Archive for Prejudice & Discrimination

We must stop the negative immigration rage!

e pluribus unumLatino immigrants generally come to the U.S. driven by a strong desire to provide a better life for their family. Their drive is not that different from the motivating factors that impelled the ancestors of almost everyone in this country. The strength of the immigrants’ spirit helps them combat what amounts to insurmountable odds against them. Immigrants are faced with an incredible emotional turmoil that stems from being separated from their family, friends, culture, and heritage. This separation anxiety is always difficult, and it is often hard to understand by those who have not experienced it first hand. Immigrants endure the turmoil and forge ahead in pursuit of the American Dream. For new American immigrants the anxiety feelings are compounded by the fact that the immigration laws in the U.S. no longer have an open door policy. And even when Latinos come in with a legal immigration status, they still have to endure the overwhelming negative social pressure that surrounds the subject of immigration in the 21st Century.

The pursuit of happiness and a new life in the United States has defined this country since its inception. Seeking the so called American Dream is what being American is all about. Immigration defines our American culture. It has shaped the American way of life and has created the unique diversity that is so highly cherished in the United States. Even our country’s motto, “e pluribus unum” (Out of many, one) symbolizes the importance we place in coming together from different places to form one country. Yet; immigration is no longer popular with many Americans; and the thought of people coming to the U.S. “illegally” infuriates the masses.

Latinos are often attacked just because they are perceived as criminals from an immigration standpoint. Never before in this country have immigrants who lacked the appropriate immigration documentation been commonly referred to as “illegals.” The strong feelings harbored against “illegal aliens” (a truly horrendous term) have become so pervasive that some people who are otherwise very inclusive and welcoming towards others become quickly enraged when I bring up the subject of immigration. The rage is not always rational; in fact, most of what infuriates people (like the so-called negative effect on the U.S. economy) is simply not true (see an earlier post here). But I’m not trying to generate more hate mail on this subject (I get enough of that); my intention is to show how all of the negativity surrounding immigration is really counterproductive and ends up hurting us all.

Yesterday I was driving and almost got into an accident. I became very enraged at a driver who was clearly doing something illegal. I was livid! But my thoughts against this person were irrational; in retrospect I realize that he was only trying to circumvent a truck that was blocking the intersection. If I knew the person driving that car I would not have even gotten upset. Car rage happens because it is easy to disconnect from the person driving the other car. I find that when I make eye contact with another driver they are more likely to be nice and become human again. Why am I talking about this? Because car rage creates a very serious problem on the roads; and I feel that the illegal immigration rage is often just as irrational and is creating a very serious problem in our society.

It is easy for people to believe the negative buzz regarding immigration and become enraged; but like it is with car rage, I find that people react very differently when they personally know an undocumented immigrant or family. It is easy to support immediate deportation and harsh laws against undocumented immigrants when you are not connected to them; in fact, it is easy to think of them as criminals. But it is much more difficult to do so when it affects someone who you personally know and/or care about. In my work I interview many undocumented Latinos and have heard many immigration horror stories. Try explaining to a child why their parents were taken away from him because they were here illegally. In a recent interview, a U.S. born Latino teenager with a severe medical condition told me about how his mother had to go back to Colombia. In tears he said: “I had to stay because I would die in Colombia… my mother is not a criminal, she was just trying to be here for me.” I can fill the pages of many books with similar stories. As a country we need to realize that these immigrants are no different in their motivation to be here as any other prior immigration group. If we are able to see past the immigration rage we will realize that these people are not “criminals” at all; they are hard working families trying to become American like all other immigrants did.

The negativity towards immigration, be it warranted or not, is not good for our country. It fuels segregation, racism, prejudice, and discrimination. It affects everyone and does nothing to resolve the issues at hand. Like it is with car rage, we need to take a moment to make eye contact and become human again.

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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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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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