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Scholar Challenges Latino Stereotypes

March 18, 1993|MANUEL JIMENEZ | SPECIAL TO NUESTRO TIEMPO

On a recent Monday, Prof. David Hayes-Bautista addressed the Mexican American Opportunities Foundation's staff, offering expert advice on Latino socioeconomics for application to that organization's child-care program.

The next day, the UCLA professor made a presentation on Latino health for U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello and her aides at the Century Plaza Hotel.

Two days later, he was addressing the group Hispanics in Philanthropy at the James Irvine Foundation. The next day, he made a presentation at a conference on Reducing Poverty in America at UCLA.

And, oh, yes. He also taught his usual slate of classes in the UCLA School of Medicine and prepared for presentations in Washington and Mexico.

It was all in a week's work for Hayes-Bautista, one of the most sought-after experts on Latino demographics in California, where an estimated 9 million Latinos reside.

"On average, I make about four or five outside presentations per week," said Hayes-Bautista.

In addition to his classroom duties, Hayes-Bautista heads the UCLA Center for Latino Health, a self-supporting research unit that serves as his launching pad for the study of Latino health, culture, socioeconomics and general demographics.

The most recent of his works, "No Longer a Minority," was published last summer. It challenges the common belief that Latinos in California form part of an "urban underclass," a sociological model that portrays some people as having little interest in working, a high welfare dependency, disintegrated families and alienation from society, said Hayes-Bautista.

According to the study, which covers 1940 to 1990, California Latinos "have historically had high rates of labor force participation and family formation while showing low rates of welfare dependency . . . along with sound health indicators (good life expectancy)," all of which contradict the underclass model, he said.

"Rather than being a disadvantaged population presenting endless social problems, Latinos should be looked upon as a potential source of strength for the society and economy of the state," he said.

The view that Latinos provide a "stabilizing force" was repeated last month in a report that Hayes-Bautista prepared for the Latino Coalition for a New Los Angeles.

Dionicio Morales, president of the Mexican American Opportunities Foundation, said Hayes-Bautista's work "gives us the facts and figures . . . weapons to reinforce the things we fight for. In the past, we usually fought for our causes on the basis of emotion . . . on the basis of pain."

Alan Heslop, director of Claremont McKenna College's Rose Institute, gives a similar assessment.

"To date, research on Latinos has lacked careful empirical analysis," Heslop said. "It has usually suffered from one of two excesses--sentimental myth-making on the one hand and harsh ideological posturing on the other." The latter, he explains, includes the depiction of Latinos as "victims of the capitalist conspiracy."

Hayes-Bautista's work "rises above both levels in a clear-headed way," Heslop added.

Hayes-Bautista, son of an Anglo father and a Mexican-American mother, was born in San Pedro, lived in City Terrace and El Monte, and at age 7 moved to Yuba City in Northern California, where he lived until his college years. While in his teens, he contributed to the family by working in area farms and became familiar with farm workers from Mexico and with his Latino roots.

He began his formal study of Latinos when he left Yuba City for college, first to UC Davis and then to UC Berkeley, where he earned a bachelor's degree in sociology.

Next, he helped establish and became the first director of La Clinica de la Raza, a community-based health care organization for indigent Latinos in San Francisco. Simultaneously, he undertook graduate studies at San Francisco's University of California Medical Center in medical sociology, earning a doctorate in 1974.

"These two interests--my clinic directorship and graduate studies in medical sociology--coincided, and I learned a lot about the health field," he said.

He later joined the School of Public Health faculty at UC Berkeley, where he taught health policy and administration for 13 years before leaving for UCLA in 1987.

In addition to being on the faculty of the School of Medicine, he was named director of the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, a position he held until last year, when he established the Center for Latino Health as part of the UCLA School of Medicine.

He has co-authored several works on Latinos with other faculty members and research professionals, bringing other disciplines to bear.

"We look at issues of history, politics, economics, culture, values, spirituality," said the 47-year-old professor, who teaches a course for fourth-year medical students on Latino health and related matters to help them decide on their future specialty.

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