An X to Grind : No, they all don’t watch ‘Melrose Place’ and whine about their lot in life. Those who don’t fit the Gen X stereotype want us to know that they’re up to facing any challenge.


Lydia Ramos, 24, sips mango tea while she chats about her active life--one with no time for slacking.

She works full time at USC as a high school recruiter. On Sundays she teaches at an East Los Angeles church. In the evenings she researches her idea for a consulting business. While driving around town, she soaks in audio books, not Pearl Jam.

Clearly, Ramos--surrounded by other twentysomethings one recent evening at Downtown’s trendy Cafe Troy--is not your aimless and angry Generation X clone.


Yes, she has read Douglas Coupland’s novel “Generation X” (St. Martin’s Press, 1991), in which he coined the term to describe 46 million Americans between 18 and 29 as generally blase and bitter over problems--AIDS, the national debt, pollution, a jobless economy and the meaninglessness of marriage--created or made worse by their predecessors, some 72 million baby boomers.

But when it comes to talkin’ ‘bout her generation, Ramos is no whiner.

She just doesn’t relate to the McMarketing moniker that has lumped her with a pouting bunch depicted as over-educated, under-motivated elitists hooked on “Melrose Place.”

And she has plenty of post-boomer company ready to wage a war against the tag and its implications, which they agree do not entirely represent their generation.

Many already consider the term “Generation X” passe, but they must battle other downbeat labels: Slackers, Numb and Dumb, the Doofus Generation, the Lost Generation, the Motorbooty Generation, the New Petulants, the Posties, Baby Busters, Baby Bummers, Twentynothings and Thirteeners--because they are supposedly the 13th generation to come of age in America.

Indeed, they have an X to grind--and the backlash has begun:

* The term “Generation X” is a turn-off to most who would qualify as members, according to a recent MTV poll.

* Twenty Twenty Insight, a newsletter that provides marketing reports on people in their 20s, advises businesses to “lose the X unless, of course, you’re referring to Malcolm, Madame, Racer or the Planet” and to treat these millions of consumers as individuals.


* According to the “Bellwether Generation,” a national study conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, “cynical, aimless twentysomethings are not at all the dominating segment of this group.”

* In Washington, two social-activist groups--Lead or Leave, started in 1992, and Third Millennium, formed a year later--have set out to give their generation a better image through political activism and community-based projects.

* And books such as “The Twentysomething American Dream,” (Dutton, 1993); “13th Gen” (Vintage, 1993), and the upcoming “Generation Ecch!” (Fireside, 1994) also focus on the flip side of the movement by countering some of the stereotypes about the generation.

Michael Lee Cohen, a 28-year-old Dallas lawyer and author of “The Twentysomething American Dream,” said he’s had it with the zings.

Two years ago--after reading articles and watching TV programs that clumped him and his friends in the same Gen X lot as the audience that worships Beavis and Butt-head--Cohen set out to see for himself “if my generation was really that bad.”

With a Harvard fellowship after graduating from Harvard Law School, he trekked across 51 cities and interviewed 161 twentysomethings of various racial and economic backgrounds.


“Most of us are striving to carve out a life for ourselves in the face of scary obstacles,” he said about the experience. “We’re apolitical but not apathetic.”

He says the people he interviewed rejected greed.

“They just want material comfort, if not prosperity. They don’t want to be homeless or hungry.”


Sure, he said, he heard from “wary, distrustful and worried” twentysomethings, cynical about organized politics, religion and institutions. But the cynicism he encountered “seems to be partly an unexpressed idealism. We seem to be waiting--not only for a hero, but for a mission.”

For now, his mission is to help set the record straight. He said in the last several years the media, marketers, sociologists and pundits have bashed and disparaged his generation--and the jig is up.

“We have been over-generalized as oversexed and overdosed with overstated lives,” he said, adding that efforts to define today’s young adults “have excluded the majority of the nation’s twentysomething generation,” including 76% of the generation who never attended or completed college.

“And what about the people who weren’t born into affluent families?” he asked. “They are a part of the twentysomething generation” that has virtually been ignored.


Cohen said most of his generation’s bashing “comes from the age-old tradition of older generations viewing the generations coming up behind them as the worst horde of ingrates since the vandals sacked Rome.”


Camille Mosley, 23, of Los Angeles, said baby boomers have “made statements to set up Generation X for failure.”

“They don’t give us a lot of credit for the ideas and the creativity that we have. We are very bright and capable, and we have been prejudged unfairly,” she said, even though she doesn’t entirely feel a part of the movement.

“Being African American--and because of my culture--it’s a little bit different for me,” she said. “I think that there’s pressure on me--either put on myself or from cultural consciousness--to do just as well or better than what my parents did so that my children can do just as much for their children.

“Now that I am on my own, I am realizing the things that I need to take care of. I need health and car insurance, stuff that my parents always took care of. Some of us haven’t really had to struggle and suffer, and I think that’s why people really think that we’re the Lost Generation and that we’re just out of it.

“But, I do have a sense of responsibility as an African American woman, not as a Gen Xer.”

Andrew Barrett, 24, also of Los Angeles, said: “Everyone is typecasting us as white rich kids raised on the Brady Bunch. I’m white but I’m not rich. I worked my way through college.”


Barrett, a registered nurse, said he disagrees with the common wisdom about his generation: grunge-attired gripers who hang out in coffeehouses complaining about being overqualified for jobs and out of work.

“That’s not my reality. I don’t even like coffee,” he said.


Vi D. To, a 22-year-old Loyola Marymount senior from Los Angeles, says his identity is with the immigrant generation, not Gen X.

Born in Vietnam to Chinese parents, he was 8 when his family immigrated to the United States.

“I am very different from the mainstream Gen Xer,” To said. “I come from a history of struggle. My parents sacrificed and risked their very lives to bring us over here for better opportunities.

“I feel that it is part of my responsibility to my parents to be successful and to live up to the American dream, to find my own identity and contribute to a better society.”

He said that as a member of the under-30 generation, it’s up to him and others to seek challenges, not run away from them.


“But when my generation is faced with those challenges, the media portrays us as losers turning to raves, drinking and doing drugs,” he said, adding that’s simply not true of all members of his generation.

“The generation I’m reading about seems like a group of upper-middle class people coming out of college without real drive and motivation, without a real experience of need.”

To said he long ago “moved away from the materialistic, money-hungry ideology” and is into his culture and community. He counsels minority students and is the director of Special Games, a competitive sports event for physically and mentally disabled people.

He’s not held back by a sense of futurelessness; he hopes to work as a public administrator, focusing on race relation programs.

He does, however, cringe at the term “Gen X,” which he says should be replaced.

His suggestion?

Generation Next , because it will be up to my generation to tackle the problems the boomers have left us with. We’re at the beginning of a time filled with change and confusion,” he said.

“Sure, there are those who are disenchanted and disgruntled. I don’t doubt that. But that’s not the whole picture. We are a diverse generation, but somewhere in the Gen X movement, those diverse voices have been ignored. Finally, there are a lot of us who are saying, ‘Hey, we gotta wake up.’ ”



Helping to sound that wake-up call is Ruben Navarette Jr., a 27-year-old 1990 Harvard graduate and co-host of a new, nightly talk radio program on KMPC (710-AM), directed at listeners in their 20s.

Navarette--along with his co-host, Tavis Smiley, a 29-year-old African American--say they are flooded with calls from articulate listeners who are media-literate and do not wish to follow the norm.

“After the third night on the air we stopped using the Gen X term because our listeners didn’t want it,” Navarette said, adding that he and Smiley soon christened their show with the catch-phrase, “A New Generation Talks Back.”

The author of “A Darker Shade of Crimson: Odyssey of a Harvard Chicano” (Bantam, 1993), Navarette said Latino voices and those of other ethnic minority twentysomethings have been lost in the sound bites of a generation “that is still pretty much from the white male perspective.”

For that reason and others--especially whenever he’s put-down as a slacker--”I fight back with everything I’ve got.”

Granted, Navarette said he’s known for being non-deferential and “in your face.” But if he wasn’t, he said, he’d be accused of “having nothing, as a twentysomething, to offer to society.”


“I’ll take a risk because I’m from a generation that doesn’t believe in pampering. We are the first generation where women took pills not to have us. We were latchkey kids. We grew up hard and we grew up fast.”

And now, Navarette said, his struggling, ambitious generation has “this huge rap against us that we are dumb, dangerous, disappointing--the three Ds--when in fact our generation is more well-educated than any previous generation.”


Henry Rincon, a 25-year-old UCLA graduate and Bank of America accountant, said if he must align himself with a generational handle, he’d rather go with Generation Mex.

“My identity is with my family and my culture,” said Rincon, who lives on his own in East Los Angeles, buys his own groceries and pays his own bills, none of which include credit card debts.

He praises his parents--married for almost 44 years--for “giving me good family values, especially in respecting the work ethic.”

“My parents didn’t raise me to be a bum,” added Rincon, who is a mentor to middle-school students in East Los Angeles and one day hopes to enter politics “to help my barrio progress.”


“It’s up to us who don’t fit the Generation X mold to break it, to trash the stereotype,” Rincon said. “I don’t watch Beavis and Butt-head. I don’t live at home. And I expect to have a better life than my parents because they struggled so that I would.”

Added Lydia Ramos: “I’ve heard that our generation doesn’t know what it wants, but we want it right away. . . .

“I know we’re an antsy generation. But what generation wasn’t? What generation didn’t get a bad rap? There will never be a word that can truly capture all 40 million of us because we are everything.”