In the lead up to the 2018 US midterm elections, echoes of the 2016 vitriol that swept self-avowed ‘nationalist’ Donald Trump into the presidency are now focused on the ‘migrant caravan’. Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric has culminated in a new commercial aired on national television on the weekend before the midterms. The ad features an undocumented immigrant Luis Bracamontes convicted of killing two Sacramento police officers as the type of immigrants Democrats will let in and fades to images of the refugee caravan as evidence of more “rapists and criminals” that Trump defined Latino immigrants as in his first speech as presidential candidate, with the final solution proffered in the tagline “vote Republican.”
This ad is part of a larger fearmongering barrage deployed by the Trump administration and its media lackeys such as Infowars and Fox News. Earlier comments by Trump have declared the refugee caravan from Honduras as “an invasion” with the group consisting of “criminals and unknown Middle Easterners.” Dispatched to date, 10-15 thousand national guard troops have been sent to the U.S.-Mexico border to intercept the group. Trump has also stated troops should have the right to shoot would-be refugees who throw rocks at them. Vice President Mike Pence echoed this claim with the addition that it was “organized by leftist groups in Honduras, financed by Venezuela.” But the ad clearly targets Democrats as responsible and harkens back to Lee Atwater’s “Willie Horton” strategy of playing on racist fears of white conservatives to prop up, at that time, George H.W. Bush’s 1988 campaign against Michael Dukakis and in 2018 efforts to retain Congressional Republican majorities in both the House and Senate.
Even though conservative media only show (often fabricated images of) caravan members inflicting violence against Mexican police, burning US flags, comprised of MS-13 gang members or ISIS members, or a George Soros-funded death march, even mainstream media have taken the bait and used the mis-stated term “migrant caravan” as this is a group of self-designated political refugees seeking refuge from oppressive conditions, conditions partially of the making of U.S. foreign policy.
It is within this context that I wrote Latina/o Studies, the latest installment in Polity Press’ Short Introductions series. I cut through the political hyperbole and tainted U.S. public discourse on Latina/os, immigration, political asylum, and Trump’s racism. In Latina/o Studies, I start with the 2016 election of Donald Trump as U.S. President as a foreboding harbinger of things to come for the largest minority in the U.S., in terms of numbers the third largest Latin American nation in the Americas. Some helpful facts are then detailed that should inform discussions about Latina/os fundamental roles in U.S. society.
Latinos are the largest minority of the US population (17.1 percent).
Most Latinos are US citizens (64.8 percent).
Most Latinos are English-proficient (69 percent).
Even though the vast majority of Latinos are of Mexican origin (64 percent), Latinos represent almost thirty national origins and Census-designated categories such as “Spanish American” and “Central American.”
Most Latino immigrants are not undocumented (only a quarter of all immigrants are undocumented).
Latinos reside in every US state but nearly two-thirds (65 percent) are concentrated in the five states of California, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Florida.
Additional states with more than 1 million Latinos include Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and New Jersey.
Latinos, on average, are much younger than White Americans (median age 28.7 as compared to 43.3 non-Hispanic White population).
Mexican immigration is neither a horde nor an invasion; in fact, “Net migration from Mexico fell to zero in 2011, with return migration to Mexico equaling new arrivals to the United States” (Malavé and Giordani 2015: 10).
Immigrants (undocumented and legal) are much less likely to commit crimes or become incarcerated than US citizens (Nowrasteh 2017, Rumbaut 2008, Sampson 2008).
Immigrants are not taking jobs from US citizens; the Pew Hispanic Foundation found that “no consistent pattern emerges to show that native-born workers suffered or benefited from increased numbers of foreign-born workers” (cited in Chomsky 2007: 8).
Immigrants are not a drain on social services and in fact do pay taxes, as Chomsky (2007: 39) summarizes: “the majority of immigrants, being of prime working age and ineligible for many public services, tend to contribute more to the public sector than they actually use.”
The history of Latina/o Studies is intricately connected to the need to dispel myths of who Latina/os are and more accurately represent how Latina/os think about themselves and experience the United States. Latina/o Studies offers a concise introduction to the multidisciplinary field of Latina/o Studies. Bringing together insights from a wide variety of communities, the book covers topics such as the history of Latinos in the United States, gender and sexuality, popular culture, immigration patterns, and social movements. I trace the origins of the field from the history of Latin American revolutionary thought, through the Chicano and Puerto Rican movements, and key disruptions from Latina feminisms, queer studies, and critical race theory, right up to the latest developments and interventions.
Ronald L. Mize is Associate Professor of Language, Culture, and Society at Oregon State University. His book, Latina/o Studies , is now available from Polity.