In the last few years, Katy's become acutely aware of how normal hateful language about people like her has become. She says it started with little things.

KATY: They'd be like, you're Mexican. I was like, no, I'm el Salvadoran. And they're like, oh, they're all the same. It was, like, those small things that I realized. I was like, oh, yeah. And then it, like, built up.

FADEL: Katy was born and raised in Las Vegas. But her parents, who've built a life in the United States after fleeing war in El Salvador, have temporary protected status and no path to citizenship. Their future in the U.S. depends on the president. Her father, Nery, says he was already worried about a day where he and his wife might be separated from their children over immigration status. And now he's scared of racially motivated violence and the mental well-being of his kids.

NERY MARTINEZ: I told them, like, don't let anybody push you down. Like, you know, they're a person. They're humans like anybody. It doesn't matter the color of your eyes, the color of your hair or the color of your skin.

FADEL: So Katy says she tries to educate her classmates and people online. The hateful rhetoric makes her sad.

KATY: It does bring me down, but at the same time, it makes me want to, like, talk more and reach more and talk about it more. Like, at school, I've been doing presentations on, like, immigrants.

FADEL: She cries when she talks about the last presentation at school she gave on her family and immigration.

KATY: The core message was, like, we're human. That was the core message. That was the last thing I said in my presentation. Like, that's all I wanted everyone to know.

FADEL: Do you feel like people don't know that?

KATY: I know some people don't.

FADEL: Last year, the American Psychological Association published an analysis of more than 200 studies focusing on some 90,000 adolescents. It found that Latino youth have higher levels of depression than their white and African American peers in response to discrimination. The researchers linked it to being viewed as perpetual foreigners.

Stephanie Ruiz of Phoenix, Ariz., has a 3-year-old daughter and she wonders if this discrimination will kill her child's sense of self-worth.

STEPHANIE RUIZ: I hope that she is strong enough to take pride in herself. I hope she never feels ashamed.

FADEL: Yesterday, she dropped her off for her first day of preschool. Then Ruiz looked around campus to make sure there was no easy access for an attacker.

RUIZ: She goes to a school that the demographic - the majority is Latino. I mean, this person drove to target this demographic and my daughter's just a sitting duck in this demographic at school.

FADEL: She says, it's hard enough trying to protect your kids from normal life stuff, but this...

RUIZ: There is no way to protect her from it. I just have to give her thick skin. I have to hope that she experienced enough love at home to fight all the hate out there because it will touch her. I mean, there's no way - it's coming from the top.

FADEL: All she can do, she says, is teach her child to love herself. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Las Vegas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.