The dictionary defines a stereotype as an image or idea that is commonly accepted by a group or society and remains fixed. This description, especially the part about it being something very hard to change, shows the magnitude of the challenge Latinos face given the negative perceptions that exist about them.
An opinion poll by the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Latino Decisions revealed that almost one-third of Americans of non-Latino origin think that half of the Hispanics are undocumented. In addition, one out of two poll participants think about Latinos when they hear “welfare recipient”; half associate them with being “less educated”; 44% think they “refuse to learn English”; and only 40% describe them as “patriotic.”
The poll’s authors emphasized the responsibility of the media, such as television, regarding this. The media mostly portrays a poor image of Latinos as criminals and gang members instead of showing them in more positive roles.
We think politicians should also be held responsible for their role in this, since they seek scapegoats in order to advance their careers.
Politicians exploit and promote ignorance, the type that is unaware that only 11% of Latinos are undocumented, that programs to teach immigrants English are packed or that Latinos are the ethnic group with the largest number of medals in the U.S. armed forces.
It is true that the poll also showed there are very positive images of Hispanics, such as being family-oriented, hardworking and honest. These are the perceptions that politicians often remember when they seek support from Latinos.
However, the negative stereotypes are the ones that upset many voters-those that have no problem comparing the undocumented with dogs or livestock, as federal lawmakers have done.
At the same time, the large variety of information sources available for every taste allows each person to choose one that thinks like them, confirming their stereotypes and prejudice.
News and entertainment media have a great responsibility: Not to harm a major sector of our society with distorted images. It is necessary to promote and defend a positive image and refute the stereotype that exists about the majority of the 50 million Latinos in this country. This way, the “fixed” or unchanged part of the definition can be changed.