Existe Ayuda (Help Exists) Toolkit
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About the Toolkit

About the Community

In 2010, there were 50.5 million Hispanics in the United States, or 16 percent of the total U.S. population; more than half of the growth in the total U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was due to the growth in the Hispanic population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). By the year 2050, there will be a projected 132.8 million Hispanics in the United States, or 30 percent of the Nation’s total population. Of these, 66.7 million will be Latinas (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008).

Latinas/os may be of any race and may identify with a variety of national origins and subcultures from North, South, and Central America and the Caribbean, as well as with various indigenous cultures of the Americas.

According to the 2008 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010), of Latinas/os in the United States—

  • 66 percent were of Mexican background.
  • 9 percent were of Puerto Rican background.
  • 3.4 percent were of Cuban background.
  • 3.4 percent were of Salvadoran background.
  • 2.8 percent were of Dominican background.
  • 15.4 percent were of some other Central American, South American, or other Hispanic or Latin American origin.
Outreach into Latin American communities can be enhanced greatly by avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach, as language, education, and levels of cultural assimilation can vary greatly between and within Latin American groups. According to a Pew Hispanic Center (2010) report, 62 percent of all Hispanics living in this country are native born and 38 percent are foreign born.

Lifetime Trauma and Help-Seeking Actions

It is important for victim advocates to learn about the Latin American communities with which they work, especially those from countries with recent histories of political violence. The following Latin American countries have suffered some form of political strife or civil warfare within the past 20 years (Solimano, 2004):

  • Argentina.
  • Chile.
  • Colombia.
  • El Salvador.
  • Guatemala.
  • Mexico.
  • Nicaragua.
  • Paraguay.
  • Peru.
  • Venezuela.

In 2009, for instance, the president of Honduras was ousted in a military coup, and some Honduran women’s groups such as Feminists in Resistance have tirelessly denounced the abuse of authority by the current officials who rose to power through the coup.

Many Latin American families have loved ones or know people who have been affected directly or indirectly by the trauma of political violence, which in some cases includes rape and physical torture. The results of a study of 1,630 Latina/o immigrants revealed that 11 percent of those surveyed reported exposure to political violence, and 76 percent experienced other traumatic events, including personal, physical, and sexual assaults; witnessing the death of a loved one; and witnessing community violence (Fortuna, Porche, and Alegría, 2008). While the family may have provided an important buffer to violence in the country of origin, immigrants to this country who find themselves isolated and the targets of intolerance and hate crimes may be particularly vulnerable, especially if they have learned to fear law enforcement.

Additionally, Latina victims of sexual assault are less likely to seek help. According to the Sexual Assault Among Latinas (SALAS) Study, even though one in six Latinas reported sexual victimization in her lifetime, only 3 percent of these victims used specialized victim services. Victim services that attempt to address a broader spectrum of victimization experiences may be able to promote formal help-seeking actions in Latina immigrant survivors (Cuevas and Sabina, 2010).

Spanish Language in the United States

The United States has the world’s third largest number of Spanish speakers after Spain and Mexico. Spanish has been spoken in what is now the United States since 1565, when Spain established its first permanent colony in St. Augustine, Florida. Among the languages that predate English, Spanish is second only to the American Indian languages spoken in this region (Carter, 2005).

For some immigrants, Spanish is a second language to one of the many indigenous languages spoken in Latin America such as Zapotec, Mixteco, Quechua, or Guaraní.

While Latin American immigrants to the United States may also speak other languages such as Creole or Portuguese, Spanish is by far the predominant language. In 2008, there were 35 million U.S. household residents age 5 and older who spoke Spanish at home, according to the 2008 American Community Survey (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). This is the reason that Spanish was chosen as the necessary language of focus for the Existe Ayuda products.

Office for Victims of Crime
810 Seventh Street NW., Eighth Floor, Washington, DC 20531
The Office for Victims of Crime is a component of the Office of Justice Programs,
U.S. Department of Justice.
Office of Justice ProgramsOffice for Victims of Crime. Justice For Victims Justice for All.