Hispanic-American Diversity: An Overview

“Soy Latino” seems like an uncontroversial statement for a Hispanic-American to make about his or her heritage. Yet even this simple identity claim is tainted by potential controversy. For many Hispanics, their identity is not defined by the words “soy Latino,” but “soy Cubano.” The label of ‘Hispanic-American’ is created by ‘America’ — immigrants from Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Columbia, as well as Spain and other areas of the Hispanic world come from regions that may be just as culturally distinct as Germany is from France. However, while people do not think of European-Americans as a homogenous group, there may be a temptation to elide the differences between different Hispanic-American identities. It is important to honor the differences of different Hispanic-American groups, as well as similarities (Schaefer, 2005: 238).

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Mexican-Americans

Mexican-Americans “constitute one of the most economically disadvantaged groups in the United States, with an average household income more than 40% below the comparable average for non-Hispanic whites” (Grogger & Trejo 2002, p.1). One of the more troubling aspects of Mexican’s place in the American mosaic is the frequent lack of gains between second and third generation groups of Mexican immigrants. While second generation Mexican-Americans obtain an “average of about four years more schooling and more than 35% higher wages than do Mexican immigrants…intergenerational progress for Mexican-Americans appears to stall after the second generation, with the third generation showing only modest improvement in educational attainment and no wage growth (Grogger & Trejo 2002, p.1). Attainment of Mexican-Americans’ educational qualifications lags behind that of other historically-discriminated against groups in America, as well as those of demographically similar whites.

The difficulty of attaining parity with whites educationally and economically may be partially due to linguistic differences, given that many Mexican-Americans arrive in the U.S. without full English fluency, but the source is also cultural in nature. There is often a fear of becoming different from one’s family. There is a strong emphasis on conformity and honoring family traditions. This is accompanied by a strain of fatalistic Roman Catholicism: one must do “as God wills,” rather than try to ‘pull one’s self up by one’s own bootstraps’ as is the mentality in much of America (Kraus 1997). But the role of prejudice against Mexicans in American culture cannot be minimized — stereotypes that classify Mexican-Americans solely as agricultural workers and anti-immigrant prejudice are entrenched.

Cuban-Americans

Like Mexican-Americans, Cuban-Americans have a strong sense of family loyalty. However, because of the circumstances under which many Cuban-Americans immigrated to their new land, there are profound political and cultural divides between these two ethnic groups. In general, although they are socially conservative because of the strong Catholic tradition in the Mexican-American community, Mexican-Americans tend to be liberal on issues such as immigration reform; providing healthcare and other benefits to the poor; and protecting the rights of unionized and nonunionized workers. Cuban-Americans, especially those concentrated in the area of Miami known as ‘Little Havana’ are often the result of the wave of immigration of middle and upper-class migrants from Cuba after Castro’s revolution.

Cuban-American experiences with radical leftism in Castro’s Cuba caused middle and upper-class immigrants to be politically conservative. Also, in contrast to Mexican-Americans, many Cuban-Americans were warmly welcomed into the U.S. because of what they symbolized: the preference of freedom over communism. Americans were willing to extend support and aid to these refugees from Castro’s Cuba. The unwilling exile of many Cubans also infused their relationship with the U.S. with a certain sense of poignancy that may be absent from other Hispanic-Americans who undertook a desperate, willed economic migration. One grief counselor reflected, after helping a Cuban woman ease the transition into widowhood: “For the first generation Cuban exile population, death signals the absolute inability to ever return to Cuba. Even for those whose American experience may be several decades long, death outside of the island still signifies one of the more brutal realities of the exile condition — burial in foreign soil” (Bachay & Montes 2010: 140).

As with other Hispanic groups, there may be a greater reluctance to seek professional help in dealing with psychological issues because of a belief that the church, rather than Western psychological medicine, should address such problems. The greater economic security of middle-class Cuban immigrants and their children thus has not meant an entirely uncomplicated relationship with the new American homeland.

Puerto Rican-Americans

Although it is a small island, the history of Puerto Rico has been marked by many influences, spanning from Africa to Spain to Latin America. “There is an essential dichotomy [in] Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. Within American jurisdiction, as reflected by common citizenship, flag, currency and numerous applicable Federal laws, Puerto Rico might seem in everything but name a State of the Union. But on the other side you will find a culture and society profoundly different from that in the mainland. It is a rich and varied culture but a unique one emanating from all those rich influences. This makes Puerto Rico a unique blend of the Spanish-Caribbean ‘joy of living’ and the American drive for organization and forward-thinking” (Puerto Rico, 2010, Culture/History). On one hand, Puerto Rico is ‘closer’ to the U.S. than other Hispanic nations in terms of its status as a self-governing commonwealth. Yet unlike Mexican-Americans who are desperately trying to be accepted as full U.S. citizens, either on a literal or a cultural level — or both, Puerto Ricans wish to keep their unique identity as well as participate in the greater American community.

Puerto Ricans constitute 14% of America’s population, and despite their cultural prominence in American media, spanning from the popular entertainers Daisy Martinez and Rosie Perez to Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, they still constitute an economically disadvantaged group. Rather than gains, Puerto Ricans have registered a steady loss in economic status. “The ratio of median Puerto Rican to white family income fell from .62 in 1960 to .50 in 1980” and has continued to decline, according to Health Affairs, despite growing cultural prominence of the ethnic group in the media.

Columbian-Americans

Central and South American Hispanic immigrants “are better educated than most Hispanics” yet, “upon relocating to a new country, they initially experience downward mobility in terms of occupational status” (Schaefer, 2005: 252). While earlier waves of Columbian immigrants may have come from the middle class, immigrants who flee to the U.S. As a result of political instability often have a greater difficulty adjusting to the U.S. economic and cultural landscape. Unlike Mexican-Americans who experience a modest gain in economic and educational status compared with their original plight at home, Columbian-Americans often do not, which can result in a more uncomfortable and ambiguous relationship with the new homeland that is far less positive than the relationship enjoyed by previous, educated Hispanic-American immigrants to the U.S., such as that of Cubans.

Conclusion

The cultural differences between Hispanic-American groups are notable, and there is no clear religious, economic, or political unifying factor amongst them all, other than experiencing personal discrimination, to varying degrees, based upon their heritage. Some groups, such as Cuban-Americans, may not identify even with the broadest chronicled trends amongst Hispanic-Americans, such as a rising poverty rate. For political change to occur, unity is necessary, but given the profound divides within the designation ‘Hispanic’ such political cohesion remains elusive.

References

Bachay, Judith & Rafael Montes. (2010). Article 14: The Cuban-American grieving process

Counseling.org. Retrieved September 17, 2010 at http://www.counseling.org/Resources/Library/VISTAS/vistas04/14.pdf

The declining economic status of Puerto Ricans. Health Affairs. Retrieved September 17,

2010 at http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc102d.pdf

Grogger, Jeffrey & Stephen J. Trejo. (2002, May) The economic progress of Mexican-

Americans. California Public Policy Brief. Issue 54. Retrieved September 17, 2010 at http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/rb/RB_502JGRB.pdf

Kraus, Eva. (1997). Comparing cultural differences. MexConnect. Retrieved September 17,

2010 at http://www.mexconnect.com/articles/3194-comparing-cultural-differences-mexico-with-canada-and-the-united-states

Puerto Rico. (2010). Culture/History. Boriken. Retrieved September 17,

2010 at http://www.prboriken.com/culture.htm

Schaefer, Richard T. (2006). Racial and Ethnic Groups. 10th Edition. Prentice-Hall.


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