Archive for April, 2009

Please Stop the Senseless Mexican Discrimination!

Our poor Mexican brothers and sisters were the first to fall victim to the Swine Flu. Mexico City was not prepared; there was no alert from the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, the fatalities continue; and to add insult to injury, many in this country are taking the opportunity to blame Mexicans for the virus. I have received various emails and have seen numerous highly insulting comments on websites, articles, and blogs throughout the Internet. Here is what one ignorant poster commented as a response to commentary from an article on The Denver Post website:

I agree with your statement that their race has NOTHING to do with this. The fact that they are here illegally and eminate from a country that has now given us this deadly disease is what matters. The name of the disgusting country means nothing. The fact that our “leaders” allowed million of citizens from a swine-producing third world nation to infiltrate our country means EVERYTHING.

To make things worse on the discrimination front, the WHO has now changed the name of the virus to the Mexican Flu because “most recent research on swine flu has shown that the virus is not caused by pigs.” Many ignorant people, of course, are taking this to mean that the WHO feels it is caused by Mexicans.

The WHO name change comes after an Israeli official, Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, said at a news conference on Monday that the reference to pigs is offensive and “we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu.” This was also reported in the news yesterday morning on MSNBC. While I appreciate being cognitive of religious sensitivities, Mr. Litzman is not being sensitive to the prejudicial implications of this name change.

At a time of crisis we should be uniting as brothers and sisters in humanity and not being divisive with a foolish show of ignorance and discrimination.

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Why are there so many Americans against Latino immigration?

The U.S. Census reports that the number of American Indians or Alaska natives represents 1.5% of the total population of the United States. The other 98.5% of the American people must, by definition, be composed of immigrants or descendants of immigrants. In a country where almost everyone comes from somewhere else, why are we so insistent on restricting immigration? Who decided that the people already here “legally” are okay to stay, but anyone else does not belong? Unfortunately, most of the resistance is directed towards Latino immigration because we are the newer immigrant group; yet, if you analyze this a bit, Latinos are perhaps more entitled to this land. Please hold on the casting of stones for a minute or two.

Most of the new immigrants coming to our country are Latinos from Mexico and Central America; and most of them end up settling in the Southwest. If you take a good look at the typical Mexican or Central American immigrant you cannot help but notice that they have dark skin, dark hair, and other features that are consistent with the characteristics of the American natives. Many are, in fact, direct descendants of two great native Indian civilizations: the Aztecs and the Mayas. In addition, most of what is now the Southwest was annexed to the U.S. in the 1840s under the so called Manifest Destiny- a mistaken and now outdated belief in which the U.S. was said to be “divinely ordained” to expand its territory by taking over land. Interestingly, most of the land that was annexed under Manifest Destiny was already inhabited by the people we now call Mexicans. Why are we so perturbed today in seeing Mexicans crossing over a border that we imposed on them to reach a land that was originally theirs?

I know, I know, I’m simplifying quite a bit; but I’m just trying to make a point. In reality, the conquest of the West was much more convoluted and one can argue that we were defending Mexicans against other oppressive conquerors like Spain and France. It is also a known fact that Mexicans were on both sides of the conflict. The Battle of the Alamo, for example, was fought by Mexicans on both sides… but I digress. What I’m trying to say here is that if we study the reasons behind the strong feelings against illegal immigration with our analytical side of the brain we may conclude that the only reason why anyone in the U.S. would be opposed to immigration is because it does not make economic sense. However, many analysts have concluded that illegal immigration does not pose a negative effect on the U.S. economy.

The most respected recent studies show that most Americans would notice little difference in their paychecks if illegal immigrants suddenly disappeared from the United States. That’s because most Americans don’t directly compete with illegal immigrants for jobs. … Illegal immigrants seem to have very little impact on unemployment rates. Undocumented workers certainly do take jobs that would otherwise go to legal workers. But undocumented workers also create demand that leads to new jobs. They buy food and cars and cell phones, they get haircuts and go to restaurants. On average, there is close to no net impact on the unemployment rate. … There are places in the United States where illegal immigration has big effects (both positive and negative). But economists generally believe that when averaged over the whole economy, the effect is a small net positive. Harvard’s George Borjas says the average American’s wealth is increased by less than 1 percent because of illegal immigration. (Excerpts from Q&A: Illegal Immigrants and the U.S. Economy by Adam Davidson – NPR / http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5312900)

I propose that the negative feelings against illegal immigration have little to do with what can be surmised using our analytical brain. My contention is that these strong opinions against illegal immigration are being fueled by an emotional response to the way Latino immigration is affecting the American culture. People have difficulty coping with change and it is always hard to simply accept unsolicited change. The Latino culture has grown very rapidly and many Americans feel that their own way of life is being threatened by what foreigners are imposing. And, as I mentioned on my prior post, immigrants are no longer melting into one amalgamated pot. Ignorance regarding the Hispanic culture also results in fear, prejudice, and discrimination.

So, if you are Hispanic and people say to you “why don’t you go back to where you came from?…,” remember that they may not be rejecting you as much as they are trying to protect themselves; but then again, you may have to answer as Paul Rodriguez did in one of his stand-up comedy skits- Do you mean El Paso?

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“U.S. Hispanics need to learn to speak English!” Says who?

Many people get very upset when they hear of someone who has been in this country for years and does not speak any English; and the failure to learn English appears to be increasingly more prevalent among Hispanics. It seems to be an issue that strikes a chord with many Americans. “Why are they not making an effort to learn to speak English like all other immigrants did?” I venture to say that the main reason why many Latinos are not learning English as fast as others did before is because our society no longer requires it. That’s right; my contention is that, as a society, we give Latinos permission to keep their culture and language; and consequently, learning English becomes much more difficult than what other immigrants experienced years ago.

When other big immigration groups came into this country a few generations ago the situation was very different from what it is today. Many early immigrants made the hard decision to come to America with an understanding that they were breaking ties with their old country. Learning a new culture and a new language was not a choice. Our society was a true melting pot and immigrants were expected to fully assimilate into the American culture. They complied. Ever wonder why the children and grandchildren of the Italian immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in the late 1800s never learned how to speak Italian? These early immigrants understood the importance of becoming American in every respect; and that included speaking only English. Speaking Italian was not important; in fact, it was detrimental in a society that expected assimilation- but things have changed; and assimilation is no longer expected. We are no longer melting into one pot because we no longer believe in that antiquated idea of the melting pot.

It amazes me how the same people who are troubled when everyone around them is speaking Spanish will turn to me and remark on how “important” it is that I teach my children Spanish. “You should speak Spanish to them at home,” they will say. While I wholeheartedly agree that it is important for Latinos to teach their children how to speak Spanish, I want to emphasize that this was never important before. The American society now understands that we live in a multicultural world and that knowing more than one language is beneficial. Our society now also supports (and even exalts) diversity. It is now considered appropriate to uphold and celebrate diversity, especially when it comes to culture and ethnicity. Forcing everyone to melt into one homogeneous pot is no longer considered appropriate.

While our country was founded on the idea of diversity, the practice of diversity was never as alive as it is today. With diversity comes not only permission to speak the language of our ancestors, but also the empowerment to maintain every aspect of our ethnicity. The American society promotes this understanding at many different levels. At a commercial level Latinos see most product labels and instructions written in English and Spanish; ATM machines ask us for our language of preference; and telephone companies insist that we keep in touch with our relatives in Latin America. From a government perspective most services are also offered and/or communicated in Spanish. At a community level there are hundreds of neighborhoods across the country were everyone speaks Spanish. Can someone in one of these neighborhoods get along perfectly well without ever having to learn English? Absolutely! Our society allows it.

We cannot as a society promote diversity and the use of the Spanish language and then wonder why some Latinos are having difficulty learning English. Everyone knows that it is much easier to learn a foreign language when you live in a foreign country and are immersed in a society that only speaks that language. In our society we speak English; but we also speak Spanish. For some Latinos learning English while living in a neighborhood where everyone speaks Spanish is akin to an American student taking a foreign language in school and not grasping it because nobody around them speaks that language. We need to stop pretending that our society expects Latinos to speak English when everything is laid out to make it easy for these new immigrants not to learn the language.

NOTE: Please do not take this opinion to mean that I do not feel that Hispanics should learn the English language. I believe that speaking English in our society is extremely important and encourage everyone in our Latino community to make every effort to learn the language. Being able to speak English opens the door to a myriad of new opportunities for success and paves the way to achieving the always cherished American dream.

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How can Latinos believe in life after death and still be so afraid of death?

As I celebrated Easter today I meditated on the meaning of the resurrection. While interviewing Latinos over the years I have heard many respondents tell me about their devotion to Jesus Christ, the importance of the resurrection, and their faith in life ever after. What may not make a lot of sense at first glance is that, while Hispanics believe strongly in life after death, they also have a dumbfounding fear of death.

The fear of death is very strong in the Latino community. It is a subject that everyone loves to avoid. Yet, the Hispanic reasons for fearing death may be different from those of the general population. Latinos generally believe in life after death. The actual fear of the unknown- which is predominantly the reason why most people fear death, may be to some extent addressed in the Hispanic community by the religious beliefs Latinos hold regarding the afterlife. In fact many Latinos, especially those of Mexican origin, see the afterlife as an end to their Journey of suffering.

We know that suffering and disappointment are part of life, but they cannot destroy us. If even God suffered the crucifixion for us, there must be something good in suffering, especially in suffering for the sake of others, that we don’t fully understand. In our Latino realism, we do not go looking for suffering as if it were something desirable, but neither do we deny it or run away from it. We assume it, transcend it, and dare to celebrate life in spite of it. [Virgilio Elizondo “The Sacred Latino Experience” Americanos – Latino Life in the United States (Little, Brown and Company, 1999) p.20]

Mexicans often see death as the promise of life. In fact, the popular Mexican holiday Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of life.

In Mexico, this holiday is celebrated at night and in the cemeteries. The family of the departed makes offerings of food and drink and places the traditional flowers, marigolds, at each gravesite. During this offering the family members also offer prayers or speak to the dead. – The day of the Dead is one of the more mystical Hispanic celebrations, and it can be the most fulfilling. It represents a clash of pagan and Christian beliefs, but its message of death as a continuance, not an end, can be uplifting. [Valerie Menard “The Latino Holiday Book” (Marlowe & Company, 2000) pp.110-111]

The subject of death is also addressed by religion in other Latino subgroups. In the book Transitional Villagers [Peggy Levitt “God Is Everywhere- Religious Life Across Borders” (University of California Press, 2001) p.159] the author relates the story of the Dominican immigration to Boston and the Latino strife to maintain their religious beliefs. “Death is viewed as a transition to another place where the deceased, who is present in a different form, can be visited, consulted, and petitioned.” She goes on to say that the inability of Dominican immigrants to visit their diseased relatives at the cemetery in their homeland makes dealing with death much more difficult.

Latinos generally do not fear death because of the unknown. The Latino fear of death includes other areas like:

  1. The fear of not accomplishing the person’s life mission.
    In research I have conducted on this subject Latinos appear to regard death as the ultimate deadline. They see themselves as being placed on earth for a reason, and see their death as the ultimate deadline before which they need to get their life’s purpose accomplished. Religion also plays a large part on this fear. If God brought them to earth with a mission, and they procrastinate or somehow get derailed in doing whatever it is that they feel they are here to accomplish, what will happen when they have to face God?
  2. The physical and emotional suffering one may have to endure as death approaches.
    Latinos also worry about how much they may have to suffer with a terminal illness, accident, or other condition leading to their death. Many Latinos, however, view suffering as a necessary evil and mainly worry about how their suffering will affect their family (see below).
  3. The effect that death may have on the individual’s family and loved ones.
    Most Latinos worry the most about being responsible for the suffering of their loved ones. Their own suffering could be justified as the road to salvation, but in their view they cannot justify inflicting suffering on others. They constantly worry about how their death will affect their family.

In my research I have also learned that moving away from a religion that is largely centered on suffering presents an interesting conundrum for Latinos. In their upbringing they learned that salvation is reached through suffering, yet in the American society they are learning that it is not necessary to suffer. In fact, many Latinos came to the US looking for the American dream- a dream that has little to do with suffering or with life after death. Searching for heaven on earth and striving to reach eternal life are not compatible goals for many Hispanics. Their ingrained religious beliefs from generations ago still linger. In the minds of many Latinos, not suffering in this journey may compromise the hereafter. At that point, the fear of the unknown resurfaces. Generally, however, Latinos can believe in life after death and still fear death because the fears are not usually based on a fear of the unknown.

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Why do most Hispanics stay poor?

At our LinkedIn group discussion a member expressed his disagreement with my ealier post Latinos Are Too Focused on Material Success stating that “the numbers do not show it.”  That is true.  Interestingly, I just came across an article I wrote for Quirks Magazine, which was published in April, 1998.  Eleven years later some of what I wrote there still applies.  Here is a segment of the article pertaining to why Hispanics stay poor.  For the whole article please go here.


The U.S. is the land of opportunity. Over the years, immigrants from all over the world have come to this country and managed to work hard to improve their economic situation. What is different about the Hispanic immigrants? To answer that question, you have to take into account the fact that the times have changed. Today ’s immigrants do not arrive here by breaking all ties with their homelands. While just a century ago people would take a long boat trip across the Atlantic to get to this country, today’s immigrants can move here overnight and go back to visit the following week. They never have to lose touch. From the airlines to the telephone to the television and even the Internet, new immigrants can keep in touch with their homeland.

Even in this country, the Hispanic community keeps in touch by creating its own home away from home. Hispanics have Spanish television, can read most product labels in Spanish, can easily purchase their favorite ethnic food at the local supermarket or bodega, and can socialize with others who speak their language and share their culture. This is indeed very different from the old melting pot culture where immigrants forced their children to forget their mother tongue and become part of the new culture. Hispanics place a high value on being able to maintain their customs, language, and culture. The U.S. freedom allows it, and it is indeed attractive. Yet, I argue that not “melting into the pot” creates a difficult situation that leads to lower income.

By insisting on being “different,” Latinos are promoting discrimination. When Puerto Ricans wear their flag on everything from their cars to their T-shirts, they are making a statement that says, “I am proud of my heritage,” but it is often read as “I am not part of this country.” That leads to a common reaction: “Well, get the heck out!” which is also known as discrimination. Discrimination often leads to a lower income. This is especially true of Hispanic communities that consist of individuals with minimal education and labor skills. These communities depend on the jobs provided by members of an outside community. The number of Hispanic businesses that provide job opportunities to their own community is extremely low, compared to other ethnic groups like Asian Americans. There are exceptions. One, of course, is the Cuban community in Miami, whose Hispanic-owned businesses hire four times as many people than Hispanic- owned businesses in New York City.

Besides discrimination, there are other factors that affect income. To keep their culture, Hispanics often move near other Hispanics in typical Latino neighborhoods. Some of these neighborhoods have deteriorated — victims of crime and drug problems. To complicate matters, public education systems in many Latino neighborhoods are overcrowded and underfinanced. As a result, Hispanic young people are not receiving an equal education. Since English is not the language of choice in most Hispanic neighborhoods, and the schools are not adequate, many Latinos are not proficient enough in English to obtain decent employment. What is worse, because Spanish is not taught in school, many Hispanic Americans grow up not knowing how to read and write in Spanish.

Despite my contention that Latinos would be better off financially if they tried to blend into the American culture, I don ’ t agree with that approach. Looking at the situation from an economic standpoint you must give value to the desire of Hispanics to keep their customs, language and culture. I argue that this value is so high that it justifies whatever negative effects may occur — discrimination, lower income, or even bad neighborhoods. Since the Hispanic population continues to grow at a higher rate than any other minority group, these problems will eventually disappear. Even today, Spanish culture is quickly becoming ingrained into the American culture. Tacos are now as popular as hot dogs and hamburgers in the typical American diet, and Spanish words are becoming part of the American language — ¿Comprende?

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The Other Side of Machismo

 If you are not Hispanic or are not enthralled with the Latino culture you may think that the concept of Machismo is an American stereotype of the quintessential Latino man.  There are many misconceptions regarding Latinos; but the concept of Machismo is definitely not mistaken- it is real!  There are, however, many different ways to describe Machismo.  To many Latinos it is simply the belief that a real man needs to strive to be the most manly he can possibly be.  The word machismo comes from the word “macho” or male; and it is often defined as exaggerated manliness.  In Latin America it is common for “the man of the house” to be portrayed as the master of his domain.  Latinas do not disagree; because in the traditional Latino family the man is supposed to be in charge.  A Latina wife wants her husband to be also seen by others in the community as manly.  As a result, most Latinas that I interview say that their husband is the head of their household.  Further probing often paints a different picture; but the pretension is always to uphold the male’s position of dominance.

There is a fine line between Machismo and male chauvinism.  One thing is to pretend that the man is always in charge; while a very different situation is to actually have a man dominating a woman.  In my interviews with Hispanics I have witnessed many instances of Machismo crossing over to the realm of chauvinism; but those cases exists across all cultures.  The Machismo that I feel is unique to the Latino community is the cultural acceptance of the pretension by both males and females that the man is actually in charge.  This charade goes on in the U.S. Hispanic community despite the fact that Latinas in this country have managed to move away from the cultural tendencies of Marianismo(1).  Why then do we continue to ensure that machismo stays alive by exaggerating the male manliness in the Hispanic behavior?

I have a theory.  We rely on Machismo because we (Latino men) are too emotional.  Being emotional is not considered a particularly manly characteristic.  The fact that Hispanic men are emotional is no secret; it has been very well documented and is often portrayed in the media as a typical Latino male point of difference from non-Hispanic men.  In fact, just yesterday I was watching the movie Spy Kids with my daughter and was reminded of how far Hollywood has gone in substantiating the fact that Latino men cry.   At the climatic conclusion of the movie, the father character (played by Antonio Banderas) meets his long lost brother- a rough macho man played by Danny Trejo.  In the exchange Danny’s character sheds a tear, at which point the brother comments in a comical fashion “Latinos!”  I laughed at that when I saw the movie for the first time in the theater, and I laughed again yesterday.  How true!

I remember my father telling me as a child not to cry because “men do not cry.”  Men may not cry in other cultures; but Latino men have trouble separating themselves from those darn Latino emotions.  My father was not one to preach about not crying, because he would get emotional with something as mundane as watching a parade!  But he countered his emotional nature with a good dose of Machismo; and I think we all do to an extend.  This is especially the case here in the U.S. where many men are not as emotional by nature and would perceive an emotional tear as male weakness or even sissyness.   So, what do we do?  We step up the Machismo a couple of notches!

There is another trick that we use to counter the portrayal of being sissy.  Being emotional is a quality more often associated with females; which is why emotional men can be seen as being effeminate.  The best way to battle that position and show our manliness is to demonstrate that we are better at getting the attention of the girls.  A womanizer is not a sissy; and Giacomo Casanova himself was known to win the women’s affection by using his emotional nature.  So, if our Machismo is not convincing enough we can always fall back on positioning ourselves as the Latin Lovers!

  1. Traditional Latina roles dictate that females are supposed to live as a martyr in order to satisfy the needs of their family.  This cultural trait is also traced to the Hispanic religious background that is heavily rooted in Catholicism.  Some have referred to this tendency of self-sacrifice as Marianismo (after the Virgin Mary).   Marianismo is considered the female counterpart to Machismo.  (Stevens, Evelyn P. “Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo in Latin America,” Wilmington: Jaguar books on Latin America ; no. 7, 1994)

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Latinos are too focused on material success

Over the past 25 years I have spoken to thousands of Latinos. As a professional interviewer specializing in the U.S. Hispanic market, my job is to ask questions and to listen carefully. I have heard Latinos speak of their dreams and aspirations. Some have related stories of how they grew up in this country; often struggling to fit in. Others have spoken of what motivated their migration from Latin America; and of the difficulties, frustrations, and obstacles encountered in their quest to achieve that elusive “American Dream.” The majority does not feel accomplished. Why? The sad reality is that most Latinos, and especially new Latino immigrants, are bound to have a hard time achieving their dreams because they are often too focused on achieving financial success.

Hispanic immigrants work very hard to succeed in their pecuniary dream quest. To “make it here” is very important to U.S. Latinos. Many came to the U.S. leaving behind their family, their friends, their land, and their culture. Coming here was a sacrifice. They endured that sacrifice in order to financially live a better life and, most importantly, to provide a better life for their children. In fact, most often when Latino parents are asked about their personal goals and ambitions they answer by saying that everything they do is for the purpose of providing a better life for their children. This tendency of self-sacrifice is especially prevalent in the Hispanic female.

While Hispanics work very hard to achieve their American dream, many find it very difficult on their families. In many cases, it is the Latino male who arrives in the U.S. first. Their original thinking is to make enough money to return to their families. As time goes on, many men find it more feasible to bring their family to the U.S., while they continue their pursuit for financial independence. Even at this stage, many new immigrants continue with their plan of making enough money to return to their homeland. The reality, however, is that most immigrants end up staying. Once they live in this country for a few years, they start to release those bonds with their country of origin by strengthening ties with a new homeland. These new ties become stronger when new immigrants have children born in the U.S. The parents decide to stay for the sake of their children.

Latinos try to succeed by working very hard. The men often have two jobs and find it difficult to spend quality time with their families. They often leave most of the child rearing responsibilities to their wives. While the traditional Hispanic mother always stayed at home and contentedly bore most of these responsibilities, the new Latina immigrant finds herself with very little time to raise her children. Latinas often complain that life in the U.S. is too fast and stressful, and that they lack the large support network of family and friends that exists in their homeland. They also see themselves forced to work out of the house, or motivated by the American culture to pursue a career of their own. In trying to do it all, their children end up suffering. The parents cannot do it all and supervise the children appropriately.

The lack of parental supervision is a growing concern in the Hispanic community. There are many two-income and single parent households. These families often have difficulty supervising their children after school. Additionally, tired parent who are franticly fixing dinner at night and preparing for the next day may not be taking enough time out to inquire about their children’s activities and/or school issues. These Latino families lack the support offered by extended family members in their country of origin. Back “home” there was always a relative willing to assume the parental responsibilities if needed.

To make things worse, many new Latino immigrants relocate to urban neighborhoods in big cities where crime, drugs, and other negative societal influences abound. In their country of origin Latinos often lived in smaller towns where everyone knew everybody else. Their children were protected there because everyone kept an eye on them. If your child got in trouble, the story would get to you through the Latino grapevine. I have heard many Hispanics tell me that they were devastated when they found out that their child was into drugs or involved in gang activities because they “had no idea.” Many blame the American society for their children’s problems and do not see themselves being at all responsible.

The problem is that it is not in the true Latino nature to place all of their life emphasis on financial success. In fact, when I ask Hispanics about the most important things in life, they are likely to mention God, family, and health. It is rare when a Latino says that money is the most important thing in life. What is ironic is that most Latinos seek financial success to be able to provide a better life for their children; and in doing so they end up placing their children in danger. At the end, most Latinos agree that success is not measured by material possessions; many prefer to measure success by the legacy they leave to their children. A legacy that is not necessarily a financial inheritance; but rather an appropriate upbringing based on respect, good morals, and proper values.

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