One tactic that both sides use, to their own detriment, is to paint the entire other side with the same general brushstroke. I guess that makes sense if you are trying to defeat something and not work with it. If there is one thing I've learned over the years it is that stereotypes and perceptions are lazy and often counterproductive. Travel to Italy and compare the cuisine from region to region and than compare it our traditional definition of "Italian" and you'll know what I mean. Not all Italian's eat lasagna and not all Mexicans are law breaking criminals who are undermining the "American" way of life.
Peel back the onion a bit and you get a far more intricate and complicated picture.
That is certainly the case with both sides of the immigration debate. Peer beyond the talking points of both sides and you can start to make some real ground. Right now I want to spend a few moments talking about the many nuances of the Hispanic community living in the U.S.
The Pew Center does a good job gauging the sentiment of the Hispanic Community. Many will argue that the Center is too liberal, but I don't find it to be too bad to where I can't use their data. Their surveys are comprehensive and often times they provide the source data for any surveys or research done.
I recently reviewed one of the surveys that was conducted before the primary elections of 2008. Most of the questions are centered on political opinions and immigration policy. The link to the full report can be found here. I pulled the data-set, a sample size of just over 2,000 respondents, and played with it in SPSS. Here are a few interesting findings:
- Over 66% of the respondents viewed their quality of life as "good" or excellent.
- 77% were "very" or "somewhat" confident that their children growing up in the U.S. will have better jobs than they do.
- While more Hispanics affiliated themselves with the Democratic party and considered that party more attuned to their interests, the numbers were still relatively small. 42% didn't think that either party listened to them and and 37% consider themselves independent.
- Over 83% think that we have "too many" or just the "right" amount of immigrants in the U.S.
- 65% believe that discrimination is a "major problem" and an additional 19% believe that it is a "minor problem".
- 41% stated that they or loved ones have experienced discrimination in the past year.
- 46% are fluent in English as well as Spanish.
- 52% of respondents are employed full-time, 31% are not employed.
- 48% earn less than $30k/year.
There isn't anything particularly groundbreaking with this study. In fact, data can be pulled by both sides to validate their positions. But if you look at the numbers more closely you see a more diverse and pluralistic Hispanic Community. About the only thing that truly galvanized them in one direction was their opposition to implied or potential discrimination.
So what is the point of all this? We can't simply place the same broad set of assumptions on the Hispanic population as a whole. I know Hispanics here legally and illegally. I know Hispanics who are Republicans and those who are Democrats. I know some who want to stay here and pursue the American dream and others who are here for lack of better options back home. I know those who look down upon illegal immigration and those who see it as the only necessary route to both earn a wage as well as serve a demand here in the U.S. I've met some who are honest, some not so much. They are just as varied and diverse as any group.
Let's be a little more careful with our generalizations and seek to understand before we draw any conclusions.
A recent survey from last month reveals once again how diverse the Hispanic population is. In many ways it is a follow up to the 2007 survey that was mentioned above. Its findings are somewhat surprising and uncover a sizable divide within the community regarding the benefits and proposed treatment of illegal immigrants. Very, very interesting. Link to summary here.