LATINX IMMIGRANT'S EXPERIENCES IN AMERICA
Gracen Morris, first year writing UNC Asheville student
The topic of immigration has been brought to the forefront of every news broadcast, online article, and into the lives of the daily citizen. Immigration is today’s hot topic and will continue to be for some time; specifically Latinx immigration. With the influx in more Latin American immigrants coming to America, whether it be legal or illegal, discrimination among the people and their communities has risen. The question now becomes who are the Latinx immigrants coming to the United States, and what are their experiences when they arrive and make a life in America.
Reasons for Immigrating
There are multiple reasons as to why people immigrate to America. For the 1.9 million Hispanic immigrants in America their reasons for moving all vary (Flores 2015). Contrary to popular belief, the main country of origin many believe Latin American immigrants come from isn’t Mexico. In fact, Mexican immigration has decreased significantly from 2009 to 2014. The statistics prove that “between 2009 and 2014 the net flow of both authorized and unauthorized Mexican immigrants to the U.S. fell to negative 140,000, in contrast to a positive flow of 2.27 million between 1995 and 2000” (Hiskey 2017). The top three Latin American countries immigrants are now coming from are Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Their reasons for coming are even more unique and vary cases by case. For those emigrating from Guatemala it is discovered that their reasons are more economic than those coming from El Salvador and Guatemala who flee because of violence in their country (Hiskey 2017). With the rise of Latinx immigrants arriving in the United States it is important to understand some of their differing reasons for choosing to make the move.
The reasons for immigrating are much more complex than most people realize or what is broadcasted on the media or by politicians. UNC Asheville’s Center for Diversity Education published an article titled “Mi Historia” detailing the rich culture and history of the growing Latin American population in Western North Carolina. They provide eye-witness testimonies and personal stories as to why immigrants chose to leave their country and how they are thriving presently in North Carolina. Jose Luis Cardona moved to the States for economic reasons. “I make more money here in Construction than in Guatemala as a professional” (Diversity Education 2015). For some the reasons are economic and the move to America is essential in order to provide for themselves and their family. Liliana Duarte grew up in Colombia and moved to the United States with her family when she was 14 because of the high unemployment in the country. Immigrants also flee because of the violence experienced in their country. In the late 1980s, Gustavo Silva moved from Uruguay because of the extreme violence in his country that led to his arrest and torture. He describes the United States as a place that “has order and opportunity” (Diversity Education 2015). These testimonies helps to give people a personal account into the various reasons people come to the United States, and presents a larger more inclusive image showing just how diverse the immigrants arriving are. These personal stories help to humanize and personalize those who otherwise are just a statistic.
What is Discrimination and What Are Its Effects
Discrimination is prominent in the United States today among various people each with different backgrounds. A group of Latinx students who are immigrants or parents are were asked at UNC Asheville to fill out a survey detailing discrimination in their daily lives. One question they were asked was to give a definition to the word “discrimination”. The actual definition is the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex. Many students described this definition in multiple different ways. Their responses ranged from “being singled out” and “not being treated the same as others” to “any bias, opinions, or actions against a group of people due to their perceived characteristics or traits”. Other students went as far as to say that discrimination took place because of the way a person looked or what race they were perceived as which in turn could cause people to think that they are “less capable of doing something”. A follow up question asked them how often they experienced discrimination in their daily lives. The results were that for some it occurred almost everyday and for others at least once a month. They were also asked about how these instances of discrimination affected their daily lives and the impact it has made on them. For many, the response was that it has contributed significantly in the way they view themselves and carry out their daily lives. “I don't know how I can act around certain people because I am afraid of their judgement” and “ I think about it a lot. It puts my self esteem and worth down” are just two common answers and themes provided by multiple students. The impact everyday or common instances and acts of racism are shown to have a negative effect on Latinx immigrants that continue to contribute to the divide happening between people of Latin American background and those who differ from them. The instances of discrimination are taking place in everyday life and certain situations.
Where Discrimination Occurs
Statistics taken from the survey “Discrimination in America” for National Public Radio and the group survey answers given by students who identify as Latinx give insight into the different percentages and statistics of Latin Americans facing discrimination in various aspects in their life like in social settings, governmental settings and education. Seventy- eight percent of Latinos believe that there is discrimination against Latin Americans today ( Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 2017). In the survey taken, the highest percentage of Latin Americans saying they faced discrimination was when they were applying for jobs or being paid equally. Theses percentages were at the thirty-three and thirty- two percent margins taken from a group of eight hundred and three Latinx United States adults. The study also found that for many Latin American women discrimination when seeking healthcare was prominent and in turn caused them to avoid getting medical care even when it was necessary (Neel 2017). This is a major issue when it becomes a fear to seek proper medical attention. Finally, it was discovered that Latinx immigrants reported a strong fear when faced with a situation that they needed to call the police for. The discrimination that is even perceived or acted upon towards immigrants is causing those to negate their everyday needs and personal safety in fear of discrimination.
Latinx Experiences in Western North Carolina
In Western North Carolina, the population of Latin American immigrants has increased significantly since 2000. Today, the Appalachian region has become home to over three- hundred and fifty thousand Latinos, and eighty- eight percent foreign born Latin Americans (Lippard and Spann 2014). For locals, Latinx immigrants, with a large population being Mexican, moving to rural Western North Carolina communities is a shock because the communities have not seen “intense changes in diversity since the 1800s” (Lippard et al., 2014). These changes are extremely challenging to a majority white population who have not previously experienced a non-white and non- english speaking culture (Lippard et al., 2014). With the mass influx of Latin American immigrants now residing in Western North Carolina and Appalachian region, discrimination against these immigrants and communities is steadily increasing. It is noted by scholars that southern states have experienced a rise in anti- immigration attitude which has led to discriminatory legislation and partnership between local and federal governments to stop “illegal” immigration which has led to the targeting of Latinx immigrants in the region (Lippard et al., 2014).
ICE Raids are heard about and protested across the country, but they have now hit close to home for Latino residents in and near Asheville. About fifteen people were arrested recently in both Buncombe and Henderson counties due to ICE raids across the area with forty people arrested within North Carolina (DeGrave 2018). This has caused many of the residents of the Latin American community in the area and across the state to stay in their homes and not prioritize their daily needs because of fear for being investigated by ICE agents.
This creates a major problem for members of the Latin American community. ICE is conducting targeted raids and “arresting people everyday”. While ICE agent Cox says that all people arrested have criminal convictions and backgrounds” there is still the large problem of Latinos being confronted by agents asking if they are familiar with people on ICE’s list. People asked about others in the community are then asked various questions and ICE “won’t turn a blind eye”. These targeted questionings are causing Latinx immigrants that have been established and thriving in Western North Carolina communities to turn away from attending to their daily needs having a negative impact on their lives and their families.
Discrimination in everyday life for Latin American immigrants in Western North Carolina is discovered to be extremely common and take place in multiple different settings. In Cameron D. Lippard and Graham M. Spann’s study on Latin American experiences in Western North Carolina, it was discovered that forty- one percent of the immigrants experienced the same problem I previously stated when being afraid to call the police. The percentage of people was even higher in Western North Carolina. A startling statistic is that it was reported that fifty percent of North Carolina law enforcement agencies “sampled had disproportionate rates of Latinos being stopped and searched in comparison to whites” (Lippard et al, 2014). Another major issue reported for Latinx immigrants in Western North Carolina was the issue of discrimination in public schooling. Thirty percent of the immigrants in the study reported that half of the incidents reported were of immigrant children being bullied and teachers and administrators discriminating because of lack of English spoken and other various issues.
Possible Resolutions to the Problem of Discrimination
Discrimination will always be a possibility and action used to classify, repress others and discourage others, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t possible to stop more of it from happening. Latin American immigrants will forever be prevalent and have active roles in the melting pot of American culture and ideals. They are contributing people in the economy and society and help make the United States what it is known as today. The last question asked to Latinx students in the survey I conducted was about modern movements that have helped reduce discrimination in the United States today. The responses received all had one common theme: unity and representation. Every student answered the question expressing how much of an impact unity and representation had on them, their lives and the modern era. One students responded with “I think allies and solidarity really helps with discrimination. I firmly believe in using your voice when speaking about what discriminations you face in order to give a face to the actions. And I also believe that by using allies, that it help with teaching the effects of discrimination”. I use the entire quote because I don’t believe that I could have explained the point made better. The recurring theme of representation of minorities in positions of power was also answered by a majority of students. Seeing Latin American politicians and social rights leaders being heard and broadcasted to millions of people across the country has ignited a spark in the lives of Latinx children, students and adults to make a difference and stand for what they believe in because it is possible to make a difference even in the unlikely world we are living in today.
One final question posed in the survey was how do they (students) themselves try to personally reduce discrimination. They answered with calmly trying to change a person’s bias or assumption directed at them with a question targeted at the person or informing and educating them on the facts that they might not be aware of. A student answered with “I try to answer people's misconceptions without making them feel dumb. If people feel dumb or insulted, they won't want to keep an open mind and listen to what I have to say.” These responses given show the willingness and energy Latin American people are willing to spend attempting to change the minds and break the harsh biases placed on them. The responses to both questions gives examples and one thing for the changing of experiences and discrimination for the future; hope. Latinx immigrants face a variety of hardships and discrimination when they arrive in America and even if they have had a contributing role in society. These experiences and biases faced by them are unnecessary and have a negative impact on their daily lives and communities, but I believe that things will get better. It may seem like the great political debates will only continue to create an even larger divide between Americans, but they give the people an even stronger reason to stand up and have a voice. There would be no unity without a cause to stand behind. This cause is helping to change the repressive and discriminatory attitudes broadcasted by others and help the Latinx immigrants and citizens of the United States to be respected and treated as equals in this new modern era. There is a new hope and people to stand behind it.
Batalova, Jeanne; Zong, Jie. (2018, October 11). Mexican Immigrants in the United States.
DeGrave, Sam. (2018, April 16). ICE raids extend beyond WNC as at least 40 are arrested across state.
Lippard, Cameron D.; Spann, Graham M. (2014, Autumn). Mexican immigrant experiences with discrimination in Southern Appalachia.
UNC Asheville Center for Diversity Education. (2015, October 19). Mi Historia.
Received from https://issuu.com/diversityeducation1/docs/issuu_pages
Neel, Joe. (2017, November 1). “Poll: 1 In 3 Latinos Report Discrimination Based On Ethnicity”
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2017, October). DISCRIMINATION IN AMERICA: EXPERIENCES AND VIEWS OF LATINOS.