In many of my posts on this blog, one consistent theme has been the ways in which American society and institutions are adapting to the increasing racial/ethnic diversity taking place in our society as a result of demographics and globalization.

Within this context, a second point that I have emphasized is that these changes take place on both sides of the fence — among White Americans and among people of color/newcomers.
Recently, Newsweek magazine had an article that illustrates this two-way process very clearly — specifically, in regards to how the Boy Scouts of America are trying to attract more Latinos:

The Scouts have staked their future on Latinos for a simple reason: demographics. Hispanics account for more than one fifth of kids under the age of 5 and are projected to make up one quarter of the nation’s population by 2050. . . . A vast second generation of Latinos is just now emerging from elementary school, offering the Scouts fertile ground for recruiting. . . .

These kids have distinctive traits. . . . [T]hey straddle cultures nimbly. They speak Spanish at home and English at school. They retain traditional values like respect for their elders, but also embrace American ambition and individualism. They’re proud to be Latino and consider themselves cultural vanguardists, yet they’re eager to participate in broader youth culture and wary of “Hispanic products” that single them out. . . .

Hoping to invigorate Latino outreach, [the BSA] hired Carlos Alcazar in 2007. Alcazar [found that] when Hispanic families joined the Scouts, they loved it. But he identified two main problems: Latino ignorance of the BSA, which gave way to rumors that it was some sort of government or military outfit, and a lack of bilingual staff and volunteers to accommodate new recruits and their parents. . . .

The BSA has created a national office for Hispanic initiatives, begun hiring local Latino staff and started crafting a national ad campaign. It has also launched six pilot projects in cities across the country to test new marketing proposals. . . .

The one in Orlando, where Puerto Ricans have been migrating in droves, is led by Eric Santiago. . . . The multitude of misconceptions (”Are you grooming child soldiers?” “Are you going to force my kid to kill a rabbit and eat it?”) can be tiring. When families do express interest, the next challenge is to accommodate their schedules, which are often strained by long hours in service-sector jobs.

More dispiriting still, he has encountered xenophobia on a few occasions. When he visited a school once, an elderly white Eagle Scout wanted to hand off a number of Latino kids rather than integrate them into his troop. “I don’t want to deal with the parents,” he told Santiago. “If they come to us, they should learn English.” Such sentiments have cropped up elsewhere, too, such as this online comment in response to an article about Hispanic recruitment in Delaware: “If they (hispanics) want to fit in—then THEY HAVE to make the changes, not the AMERICAN BOY Scouts of AMERIA [sic].”

As I mentioned, in order for the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to be successful in attracting more Latino scouts, adjustments need to be made on both sides. For the BSA, it means not merely translating existing materials into Spanish and calling it a day, but fundamentally changing their organization to incorporate the culture and characteristics of the Latino population.

And it also means confronting the unfortunate xenophobia and racially-ignorant resistance towards doing so, as the comment in the quote above shows. In doing so, the BSA will go a long way toward erasing its traditional image of being “quintessentially White, suburban and middle class.”

For Latinos, it means discarding their inaccurate preconceptions about the BSA being some kind of government or military organization, and that it’s only for suburban, middle class Whites.

In other words, one reason for Latinos or any other underrepresented racial/ethnic group to join the BSA is not so they can “act White” and completely assimilate into “mainstream” American society but rather, to have the opportunity to both broaden their cultural environment and continue incorporating elements of traditional American culture into their lives and second, to bring their culture into the BSA and infuse it with new and diverse elements.

In fact, that’s basically a microcosm of contemporary American racial/ethnic assimilation in general.


Update: On March 4, 2009, NBC Nightly News did a short segment on the cultural emergence of the Latino American community in general and specifically, how the Boy Scouts are trying to recruit more of them: