6 Harmful Stereotypes About Latin Americans

Latin American family playing outside

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As the United States has continued to go through a reckoning with regard to racial and social injustice, many people have been eager to examine and refute harmful stereotypes about minority groups.

Latin Americans are one example of a large population that has been labeled by such assumptions. Stereotypes have contributed to the widespread discrimination experienced by these individuals, which can have powerful effects on overall emotional well-being.

Read on for six examples of common stereotypes to avoid.

"All Latin Americans Have Homogenous Origins"

Latin America is comprised of 33 different countries, located within South America, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. Just like European countries have different cultures and traditions, so do all the countries in Latin America.

There are a substantial number of people from South America living in the U.S., and while many may speak Spanish just like those in Mexico and Central America, their heritage is not one and the same.

This is why it’s also important to ask a person of Hispanic descent how they’d like to be described and identified before labeling them yourself.

"Latin American Immigrants Are Out to Steal American Jobs"

This is another harmful stereotype that often leads to discrimination and assumptions about one’s immigration status.

High rates of immigration (documented or undocumented) do not exacerbate unemployment. In fact, research suggests the opposite. A study from the Bell Policy Center examined the impact of undocumented immigrant labor in Colorado. The study found that for every job held by an undocumented immigrant, 0.8 additional jobs are created. This is likely because the money immigrants spend on local goods and services enables companies to hire additional people.

"Latino Masculinity Equals Dominance and Violence"

This is rooted in the concept of “machismo,” a set of cultural beliefs about manhood. Machismo emphasizes male strength, honor, emotional reserve, and confidence. Like gender roles in any culture, these traits can be helpful or harmful depending on the context.

When certain ideals are taken too far, machismo has been associated with sexist attitudes and emotional repression. However, many Latino men are moving away from rigid gender roles toward a more flexible definition of masculinity, emphasizing positive traits like chivalry and bravery.

"Latin American Women Are Always the Home Caretakers and Don’t Work Traditional Jobs"

Another common stereotype is that Latin American women aren’t part of the American workforce and always default to staying at home and caring for children. This is false. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that among Latinas age 25-54, over two-thirds are part of the civilian labor force. There are many high-achieving Latin American women out there in all fields, from law to science and athletics, and perpetuating stereotypes won’t help them to pursue their goals.

However, it is worth noting that prejudice does impact Latin American women's access to certain jobs. Latin American women are vastly underrepresented in fields commonly dominated by White individuals. For example, only 1% of higher education faculty identify as Latina.

In addition, Latin American women are less likely to be assigned leadership positions. Only 4.3% of management positions in any field are held by Latin American women. In contrast, White women hold 32.3% of management positions.

"All Latin American Families Have Multiple Children" 

This stereotype is harmful because it also plays into stereotypes that Latinas are "promiscuous" and destined to become teenage mothers.

Research has actually shown that Latin American women often have sexual relations later in life than White women. Today, estimates suggest young Hispanic women have an average of two children.

"Latin Americans Are Unwilling to Learn English"

This stereotype is heavily present with people assuming the Latin American people they encounter on a daily basis don’t understand a word they’re saying, or, worse, they mock them when they try to communicate with limited English. There tends to be a double standard in these interactions, as only 20% of native-born Americans can speak a second language well enough to hold a conversation.

It’s also fed into by the education system, with teachers and administrators assuming kids who speak English as their second language don’t want to learn. A lack of funding and support for English language learning programs can hamper students' ability to progress in their studies.

Finally, disparaging someone’s speaking ability or poking fun at their accent (like we often see in popular shows like Modern Family) is sure to do a number on their confidence even when they do truly want to improve their language skills. 

A Word From Verywell

It may seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing that it’s never a good idea to feed into negative stereotypes about an ethnic minority. By becoming more educated about this type of messaging, everyone can do their part to create more diverse and equitable spaces in a number of arenas. Helping Latin American adults and children prosper can only help our country on its long road to progress in reducing racial discrimination. 

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Article Sources
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