Tag: citizenship

The Paranoia Cha Cha

Recently, I wrote about the fear and loathing that many Americans have for immigrants in general and for Latino immigrants in particular.


Hispanic immigrants are, to hear some people talk, hell-bent on bringing death and destruction across the border. Well, as we all know (or should know), immigration — both legal and undocumented — is way down over the past few years. So that surge at the border is greatly exaggerated.

Furthermore, numerous studies have found that “immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.”

The nativist ignores that part about “regardless of nationality or legal status,” and says, “Well, sure. Those good immigrants from Europe and maybe India aren’t committing crimes. It’s the illegals!”

Sorry, but the data shows that while the undocumented population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent. And violent crime continues to go down across America.

In addition, a separate paper explains that it’s not “well-behaved, high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers.” The study shows that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants.” And in a stat sure to annoy conservative alarmists, this “holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

Digging deeper into the data, we find that immigrant adolescents — often portrayed in the media as a swarm of Latin King gangbangers — are in fact, “statistically less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting, selling drugs, binge drinking, carrying guns, or using marijuana and other illegal drugs” than their peers.

So if immigrants — even the undocumented Hispanic ones — aren’t committing all these crimes, who is? Or to paraphrase a not-so-wise man, “Who is doing all the raping?”

The answer seems to be, “Americans.” The immigrant boogeyman is no match for born-and-bred craziness.

Now, if we eliminate the immigrant subcategory and look at crime rates among Hispanics, we get a more nuanced picture.

A study shows that Latinos made up about 16.6 percent of all arrests, comparable to our percentage of the US population. We are sadly overrepresented in some categories (e.g., motor vehicle theft) and underrepresented in others (e.g., there are few Latino embezzlers). One stat I found interesting is that Hispanics have a very low rate of offenses against family members and children (6.2 percent of all arrests). Clearly, the legendary emphasis that Latinos place on family isn’t just talk.

In any case, one of the more disturbing aspects of the study is the following: For all the fears that white people have about being victims of crime (often at the hands of some swarthy minority), it is Hispanics who should be concerned.

For example, the homicide rate for Latinos is double the rate for white people.

And Latinos experience a higher rate of hate crime than whites or blacks. The data shows that the rate of hate crime incidents against Latinos is slightly higher than the rate for blacks. And the Hispanic rate is more than triple that of whites.

So perhaps it is we Latinos who should be saying, “Crime is out of control” and locking ourselves up in gated communities.

Hey, don’t rule it out.



A New Wave

A subtle shift is taking place. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Asians will eventually overtake Latinos as the largest source of immigration.

Yes, recent data shows that fifty years from now, “Hispanics are expected to make up 31% of immigrants. Asians, on the other hand, will outnumber Hispanics and make up 38% of immigrants.”

Wow, this is news. After all, the words “immigrant” and “Hispanic” have been interchangeable for decades now, at least in the minds of many Americans. And to be clear, Latinos are still the largest immigrant group, making up almost half (47 percent) of all immigrants in the United States.

But as we all know, immigration from Latin America has slowed in recent years. In fact, a steep decline began in 2007, mostly because the Great Recession had kicked in, and El Norte looked a lot less appealing that it had previously.

What this all means is that the percentage of new arrivals who are Hispanic is actually smaller than it was 50 years ago. Yes, despite all you’ve heard about the border being overrun, the fact is that immigration — both documented and undocumented — is down over the last decade. And in a shocker, “the percentage of the total U.S. population born outside this country was higher in 1890 than it is today.”

So what does this mean for Asians, who are the new face of immigration? Well, they appear to be in pretty good shape.

A recent poll found that “immigrants from Asia fare best when it comes to how Americans view them, with 47% seeing them in a positive light. Only 11% see Asians negatively.”

In stark contrast, “immigrants from Latin America are viewed positively by only 26% of those surveyed and are seen negatively by 37%.”

A natural question, of course, is why are Latino immigrants the object of so much loathing?

Well, there are the usual strands of xenophobia based on skin color, language, and cultural differences. But if I had to pick the biggest reason for the disgust many Americans feel for Hispanics, it is the perception, fueled by certain presidential candidates and professional buffoons, that Latinos are a pack of bloodthirsty, sociopathic criminals.

It’s what marketing pros call a branding issue.

And how bad, and ultimately misguided, is this perception?

Well, that’s a whole other post (yes, coming soon).


Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.


Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.


Teen Angst

It’s not easy being a teenager. The zits, the hormones, the awkward encounters with the opposite (or same) sex — it’s all stressful. And you can’t even buy even buy a damn beer, at least not legally, until your teen years are long over.

But if it sucks to be an adolescent, it sucks more to be an immigrant teenager in a new country. Take all the angst that faces every teen, then add language barriers, cultural confusion, discrimination, and general discombobulation. It’s not pretty, is it?

However, in a surprising conclusion, a recent study says racist acts may affect the mental health of US-born Latino teens more than teens born in Latin America. The study, by the Society for Research in Child Development, showed that US-born Latinos who faced discrimination had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

How can this be? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that immigrant teens who face bigotry would feel more alone and alienated than a kid born here?


Well, the researchers said foreign-born teens might have stronger attachments to their Latino heritage, and thus may feel less stress when discriminated against. But native-born Hispanics, who are still trying to figure out how to balance their heritage and their American tastes, are more likely to feel ostracized and betrayed by the culture in which they grew up.

The researchers point out that discrimination has damaging effects on mental health, and stress has long-term health implications for Latino teens. In this way, it supports other findings that show second-generation Hispanics often perform worse than immigrants in a number of lifestyle areas, including mental health.

So is there any good news in this depressing study? Well, the research also implies that Latino immigrants, even children, often demonstrate high levels of psychological strength and resiliency.

Basically, you can’t shut ‘em down.


Safe at Last

As you recall, the town of Murrieta, California, became the symbol of intolerance last year when throngs of protestors greeted a busload of undocumented people (many of them children).

The protestors unleashed a frenzied jingoistic display that prevented the immigrants from being processed in the town, and the bus had to turn around. Yes, it was a proud time to be an American, especially if you’re a believer in mobocracy.

mobruleIn any case, many of the protestors claimed that the recent influx of Latino immigrants had caused crime to skyrocket, and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

Well, I think we can all agree with their concern about crime, considering that recent statistics point out that Murrieta is the second-safest city in the country.

What’s that?

Apparently, all those recent Hispanic arrivals going around terrorizing everyone hasn’t had much of an effect on the place, because Murrieta has the lowest rate of assaults in the nation. The city also has the lowest rate of violent crimes among all large cities in the country. In 2013, there was a total of one murder in the city (no word on whether a Latino did it). Put it all together, and Murrieta is second only to another California city (Irvine) as the epitome of peace and tranquility.

But of course, a busload of undocumented women and children was going to turn Murrieta into Mogadishu overnight.

That was a close one.



By now, you’ve heard about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The plan could help as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. It marks a major development in the ongoing debate over immigration, and millions of Latino families could see their entire lives changed because of the decision.

Republicans, of course, are apocalyptic. It’s amnesty, or an impeachable offense, or the downfall of America, or some combination of all those things.

No, they really don’t like it.


Already, we’ve heard the GOP say how Hispanics are now going to overrun America and start ethnic cleansing. I’m not exaggerating. This GOP guy thinks it’s a possibility.

Now, I’ve addressed the countless myths, untruths, and slurs that have been hurled at undocumented people over the years. So I’m not going to get into it all over again.

Suffice to say, nobody really knows what effect this decision will have. But it is, as the kids say, a game changer. And it will have very real effects on myriad Latino households.

Of course, if we do start ethnic cleansing, just say that you’re a regular reader of mine. I’ll put in a good word for you.


Flags of Our Fathers and Mothers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ethnic authenticity and the struggle for self-identity in a post-multicultural world.

Actually, that not’s true. In reality, I’m more apt to be thinking about taking my car in for a tune-up, or the odds of the Packers winning their division, or what Kate Winslet is doing right now (probably something sexy).

But when stray thoughts about ethnic authenticity and… well, the rest of it, actually do enter my mind, I think about a recent news story that caught my eye.

Here in California, we had a brouhaha, an imbroglio if you will, when a woman posted a video of herself berating people for flying a Mexican flag in their front yard. The woman, who was running for political office, ultimately lost her day job when the video went viral.

The family with the Mexican flag explained that they were simply expressing ethnic pride and meant no disrespect to America.

amer flag

There are several things going on here. First is the fact that a jingoistic bigot thought she would impress people by posting a video of herself being a bully, and maybe win the xenophobic vote in the process. It’s a sign of progress that this backfired horribly.

Second, the incident shows that for many Latinos, maintaining ties to one’s homeland is crucial to the concept of self-identity. And this drive for ethnic authenticity can span generations.

You see, Hispanics aren’t cowering under the boot of assimilation, like they did so often in the past. Back in the day, Latinos hid evidence of their roots, or they outright disowned their ethnicity, or they did anything they could to try to bluff people into thinking they were descended from the swarthier pilgrims on the Mayflower.

But contemporary Latinos are less likely to be ashamed of who they are, and displays of ethnicity are assumed — correctly — to be a right that can’t be subjugated.

Basically, if some nut comes onto your private property and starts lecturing you on how to be a real American, you are well within your rights to tell them to fuck off.

Now that this is settled, let me get back to those thoughts of Kate Winslet…


What’s Not to Love?

So our good friend Ted Cruz is once again threatening to shut down the federal government if undocumented people are offered a path to citizenship… excuse me, I meant “amnesty.” Now, Senator Cruz is not too big on the actual facts of the debate, which is why other people tend to correct him in public.

As we all know, the deluge at the border has slowed down. We are apparently no longer being “invaded.” I, for one, am breathing multiple sighs of relief at that.

Myriad issues have yet to be resolved, of course, and the larger conundrum of immigration reform will continue to vex this country for the foreseeable future. And how one perceives the issue can, of course, vary wildly (ahem).


So I’ll just throw in one fact here, among the many stats and data points that tend to get lost in a swirl of fury and accusations.

A recent study found that, rather than leeching off the social services that America provides, immigrants have actually “helped pay the nation’s bills, at least when it comes to health care.” This is because immigrants contributed over $182 billion to Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund between 1996 and 2011.

Immigrants contributed over $11 billion more than was spent on their care. During the same time period, U.S.-born citizens sapped a $68.7 billion deficit from the fund.

Yes, if immigrants had not made these large contributions, “the trust fund would likely run out of money three years earlier than it is currently predicted to become insolvent.”

Well, thanks all you immigrants. I’m sure you’re feeling very appreciated right about now.


Lasagna and Tortillas

I’ve mentioned before that I am part Italian. My paternal grandmother came off the boat from Naples as a teenage girl in the 1920s. She settled in New York City, like many Italian immigrants did, and lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for fifty years.


In her old age, she developed a reputation as a cantankerous character who snapped at people for littering the sidewalk, often unleashing a string of Italian vulgarities and insults at them.

But that is another story.

The point is that many of my Italian grandmother’s descendents, including me, have achieved a much higher standard of living then she did. This is despite the fact that my grandmother was basically a high school dropout who spoke no English. As an Italian immigrant, she represented the fears of the established Americans, who were not terrible pleased at the new swarthy arrivals.

Yes, that sentiment sounds terribly familiar.

So it is most interesting that “a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

And that pattern is that immigrants arrive “in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English.”

From both Italian and Hispanic perspectives, this is true of me. And it is also true of my son, because “the grandchildren look ever more American.”

Of course, there is no magical guarantee that the descendants of Latino immigrants will completely close the gaps in education and income that separate Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

But it is certainly moving in that direction. For example, in the last decade the number of Latinos graduating from college has doubled. And second-generation Latino households are much closer in median income to other groups than their immigrant parents were.

The researchers conclude that the so-called Hispanic challenge is a real phenomenon. But rather than being an unprecedented cultural crisis, it is analogous to the Italian challenge, Chinese challenge, or Jewish challenge of the past.

Indeed, “over time, the specific challenges — legal, cultural and educational — have changed. Yet the core parts of the story have not, including its trajectory.”


Sucking Up All the Oxygen

The biggest story in America right now — not the biggest Latino-themed story, but the most talked-about news item, period — is the humanitarian crisis at the border. As we all know, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants — many of them children — are massed in overrun detention centers, awaiting their fate.

Meanwhile, whole towns of god-fearin’ Americans are making it clear that they don’t want no stinkin’ illegals in their neighborhood.


Yes, this is the latest, most impressive imbroglio over immigration. And in the minds of many Americans, all immigrants are undocumented, all undocumented people are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. It’s a nice little A=B=C theorem.

But the funny thing is that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million. Although “immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos…it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos.” One could argue, in fact, that “most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Pew Research says that the top issues for Hispanics are education, jobs and the economy, healthcare, the federal government debt, and (in fifth place) immigration. Even among Hispanic immigrants themselves, only one-third say immigration is an extremely important issue to them personally.

The discrepancy between immigration’s status in the media and its actual importance to the Hispanic community has provoked some Hispanic leaders to say that immigration “occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up…all the oxygen on Latino issues.”

Latino leaders say that Hispanics “need to strike a better balance” and not allow immigration to stifle “the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”

It’s a fair point. But immigration is not going away as a media hot topic anytime soon. It’s been pointed out that whether “we are talking about health care or voting rights, there are those who keep inserting immigration into the mix, whether it pertains to a particular issue or not – and normally in a detrimental way.”

And let’s not forget that the media “tends to reduce our diversity down to one issue [and] treat us all as perpetual immigrants.” 

But just you wait, someday soon a national Latino leader will be invited to a Sunday morning news program, and he or she will be asked about the deficit or the Israeli-Palestinian problem or guns in schools or whether the president should be impeached for wearing white after Labor Day or whatever.

And nobody will mention immigration. And it will be pretty cool.


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