Studying the Obvious Reveals the Absurd

By Miguel Perez

April 10, 2012 8 min read

It was surely a well-intended effort to clarify the complex identity of those of us who hail from Latin America and live in the United States and of those "Latinos" or "Hispanics" who were born here of Latin American parents. But it may have had the opposite effect.

Instead of clarifying the misconceptions about who we are, a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center — "When Labels Don't Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity" — has confused a lot of people. And for those who like to confuse people, this study provides a wealth of ammunition.

Using the study, some in the media already are jumping to the erroneous conclusion that most Latinos don't want to be called either Latino or Hispanic. Others are using Machiavellian ways, such as questioning the strength of the Latino vote in the presidential election by arguing that "only a quarter of Hispanics actually see themselves as Hispanic."

This selective use of the study's findings was part of a Christian Science Monitor editorial that clearly was meant to distort reality and diminish the significance of the Latino vote in November.

But perhaps the bigotry displayed in some media has something to do with the way the Pew Hispanic Center reported its findings. Unfortunately, the report, apparently seeking media attention at any cost, tries to make news where there isn't any.

What's new about the fact that many Latinos identify themselves by their country of origin instead of by "Latino" or "Hispanic"?

­Nada!

It has always been that way.

Yet the Pew report makes it seem as if this was a major finding. In the first paragraph of the report's executive summary, Pew notes that (of 1,220 Latinos surveyed) "a majority (51 percent) says they most often identify themselves by their family's country of origin while just one-quarter says they prefer a pan-ethnic label." And from this they conclude that the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino," "still haven't been fully embraced by Hispanics themselves."

This argument is absurd!

When you ask the French, Spanish, Italians and other Europeans what they consider themselves, they are not going to tell you they are European before they tell you they are French, Spanish or Italian. Even if they live in the United States, they are going to list their nationality first.

If you ask Latinos or Hispanics who we are, of course we are going to tell you we are Cuban, Puerto Rican, Mexican or Colombian before we tell you that we are Latinos or Hispanic. But most of us still consider ourselves Hispanic or Latino because either we or our ancestors hail from Latin America. That's understood!

Yet the Pew report makes it seems as if those who identified themselves by nationality don't also consider themselves Hispanic or Latino or even American.

We do!

"In general, which one of the following terms do you use to describe yourself most often ." That's the way the survey question was posed.

While 51 percent said they identify themselves by nationality, 24 percent said they called themselves Hispanic or Latino, and 21 percent said they are Americans. But the Pew report fails to recognize — quite blatantly and irresponsibly — that it's never a choice between one or the other, and most Latinos consider ourselves all of the above.

We can be Mexican, Latino and American at the same time. This is not news to Latinos, and the Latinos who worked on this report must know this. It may be news to some non-Latinos, but do we really need a study to state what is so obvious?

Whereas the Pew Hispanic Center normally turns out terrific research, sometimes their studies only serve to alarm the anti-Latino alarmists; at least it seems that way from the perspective that their findings are presented.

Again reaching for the sensational angle, the Pew report prominently notes that, "Most Hispanics do not see a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics."

Actually, the study found that 29 percent of the survey respondents believe U.S. Latinos share a common culture, and 69 percent said Latinos have "many different cultures."

Except for the obvious effort to sensationalize the findings, there is no logical explanation for how recognizing "many different cultures" became "not see(ing) a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics." One is not exclusive of the other. Recognizing many different cultures doesn't exclude also having common culture.

But of course, it didn't stop Christian Science Monitor from jumping all over that already sensationalized statement and taking it a little further. To try to justify it's opposition to a Mitt Romney-Marco Rubio GOP ticket, the newspaper noted that, "more than two-thirds of all Hispanics say they do not see a common culture among Hispanics," that "more than half of Hispanics checked off the box for 'white'" in the 2010 Census (Again, as if it had to be one or the other), and that somehow, since many Latinos identify first with their country of origin, many are not going to vote as Latinos in November.

Again, this logic is absurd and downright laughable. Nevertheless, using the Pew report, the Monitor's editorial board argues that Romney should not team up with Rubio, who is Hispanic, and that politicians should not waste their time seeking support from Hispanic voters. After all, they want us to believe that the Latino vote is not as powerful as it seems to most sane analysts.

They are happy portraying Latinos as a bunch of small groups rather than one large voting bloc, and the Pew report gives them and other conservative extremists, the distorted ammunition to make that argument.

"Despite all this," the Monitor editorial charges, "politicians still like to target the 50.5 million Hispanic (or Latinos) in the U.S. Is this stereotyping worth the effort?"

The Pew study may have been well intend, but those with bad intentions are receiving it with open arms.

Ironically, the study made other findings that would a seem more significant in dispelling myths and stereotypes about Latinos, like the 87 percent of Latinos who said they recognize the importance of learning English, or the other 87 percent who recognize they have better opportunities to get ahead in the U.S. than their ancestral homelands.

There were other important findings on Latino views on social issues, religion and politics. But unfortunately, they were lost in the absurd, distorted sensationalism over whether Latinos have a common culture and consider themselves Latinos.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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