May 23, 2005
By Marcela Miguel Berland
- Although Hispanics are acknowledged as an important cultural force in
this country, many misconceptions about them prevail. I often hear people
say that Latinos are lazy, not interested in education, late to work, and
that they drink over weekends. Such ignorance, misunderstanding and
negative stereotyping are infuriating.
- Like many immigrant groups, Hispanics believe in “The American
Dream.” Many come with no material belongings, only dreams and
aspirations in a land of opportunity that will allow them to improve their
lives, or at least, to give their children more opportunities than they
- While in many Latin American countries it is difficult to rise to a
higher social class, in the U.S. education and hard work are tickets to
success. Hispanics understand that education can provide their children
with the necessary tools to advance. It means hard work and sacrifice for
most immigrants. If, as many think, they were lazy and unmotivated, they
would not have come in the first place. We know how many of these
immigrants live, how many hours they work and how little they earn for
their labors. Since many are undocumented, they often lack the
protections that other enjoy – minimum wage, social security, health
insurance and others.
- They count, however, on one thing – the right to send their children
to school. When a child enrolls in a public school, no one asks about the
parents’ status. All children are welcome. They enjoy the right to learn
and to be helped. Children make friends easily, learn English, and
assimilate effortlessly. They more readily interact with the mainstream
culture. A good education virtually assures that they will do better than
their parents. And their parents make great sacrifices to assure a good
education for them. Public schools, furthermore, make great efforts to
incorporate ESL (English as a Second Language) students into mainstream
- Origins of Negative Stereotypes
- Hollywood, among others, perpetuates unfortunate stereotypes. Latinas
are maids – yes we have all seen of heard about JLo on Maid in America, or
the recently released Spanglish. Men, rarely professionals, are usually
janitors, gardeners or low-income workers. Others are gangsters, drug
lords, or involved in illegal activity.
- A Latino architect, doctor, fashion designer, lawyer or corporate
executive – realities in our society – is rarely portrayed in film and
television. It is as if there were a rule that a doctor has to be a
non-Hispanic white male. Some successful Hispanics in many professions,
unfortunately, keep a low profile and often are not even perceived as
Latinos. Mainstream media, regrettably, also do a poor job of portraying
Hispanics accurately. Role models are rare, while tragedy, crime and
poverty are frequent.
- In a seminar I gave to high-net worth financial advisors, I was asked
whether we should be called Hispanics or Latinos. “Don’t you think it
could be offensive if I acknowledge their ethnicity?,” an advisor asked.
Obviously, many still think that being called Hispanic or Latino is
offensive. I know many Hispanics, moreover, who are uncomfortable being
identified as Latinos or Hispanics. This is unfortunate.
- We Latinos should be proud of who we are. Yes, we have differences,
but dissimilarities exist among other Americans. Yes, we have miscreants
among us, but we also have countless success stories – doctors, writers,
educators, elected officials, scientists and more. We have outstanding
actors such as Rita Moreno, José Ferrer, Anthony Quinn; and even
astronauts Ellen Ochoa and Franklin Chang Díaz. Latin America, moreover,
has produced some of the best writers and poets such as Gabriel García
Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda.
- Our achievements, today and for nearly two hundred years, are now
chronicled in a new “Encyclopedia Latina” to be released this fall by
Scholastic, the educational publisher. The four volume work will inform
us, our children and the society at large about our place in American
society. It is not difficult to be proud of who we are.
- We must instill pride in our children. As we watch them assimilate,
we need to remind them of the wonderful attributes of Hispanic culture.
It does not mean resisting assimilation. Quite the contrary. It means
embracing the most positive elements of mainstream American society while
learning and treasuring the most positive Latino values and achievements.
It is not an “either-or” proposition, since we can be fine, patriotic
Americans and proud Hispanics at the same time. It means keeping our
cultural values and traditions and incorporating them into the mainstream
Marcela Miguel Berland, a native of Argentina, is the
founder of LatinInsights, a New York-based research and strategic
communications firm, and a mother. She can be reached at
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