Latinos are facing discrimination more than any other group in the United States, say the majority of Hispanic and non-Hispanic respondents in an AP-Univisión-GfK poll that examined bigotry in America, trend watchers at Iconoculture report. Sixty-one percent of poll participants state that Latinos face significant discrimination, followed by blacks and women (52 and 50 percent, respectively).
An overwhelming majority of Latinos (81 percent) report confronting some or a lot of discrimination, and the majority of non-Hispanics (59 percent) agree that this group does face some or a lot of bigotry.
Latinos living in various geographical locations responded that they face discrimination in varying degrees, with Latinos living in urban and rural areas more likely to state that they face a lot of discrimination than do those living in the suburbs.
The poll also revealed sex differences among Latinos, as women were more likely than men to state that this group struggles with prejudice.
Has bigotry directed at Latinos indeed increased over recent months, or has it merely become more obvious? Social worker Sandra Yudilevich Espinoza, PhD, LCSW, says both have occurred, and there are several factors contributing to this dynamic.
“By far the biggest contributing factor is the vitriolic nature of the immigration debate and the use of the issue to fan people’s fears about immigrants in general and Latinos in particular,” she explains. “Of course what has been happening in Arizona and in other parts of the west has not helped and has further fueled the fire against Latinos. In addition, the greater visibility of the drug wars in Mexican border states has not helped either, further fanning the flames of Latino stereotypes.”
What accounts for the differences between discrimination—real and perceived—between the sexes and location?
Espinoza says that women may be more sensitive to prejudice than men. “In my experience, Latinas are more sensitive and reactive to the issue of discrimination—and are willing to admit it and talk about it; their roles as caretakers,” she says.
“Men tend to tough it out or ignore it when they experience it—I think that many men often assume that discrimination is there and ‘so what,’” Espinoza adds.
This sensitivity may be borne out of experience, says Bernard J. Baca (www.indiana-imago.com), PhD, LCSW. “[Women] face discrimination in their native culture and are hoping to transcend that experience in the USA,” he explains. “Their aspirations are higher but they may not have immediate—and perhaps in their lifetime—opportunity to transcend any discrimination.”
Rural and urban Latinos may face more discrimination because of job competition, experts say.
“In rural areas Latinos are often working in agricultural and/or small-to-large factory settings and face hostility by the main population, many of whom are lower class or lower middle class folks who are from that rural area, who are angry with Latinos ‘taking their jobs,’” Baca says, adding that scarcity of employment is rampant in urban areas as well.
Espinoza adds that in rural and urban environments, Latino populations tend to be more noticeable, but for different reasons.
“There are larger numbers of Latinos living in urban areas concentrated in particular neighborhoods—speaking their native language, maintaining their culture and many of its customs in most cases, sending their children to school, essentially living life as best as they can given the economy,” she explains. “While there may be a smaller number of Latinos living in rural areas, they nevertheless stick out given the overall smaller size of the population—and the tendency of those populations to be more homogeneous.”
In both situations, Espinoza notes, Latinos are more visible, making them easier targets for racism, frustrations, and ignorance.
The suburban environment offers different demographics for Latinos, which accounts for lower levels of real and perceived discrimination. For example, Baca says, similar levels of education or career achievement make Latinos and whites more alike than different in some ways.
“In suburbia the folks are usually upper middle class—and so are the Latinos—with white collar jobs or technical jobs that make these folks feel superior to the lower classes and hopeful they may become upper class through perseverance and diligence,” he contends.
Many immigrants who have attained this position in American society have a less challenging time acclimating, because their backgrounds have already offered them tool that allow them to more easily assimilate.
“Often these middle class Hispanics/Latinos are from upper middle class families in their native countries in Central and South America and have lots of exposure to the American norms and mores,” Baca maintains. “So there is little disparity between whites and Latinos in this environment.”
Espinoza adds that Latinos in suburban communities are more fully integrated with their peers, making them less visible, and thereby less likely to be targets of racism. This may be due to smaller numbers of Latinos in suburbia, or, in areas where that is not the case, the greater commonality they may have with their neighbors.
“They are more integrated somehow in the communities in which they live—either through work or church, or other means,” she notes.
Espinoza adds that Latinos are more integrated than most Americans realize, no matter where they live or what they do.
“It is frustrating to know and see that, like everyone else, all that Latinos want to do is to be able to support their families, educate their children, and have decent lives—and that is why most of them come to the U.S.,” she says. “Every immigrant I have met and worked with, including my own mother, came to this country to have a better life and to be a contributing member of society—no different than anyone else who came here.”
Noting that Latinos are active in many capacities, from housecleaning to child care, to law and medical practice to the Supreme Court, Espinoza concludes,”We are you! We may speak a different language and eat different food…still, we are you.”