Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Americans in the United States
Latin America is generally considered to comprise all of the politically independent territory of the Western Hemisphere outside of Canada and the United States, that was originally colonized by the Spaniards or Portuguese. “Latino” is the umbrella term for people of Latin American descent that in recent years has supplanted the more imprecise and bureaucratic designation “Hispanic”. Latin America as represented in the popular culture of the United States invokes poverty, a rural environment, shantytowns, exotic indigenous, economic and technological backwardness, the Catholic religion's governance of every aspect of life, personality cult, dictatorship, authoritarianism, corruption and disorganization, machismo, violence in the streets, drug trafficking, and revolutionary movements. Part of the mystery and difficulty of comprehension lies in the fact that the territory we call Latin America is homogeneous neither in natural nor in cultural characteristics. Latin American stereotypes have the greatest impact on public perceptions and that Latin Americans were the most negatively rated on several characteristics. Americans’ perceptions of the characteristics of Latin American immigrants in particular are strongly linked to their beliefs about the impact of immigration, especially on unemployment, schools and crime.
- 1 Portrayal in Film and Television
- 2 Stereotypes in News Media
- 3 Hispanics and Crime in the U.S.
- 4 Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Men
- 5 Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latina Women
- 6 Inaccuracies of These Stereotypes
- 7 Impact of These Stereotypes on the Hispanic Community
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
Portrayal in Film and Television
Lack of Representation
When discussing how Hispanic and Latino individuals are represented in television and film media, it is also important to acknowledge their vast under representation in popular programming. Not only are these individuals often stereotyped on TV, but they are rarely even seen. Latino Americans represent approximately 13% of the American population, but only 0.6 to 6.5% of all primetime program characters, 1% of television families, and less than 4.5% of commercial actors. This poses the issue that Hispanic and Latino characters are not only rarely seen, but when they are, they are more than likely to be stereotyped. In the unlikely case where they are depicted, they are more likely to be limited to stereotypic characters, usually negatively.
Stereotypical representation of Hispanic and Latino characters are typically negatively presented and attack the entire ethnic group’s morality, work ethic, intelligence, or dignity. Even in non-fiction media, such as news outlets, Hispanics are usually reported on in crime, immigration, or drug related stories than accomplishments. These stereotypes can also differ between men and women. Hispanic or Latino men are more likely to be stereotyped as unintelligent, comedic, aggressive, sexual, and unprofessional, earning them titles as “Latin lovers,” buffoons, or criminals. This often results in these individuals being characterized as working less respectable careers, being involved in crimes (often drug related), or being uneducated immigrants. Hispanic/Latino characters are more likely than white characters to possess lower status occupations, such as domestic workers, or be involved in drug related crimes. Hispanic and Latina women, similarly, are typically portrayed as lazy, verbally aggressive, and lacking work ethic. These stereotypes are seen in characters like George Lopez, who lacks higher education and is written around humor, and Sofia Vergara, who is portrayed as an immigrant woman marrying a rich man, and is often mocked for her loud and aggressive voice and accent.
Resulting Perspectives in the Real World
According to Qingwen, “the impact of television portrayals of minorities is significant because of the ability of television images to activate racial stereotypes and the power exerted by visual images”. White Americans who lack real life contact with Hispanic or Latino individuals are forced to rely heavily on television and film, their only source of exposure to this ethnic group, as the foundation of perceiving Hispanic and Latino individuals. If nearly all of the few representations of these individuals are negatively stereotyped, white individuals are likely to carry this perception into real life, embedding that stereotypical image of Hispanic and Latino individuals into their conscience. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory gives insight into how these stereotypical character representations are carried into the real world, pointing to the way in which individuals perceptions are limited to what they have experienced. Those who lack real life contact with the stereotyped individuals are unable to counter the television portrayals of this ethnic group with a more realistic, less negative image.
Stereotypes in News Media
Between the years 2001 and 2010, the Hispanic population increased significantly within the U.S., marking Hispanics as the largest minority in California. As the Hispanic population increased throughout the U.S., the news media began negatively framing Hispanics as criminals, illegal immigrants, dangerous and violent; thus further perpetuating prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes of Hispanics.
- “Research shows that on English-language news media networks, during the 1990s, negative attitudes started to arise against Hispanics-and-Latinos. This began after voters approved California Proposition 187 in 1994.” 
The California Proposition 187 was a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California. This proposition began a spur of negative images and claims associated with Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S.
Negative news media portrayals in addition to Prop 187 affected the Hispanic community greatly— limiting employment opportunities, increasing maltreatment within the criminal justice system, and perpetuating victimization through violent hate crimes against Latinos. Studies show that from 2003 to 2007, the violent hate crimes against Latinos have risen 40%.
Instead of focusing on positive attributes related to Hispanics and Latinos, news media content focused mainly on stereotypes and misjudgments when addressing the population. As a result, news media programs helped build a “semantic meaning of the Hispanic-and-Latino identity as a metonym for illegal immigration.”
- “This discourse consists of promoting the idea that crime and undocumented immigrants, and the costs of illegal immigration in social services and taxes directly result from the increase of Hispanics-and-Latinos in the United States.”
News media portrayed Hispanics as the enemy, consistently labeling them as illegal immigrants and violent criminals without statistics or facts to support their claims. A 2002 study conducted by Chiricos and Escholz examined race and news media content and investigated how news media content primes the local public’s fear of crime.
- “The findings suggested fear of crime forms part of a new ‘modem racism’; that is, that local television news may contribute to the social construction of threat in relation to both minorities; television over-represents African Americans and Hispanics in crime news in relation to their share of the general population.” 
Another study conducted by Waldman and colleagues analyzed three cable commentators: Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck and their discussion of illegal immigration. These results concluded that 70% of the Lou Dobbs Tonight episodes in 2007 contained discussion of illegal immigration, 56% of the O’Reilly Factor episodes in 2007 discussed illegal immigration and Glenn Beck discussed illegal immigration in 28% of his year 2007 programs. As a result of popular shows labeling Hispanics as "illegal immigrants" and often portraying Hispanics in a negative light, these programs gave anti-immigration activists a platform for discrimination.
In attempt to verify the accuracy of stereotypes held against Hispanics and Latinos, studies conducted at Harvard and Michigan showed that undocumented and foreign-born immigrants were far less likely to commit acts of deviance, crime, drunk driving, or any kind of action that may jeopardize U.S. denizens’ well-being. In addition, the study found that the incarceration rate of foreign-born denizens is five times less the rate of native born citizens.
News Media during the 2000s greatly enhanced negative stereotypes associated with Hispanics and Latinos, further perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric and opinions throughout the nation. In the early 2000s, many news media programs portrayed unfair and inaccurate stereotypes of Hispanics due mainly to their high immigration rate during the time.
Hispanics and Crime in the U.S.
According to several scholars, the stereotypes of Hispanics are similar to the ones associated with African Americans. Often characterized as being dangerous, drug traffickers, drug users, violent, and gang bangers, Hispanics are subjected to much stereotyping within the U.S. in relation to crime, especially by their white counterparts.
Particularly in the Southwest, or areas with higher populations of immigrants from Mexico, Central America or South America, people tend to stereotype Hispanics and Latinos more often, labeling them as criminals. They tend to stereotype Hispanics as dangerous, as a threat to the public, and more likely to commit a crime than are other races. As a result, people living in these high-immigrant populated areas are more likely to favor harsh crime control policies regardless if the immigrants are ethnically Hispanic. Many of these individuals incorrectly believe that Hispanic immigrants commit a disproportionate amount of crime. This stereotype was used as support during the 2010 debates for immigration reform in Arizona.
A study conducted by four sociology professors found that individuals who typify criminals as disproportionately Hispanic are more supportive of punitive crime control policies. This means that those who associate Hispanics and Latinos with violent crimes and other injustices are more likely to support disciplinary crime control policies. This stems from the negative stereotypes associated with Hispanics, making them out to be more violent and likely to commit crimes. In effect, this singles out Hispanics and Latinos, grouping millions of individuals into one category.
In a survey measuring violent crime reports in major U.S. cities like Chicago and New York City, the numbers reveal that blacks were most likely to both commit a crime and be targeted for committing a crime, with Hispanics and Latinos falling shortly behind in numbers.
Statistics on Hispanics and Crime
- In a 2011 report called “Criminal Alien Statistics,” the Government Accountability Office studied the 249,000 illegal aliens for whom SCAAP funds were paid in 2009. The study found that this group had collectively been arrested a total of 1.7 million times — an average of roughly seven arrests per illegal alien inmate — and had been charged with 2.9 million separate offenses, or roughly 12 offenses each.
- From 2002 to 2013, Hispanic victimizations rose by 25.6 percent. During this time, the Hispanic population age 12 and over, grew 48.6 percent in the U.S., while the corresponding white population grew by only 1.6 percent.
- In 2002, whites were 9% more likely to be victims of a crime than Hispanics. By 2013, the white victimization rate dropped 10.5% lower than the Hispanic victimization rate, possibly due to the illegal immigration of Hispanics.
- In 2014 in New York City, a Hispanic was 12.4 times more likely than a white to be arrested for murder.
- In 2014 in New York city, a Hispanic was 23.6 times more likely than a white to be arrested for shooting a bullet and hitting someone.
- In 2015, a Hispanic person was 1.21 times more likely than a white person to be shot and killed by the police.
- In 2015, there were 990 reported cases of individuals fatally shot by police in the U.S. Out of the 990 individuals, 17.4% (172 people) were Hispanic.
Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Men
The Cholo or Criminal
A very common stereotype of Hispanic/Latino males is that of the criminal, gang member, or "cholo". It is connected to the false idea of Hispanics/Latinos being lower class and living in dangerous neighborhoods that breed this attitude of "cholo". Cholo and chola are terms often used in the United States to denote members of the Chicano gang subculture. These individuals are characterized by a defiant street attitude, a distinctive dress style, and the use of caló, slang, speech. In the United States, the term cholo often implies a negative connotation and consequently tends to be imposed upon a group of people rather than being used as a means of self-identification. This leads to considerable ambiguity in the particulars of its definition. In its most basic usage, it always refers to a degree of indigeneity. This stereotype leads to the larger issue of incarceration of Hispanic males or Incarceration, Race, and Inequality.
The "Illegal Alien"/ The "Job Stealer"
Hispanics/Latinos are frequently seen as the "others" in the American population despite being a large part of the population. This 'otherness' becomes a lens in which to view them as 'foreign' or not being American. This mentality creates the illegal stereotype and the concept of job stealing. Generally, the term “immigrant” has positive connotations in relation to the development and operation of democracy and U.S. history while “illegal aliens” are vilified. The term "illegal alien" is defined as "a foreign person who is living in a country without having official permission to live there" Despite many Latino/Hispanic Americans being legally here, they are viewed as "immigrants" or "foreigners" who live without proper documentation and take from those who live here legally. immigrants have been represented as depriving citizens of jobs, as welfare-seekers, or as criminals. Especially with the recent political/social movement in the United States for stricter immigration law, Americans are blaming Hispanics for 'stealing jobs' and negatively impacting the economy.
The Homogenous Origin
A very common stereotype as well as mentality is that all Hispanic/Latino individuals have the same ethnic background and culture when in reality there are numerous sub-groups with unique cultures and identities. People in the United States tend to explain all of Latin America in terms of the nationalities or countries that they know. For instance, most US citizens in the Midwest and Southwest perceive Latin American culture through the Mexicans they know; in the East, particularly in the New York and Boston areas, people see Latin American culture through their limited interactions with Dominicans and Puerto Ricans; in Miami, Cubans and Central Americans constitute the reference group for interpreting Latin America.This idea of homogeneity is so extensive in US society that even important politicians tend to treat Latin America as a culturally unified region. Hispanic/Latino Americans become a homogenous race instead of individual cultures, qualities, and differences.
The Hard Labor Worker or the Uneducated/Lazy
There are two conflicting common stereotypes in accordance to employment that male Hispanics/Latinos tend to fall into: that of a manual labor worker or an unemployed/lazy citizen. Many Hispanic/Latino Americans have equally as much education and skill level, but are seen as 'hard labor workers' such as farm hands, gardeners, cleaners, etc. This stereotype goes along with that of the immigrant in believing all Hispanics/Latinos only work in hard labor fields and manual labor because they are not in the country legally which is false. Latin Americans are also often pictured as not strongly inclined to work hard despite the conflicting stereotype of working manual labor jobs. Today, negative stereotypes against certain ethnic groups about low cognitive abilities exist in many world regions, including stereotypes about people with a Latino background in the US. The stereotype creates a standard of thinking that alienates Hispanic/Latinos from having as many job and education opportunities because they are viewed as less than.
The Discrepancy between Hispanic Identity and Identity
Due to Latino men’s masculinity which is already coded as violent, criminal, and dangerous (Collins 1991; Ferguson 2000; Vasquez 2010), the racial project of controlling images systematically restricts Latino men’s lives. Machismo is depicted as the cult of male strength, which implies being fearless, self-confident, capable of making decisions, and able to support one's family. It also emphasized an acceptance of male dominance over women (including the valorization of Don Juanism) and, in its extreme form, a defense of the traditional division of labor (women in the kitchen and taking care of the children, and men as providers). In the United States, Hollywood movies, along with some scholars and others in general, tend to regard machismo as unique to Latin America. Hispanic identity and stereotypes can place a limit on how Hispanic men are able to present themselves such as Hispanic men in the LGBTQ community.
Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latina Women
The Entertainment and Marketing Industries
According to scholars, in the entertainment industry, Latinas have been historically depicted as possessing one of two completely contrasting identities. They have been depicted as either “virginal”, “passive”, and “dependent on men” or as “hot-tempered”, “tempestuous”, “promiscuous” and “sexy”. A 2005 study conducted by Dana Mastro and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, professors of communication studies at the University of Arizona, found depictions of Latina Americans on primetime television are both limited and biased. The study analyzed the frequency and the quality of the depictions of Hispanic and Latino/a individuals on primetime television in the year 2002. The study found that “ Latinas were the laziest characters in primetime… they were the least intelligent, most verbally aggressive, embodied the lowest work ethic, and (alongside whites) were the most ridiculed”. According to these same studies, the marketing industry has also played a role in stereotyping females with Hispanic origin by using these stereotypical identities to sell product. Specifically, the bodies of Latina women have been used and sexualized to sell product targeted to men. According to Mary Gilly, a professor of business at the University of California Irvine, Latina women in particular are eroticized in the marketing industry due to their frequent portrayal as “tempestuous”, “promiscuous” or “sexy”.
The Fiery Latina and the Hot Señorita
Stereotypical identities that have spurred from the idea that Hispanic and Latina women are "hot-tempered", "tempestuous", "promiscuous" and "sexy" include the "fiery Latina" and the "hot señorita". Both stem from the fact that Hispanic and Latina women are continually sexualized and eroticized on popular programing and in the entertainment industry as a whole. Recent examples include Sophia Vergara's character on Modern Family, but examples date back to the 1920s and 1930s with, "Dolores del Río playing the exotic and passionate lover of the 1920s, and Carmen Miranda playing sexy and bombshell characters in the 1930s and 1940s". Vergara portrays Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family, a "trophy wife" often seen in provocative clothing and high heeled shoes. She often has trouble pronouncing English words and speaks with a heavy accent. Among the contemporary depictions accused of promoting the "Latina bombshell" include Iris Chacón's image, Naya Rivera in Glee and Shakira and Jennifer Lopez's ""somewhat infamous music videos."
The Virginal Stereotype
Gina Rodriguez's portrayal of Jane on the CW comedy, Jane the Virgin, is one of the more recent examples of Hispanic and Latina women being portrayed as "virginal" or "passive". Jane is a religious devout catholic who learns that she is pregnant after accidentally being artificially inseminated during a routine check up. The show follows Jane as she struggles with the discovery and faces challenges as a new mother. While Rodriguez's character is almost the polar opposite of Vergara's, both perpetuate stereotypes of Hispanic and Latina women.
The News and Media
According to several sources, while the entertainment industry can be credited with the creation and frequent reinforcement of these stereotypes, the news is particularly important in the maintenance of these stereotypes. Unlike the entertainment and marketing industries, according to several studies, the press produces representations that are based on ‘reality’. A 1994 study by Macrea et al., found stereotypes are generalizations that our culture has defined for us, and that using stereotypes is “more efficient”. Thus, according to Macrea et al., journalists, due to time and space constraints, may be more likely to rely on stereotypic portrayals.
Recent research has consistently found that both Latina and Latino Americans have been underrepresented in news media, and in their limited portrayal have been depicted as a burden on contemporary American society. The recent election of President Donald Trump has brought this issue to the forefront of American news and issues relating specifically to immigration have perpetuated stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Americans as criminals.
Inaccuracies of These Stereotypes
Hispanics are misperceived as “lazy” or “unintelligent” people because of the stereotypes of Latinos strictly occupying blue-collar jobs (construction, factory work) and older generation Latinos being unable to speak English.
Ethnic-minority students, who are in the lower-income bracket, are more likely to attend schools that are overcrowded, dangerous, and limited in the opportunities they offer for advanced course work with experienced teachers. Because of these inequalities in education, the graduation rate for Latino students is substantially below the rate for white students. Without a sufficient education, Hispanics have a harder time obtaining white-collar or professional jobs.
Contrary to the belief that Hispanics are “lazy,” a study by Andrew J. Fuligni has shown that “students from ethnic minority backgrounds often have higher levels of motivation than their equally achieving peers from European backgrounds…Latin American and Asian families have significantly higher values of academic success and a stronger belief in the utility of education.” This high level of motivation comes from Hispanics having a greater sense of obligation to support, assist, and respect the family.
A common misconception about Latinos and language learning is that not being able to speak English is a sign of unwillingness to learn. Some immigrants, from Mexico and other countries, live in the United States for decades without acquiring a basic command of the English language. The primary reason for this being that it is difficult to learn a second language as an adult. Another reason is that finding time to learn a new language, while struggling to financially support and spend time with family, may be impossible.
The “job-stealing Hispanic” stereotype is also false. According to Pastora San Juan Cafferty and William C. McCready, “a preliminary study of labor market competition among the Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White population (Borjas, 1983) found no evidence that Hispanics had a negative impact on the earnings of the other two groups.” Hispanics are not “taking away” jobs that whites or non-Hispanic groups want. The blue-collar jobs Hispanics obtain are low paying and have few fringe benefits, leading to little or no health insurance coverage.
The aggressive “Hispanic gangbanger/criminal” stereotype, which we often see in movies and on television, is inaccurate. Gang-suppression approaches of numerous police departments have become “over-inclusive and embedded with practices that create opportunities for abuse of authority.” This means most of the gang enforcement police stops are based on racial profiling. These stops involve no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and oftentimes include non-gang members.
Impact of These Stereotypes on the Hispanic Community
Trouble Establishing Identities
Hispanic youths have a more difficult time establishing a positive school identity because of the negative academic stereotypes regarding their racial-ethnic group. These academic stereotypes, which have been proven to negatively affect the academic performance of Latinos, focus on inability, laziness, and a lack of interest and curiosity.
Research shows that many Latinos in the United States do not identify as “American” but instead with their or their parents’ or grandparents’ country of origin. One of the reasons for this occurrence is the misbelief that in order to be an American, one needs to be White. Latinos who have experienced racial discrimination are more likely to identify as Latino or Latino American than simply American because they feel they are not treated as “real” Americans.
A study by Suárez-Orozco and Suárez-Orozco (2001) has shown that the internalization of perceived stigmatized identity of Hispanics can lead to resigned helplessness, self-defeating behavior, and depression.
- Stereotypes of groups within the United States
- Racial profiling
- Stereotype threat
- Stereotypes of Argentines
- Colombia in popular culture
- Chicano, Tejano and Nuyorican
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