Three Myths about Latino Immigrants That It’s Time to Bust

Photo by Monivette Cordeiro

As a counseling professor, I train my students to ask their clients: “If you succeed in making the changes we’re talking about, what will be better?” So I have to ask: Has the President thought through the consequences of his actions on immigration?

America was built on positives. We didn’t become great by preventing, arresting, and deporting. Why does the President want us to return to a past we never had? Is it even possible to build something great while focusing on tearing down or walling off?

I’ve conducted more than two decades of research on population studies, and here’s what I can tell you about Latino stereotypes: It’s time to get rid of them. The fact is, immigration is at the core of America’s greatness, and Latinos are very much a part of that greatness.

Here are some of the key facts from analyses of Census data that I’ve done with my colleague Jorge Garcia and from other sources:

First, Latinos do share our culture and do adapt.

The wall-builders say that “Latinos don’t share our culture and won’t adapt — they just aren’t like us.” But in the past, some Americans said the same thing about each wave of Irish, Italian, and Polish immigrants.

Research shows that after three generations of being here, Latinos look remarkably similar to those previous immigrant groups. (Of course, most Latinos in the US aren’t immigrants but have been here for many generations – much longer than many other groups.)

Like Americans in general, Latinos are more likely to live in big cities and are more likely to be married. Like earlier generations of immigrants from Europe, they have a preference for coastal cities and their families are slightly bigger than average.

Latinos are on average younger. However, that’s a big benefit for a US population that would otherwise find it much more difficult to grow the economy and pay for programs like Social Security that are based on younger people funding older people.

Second, Latinos are not criminals.

Several studies have failed to show any relationship between immigrant presence and increased crime rates. In fact, a recent study showed that areas with the most immigrants have lower crime rates. It’s important to remember that to be here without documents is a civil violation not a crime; think of it as the equivalent of traffic tickets.

Third, Latinos are not taking your jobs.

The biggest difference between Latinos and the total US population is in their types of occupations. In both 2000 and 2010, the majority of Americans overall were employed in managerial and sales jobs. For Latinos, the majority were employed in either low-level white collar or blue collar occupations, both skilled and unskilled. So, are they taking our jobs? Not as long as these types of occupational differences persist. And yesterday’s Day Without Immigrants protest is a prime example of this fact.

When Latinos do what other immigrants did and become more educated, they’ll move up and start taking some of those white collar jobs. And that will be a very good thing for America, because we’re already looking at huge shortages of educated people as the baby boomers retire.

Are Latinos a drain on our society because they use social services? They do use services, but also contribute significantly to the tax base that pays for those services.

Other Americans, for example those in rust belt states with aging populations, use a lot more services than Latinos, and already are benefiting from younger people supporting the tax base.

Sadly, Latinos who are undocumented, provide an especially big boost to the economy – they pay the taxes but aren’t eligible for benefits. These aren’t the only myths about Latinos. Language acquisition? Same as previous immigrants. Educational attainment? If Latinos get to college they tend to major in similar disciplines as the rest of the country. Military service? Latinos have a long tradition of serving in the US military.

Even the causes of death are similar for the total US population as for Latinos – both die from the same top diseases: heart disease and cancer. Many Latinos, especially in border areas, have retained the ability to speak Spanish. But English is their primary language and American culture –from sports to movies – is the only one they know or care about.

Begging the question of whether it’s possible to build greatness by tearing things down, the obvious conclusion is that Latinos are more like other Americans than they are different. Let’s build relationships and not walls.

Battling for Balance

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When I left the Marine Corps, I had a hard time carving a new identity for myself. I was terribly invested in what others thought of me. My public story was of crisp uniforms, physical fitness metrics, and successes. I always looked good on paper. My private story involved destructive choices, broken doors and holes in the walls, hiding weapons in the house, and getting dragged across the living room floor by my hair.[/caption]

I had no words to explain the disaster that had become my personal life and felt crippling shame about being one of “those people” with disordered drinking behavior going through a violent divorce.

I would have fit right in on the Jerry Springer show.

Right now we are losing more veterans to suicide than to combat. I’m a pretty decisive person with limited ability to ask for help and zero trouble taking risks; there was a time I could have become one of those statistics.

I stumbled quite by accident into three things that helped me regain my footing and become more resilient. I’m grateful for that stumble and always will be. Later, I learned that the research supports mental fitness training in the pre-incident space. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn until I was decidedly in the “post” camp.

First, I started treating myself in a healthy way again. I ate a little cleaner and made time for physical movement.

Not my typical physical movement, the kind where I used throwing up or a stress fracture as evidence that I was working hard enough – REAL, wellness-building movement that strengthened my body rather than punished it. I found myself on a yoga mat and never wanted to leave. In truth, I came to yoga as an athlete looking for something challenging, a fitness fad to master, and something to help me bend my unyielding muscles a bit more easily. What I found on the mat changed my life entirely. I found a practice that was about more than my body.

Be still and know that I am God –Psalm 46:10

For me, a huge part of self-care involved slowing down enough to listen. I spent a little less time talking and a lot more observing. That made space for faith and for a focus on other people. All of a sudden, my energy was redirected. I could be generous with myself and with the people I cared about. I found a new tribe of healthy people who shared those service ethic values.

And that was my beginning.

We can weather storms much better than I did – we don’t have to wind up tearful and alone with only a six-pack of beer to help us mourn. Resilience can be taught. Self-care modalities, social support cultivation, and spiritual practices are the components upon which we must rely to build our foundation in advance of the storm.

So if you’re left asking what it means to practice wellness?

Spoiler alert – it ain’t about your biceps’ size.

Let’s Talk About Military Family Mental Health: Tweetchat 5/8/14 #MacroSW

Military service members, veterans, and their families are extremely resilient , but the stress of war, multiple deployments, and frequent moves can impact their emotional, physical, and overall well-being. During the month of May, #MacroSW is teaming up with USC School of Social Work to help raise awareness by inviting our community to participate in the Military Family Mental Health campaign. The goal behind this campaign is to build public recognition about the importance of mental health to overall health and wellness, particularly within the military community.

Join us for the next #MacroSW Chat this Thursday 5/8 6pm PT/ 9pm ET to discuss Military Family Mental Health Advocacy!

  • How are milfamily organizations taking the lead on Mental Health advocacy?
  • What can civilian organizations and advocacy groups learn from the military family groups?
  • What do social workers who work with the military community need to know to provide the best care?

Raise your voice to raise awareness through social media!

  • Stay tuned to the conversation around Military Family Mental Health using #MilfamMH!
  • Take 30 seconds to change your profile picture or cover photo to one of these images during the month of May to show your support for this important cause!

Change your Facebook profile picture:

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Share this message with your friends and family on your favorite social platform!:

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Do You have a blog or Newsletter? Copy and paste this message to show your support!:

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