WASHINGTON – There is no doubt that laughter transcends language, and what could be better than using these laughs to bring hope to young people?
“What makes us who we are is not that we talk about it, it’s the mixture of the black and the Latino. We come in every color, and no other culture can say that. We are black, as black as Sammy Sosa, and as white as ‘Christina Agriculture.’ We are a shade in between, we are café latte,” comedian Paul Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez recruited three other comedians to participate the 11th annual Reyes of Comedy show Tuesday at the Warner Theatre as part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s Hispanic Heritage Month events.
Latino comedians Shayla Rivera, Mike Robles and Chris Storin joined in the effort to spread the conference message, “Keeping up the Promise: Unity. Strength. Leadership.”
“It’s a privilege to come out here and to have an audience that you dream of,” Rodriguez said. “What I wanted to talk about tonight was this low self-esteem that we have and we have to fight. We are a vital, crucial, important, integral part of this country, and we should never forget that.”
CHCI has been carrying this message to the Latino community for more than 30 years and has helped about 5,400 young Latinos, many of them first in their family to attend college, become leaders in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
“I think that as a young adult, we need role models. I think it’s important for me and my peers to better ourselves so later we can be mentors and role models for younger Latinos,” Monica Bautista, CHCI’s public policy fellow, said.
Bautista, fourth-generation Mexican-American, is one of 13 fellows in the 2011-2012 Public Policy Fellow programs, along with nine others who form part of the Graduate Fellows program.
These paid fellowships are offered to Latinos who have recently earned bachelor’s or graduate degrees.
Proceeds from Reyes of Comedy support these and other programs, including Ready to Lead, designed for high school students, congressional internships and scholarships.
“I really have a mission to help the awareness because I really think Latinos just suffer from an image problem. Young Latinos really need to see the image of successful Latinos in every field and education is the way to do that,” Rivera said.
The show portrayed good and bad aspect of the Latino culture, helping the audience relate to it and embrace it with a smile.
Rodriguez drew laughs by illustrating Latino parenting styles, including “the ‘chancla’ of education” (using a flip-flop to spank a child) and the “I brought you here, I’ll take you out” motto (a parental threat that because they brought children to the world they can remove them).
“Through comedy, we get to have a voice and educate people at the same time that we make them laugh. I don’t try to preach, but what I talk about, even if it gets a little bit stereotypical, it puts out a message that we are normal people,” Robles said
The conference ends Wednesday with a gala dinner at which President Barack Obama is to talk about “Renewing the American Dream” with a message about jobs, economy, health and education for the 21st century.
Editor’s note: This story was previously published on Scripps Howard Foundation Wire.