Common Myths and Stereotypes About Hispanics and Immigration

Thousands March Across U.S.On National Day Of Immigrant Dignity And Respect
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Latinos may be the largest ethnic minority group in the United States, but stereotypes and misconceptions about Hispanic Americans abound. A considerable number of Americans believe that Latinos are all recent immigrants to the U.S. and that unauthorized migrants to the country exclusively come from Mexico. Others believe that Hispanics all speak Spanish and have the same ethnic traits.

In fact, Latinos are a more diverse group than the public generally recognizes. Some Hispanics are white. Others are black. Some speak English only. Others speak indigenous languages. This overview breaks down the following pervasive myths and stereotypes.

All Undocumented Immigrants Come From Mexico

While it’s true that the bulk of undocumented immigrants in the United States come from just south of the border, not all such immigrants are Mexican. The Pew Hispanic Research Center has found that illegal immigration from Mexico has actually declined. In 2007, an estimated 7 million unauthorized immigrants lived in the U.S. Three years later, that number dropped to 6.5 million.

By 2010, Mexicans comprised 58 percent of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Unauthorized migrants from elsewhere in Latin America made up 23 percent of the undocumented population followed by those from Asia (11 percent), Europe and Canada (4 percent) and Africa (3 percent).

Given the eclectic mix of undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S., it’s unfair to paint them with a broad brush. Considering Mexico’s proximity to the U.S., it’s logical that most undocumented immigrants would hail from that country. However, not all undocumented immigrants are Mexican.

All Latinos Are Immigrants

The United States is known for being a nation of immigrants, but whites and blacks are largely not perceived as being newcomers to America. In contrast, Asians and Latinos routinely field questions about where they're "really from." The people who ask such questions overlook that Hispanics have lived in the U.S. for generations, even longer than many Anglo families.

Take actress Eva Longoria. She identifies as a Texican, or Texan and Mexican. When the “Desperate Housewives” star appeared on the PBS program “Faces of America” she learned that her family settled in North America 17 years before the Pilgrims did. This challenges the perception that Hispanic Americans are all newcomers.

All Latinos Speak Spanish

It’s no secret that most Latinos trace their roots to countries that the Spanish once colonized. Because of Spanish imperialism, many Hispanic Americans speak Spanish, but not all do. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 75.1 percent of Latinos speak Spanish at home. That figure also indicates that a large number of Latinos, about a quarter, do not.

Additionally, an increasing number of Hispanics identify as Indians, and a number of these individuals speak indigenous languages rather than Spanish. Between 2000 and 2010, Amerindians who identify themselves as Hispanic have tripled from 400,000 to 1.2 million, the New York Times reports.

This spike has been attributed to increased immigration from regions in Mexico and Central America with large indigenous populations. In Mexico alone, approximately 364 indigenous dialects are spoken. According to Fox News Latino, Sixteen million Indians live in Mexico. Of those, half speak an indigenous language.

All Latinos Look The Same

In the United States, the general perception of Latinos is that they have dark brown hair and eyes and tan or olive skin. In reality, not all Hispanics look mestizo, a mix of Spanish and Indian. Some Latinos look entirely European. Others look black. Others look Indian or mestizo.

U.S. Census Bureau statistics provide an interesting take on how Hispanics racially identify. As noted previously, an increasing amount of Latinos identify as indigenous. However, more Latinos are identifying as white also. The Great Falls Tribune reported that 53 percent of Latinos identified as white in 2010, an increase from the 49 percent of Latinos who identified as Caucasian in 2000. Roughly 2.5 percent of Latinos identified as black on the 2010 census form.