Latino News and Opinion

Good immigrant, bad immigrant
Por Editorial   
14:40 | 08/23/12
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According to a recent study on U.S. perceptions, immigrants from Latin America are the worst.

The Internet is abuzz with the findings from a recent University of Cincinnati study which takes a look at stereotypes about immigrants from four global regions. The study reveals, according to its researchers, that American stereotypes about Latin American immigrants are unrelentingly negative, and beliefs about them are strongly tied to the perceived deleterious impact immigrants have on the U.S. quality of life. 

The study asked respondents in Ohio — a region with a relatively small percentage of foreign-born population — to evaluate Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Latin American immigrants according to this criteria: Rich or poor; intelligent or unintelligent; self-sufficient or dependent on government assistance; trying to fit in or keeping separate from Americans; violent or nonviolent. 

Latin American immigrants rated at the bottom in all. We’re tied with Middle Eastern immigrants in terms of being viewed as the most violent and not wanting to fit in; and we’re perceived as being the poorest, the most likely to be on the dole and the stupidest. 

European immigrants — no surprise here — were judged to fit in better, and Asians were viewed more positively than any other group. 

Respondents in the study were also asked to respond to the likelihood that immigrants had an impact on the following: higher levels of unemployment; lower quality schools; difficulty keeping the country united; higher levels of crime; terrorist attacks in the U.S. 

According to the researchers, respondents of the study did not link their beliefs about the traits of Asian, Middle Eastern or European immigrants to their views on the impact of immigration. Stereotypes of Latin American immigrants, however, are “large and robust, especially regarding attitudes about the impact of immigration on unemployment, school quality and crime,” according to researchers.

Some who have written about the study have pointed to the connection with entertainment industry portrayals and there is validity to this claim. Nearly every time a Latino is shown on a mainstream TV show or movie it seems it is in the role of maid, landscaper, undocumented worker, drug dealer, gang member or appallingly stupid trophy wife. This is how a large swath of homogeneous middle America feels they know us. 

Others have laid the blame squarely on the news media, alleging — not without merit — that the vast majority of stories that make headlines involve unauthorized immigration, or cartel violence, or some other image that reinforces the stereotypes the study points out. 

What the University of Cincinnati study points out is stark and simple: many Americans don’t know us, and don’t think they want to know us.

To them, Latino is synonymous with undocumented. State governments wage wars of attrition against us, and the federal government deports us in record numbers. The Republican Party shores up its platform planks against us (as Kris Kobach reportedly has done in advance of the Republican National Convention this coming week), and “illegal” has become an epithet applied indiscriminately.

Even when we’re uncontestably documented, our public figures and role models are criticized for not being up to standard. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, for example, has been characterized as less intellectually rigorous than her colleagues during her confirmation hearings. And even Sen. Marco Rubio — long spoken about as a possible vice-presidential pick by Mitt Romney — was drawn as a more-flash-than-substance candidate by academics tracking the race.

There is no quick fix to the stereotypes people have about us — only hard work to refute them. We cannot cede our voice in this — we have to tell the stories about Latinos that those study respondents need to hear. 

And we have to vociferously call out the criticisms that rest not on actual actions or accomplishments but on assertions of second-class brains and first-class inadequacy. 

We have to. Because as the study makes abundantly clear, no one is going to give us the benefit of the doubt otherwise.

 

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