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Poll explodes myths about Latinos
August 9, 2003
By Ernesto Portillo Jr.

A poll released Wednesday about American Latinos should dispel some persistent myths.

The survey by the New York Times and CBS said a majority of Latinos feel good about their future and their children's futures in the United States. The poll also showed that a majority of Latinos have not experienced discrimination.

In addition, half the Latinos who rely on English-language news media believe Latinos are not accurately portrayed. Among those who receive their information primarily from Spanish-language news sources, 80 percent said the reflection is accurate.

It shouldn't be a surprise that Latinos are optimistic about their future. Many Latinos today are immigrants or children of immigrants.

The immigrant experience is powerful and serves as a catalyst. It gives Latinos a view of life in this country that many people here have lost or never had.

Latino immigrants largely come to this country with a fervor to work and improve their lives, something they find nearly impossible in their native countries.

The New York Times/CBS poll said 66 percent of foreign-born Latinos cite employment opportunities as the reason for coming to the United States. Nine percent said they came north because they wanted freedom, and 6 percent said they were looking for a lifestyle change.

Look across Tucson and note, for example, who's cooking the food in the restaurants or who is hammering together new homes. But it's not just blue-collar jobs. Children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants are joining the professional ranks, although not in numbers proportionate with the Latino population.

And these changes are playing out far beyond the Southwest and other historical destination points for Latinos, who now number about 39 million in this country. The South and the Midwest saw rapid growth in the Latino population in the 1990s.

Recently, while traveling in Chicago, I was amazed at the extent of the Latino population. While Chicago has long been a magnet for Latinos, their presence has significantly grown.

The growing population of Latinos gnaws at many people in this country. Latinos, principally immigrants, are cursed as the cause of our financial and social problems. Immigrants have always been held culpable.

While rapid immigration growth does create problems in education, medical care, housing and law enforcement, the Latino immigrants serve as a force in revitalizing older urban areas with small businesses, and provide a strong, young work force.

But of all the findings in the poll, the one that stood out was that nearly 70 percent of Latinos born outside the country said they identify "more with the United States than with their country of origin."

The rap on Latinos has been that they care more about their country of origin or their ancestral home.

Anti-immigrant groups and others should take note that an overwhelming number profess a strong connection to this country. The notion that Latinos refuse to assimilate has been and continues to be a farce perpetuated by the children of earlier immigrants.

Latinos are learning English when language classes are available. They are participating in the political process when it becomes open to them and not hostile. They are working and paying taxes.

Latinos are making their way into the mainstream. And Latinos eventually will be be as successful as the immigrants who preceded them because of their optimism.

* Contact Ernesto Portillo Jr. at 573-4242 or e-mail netopjr@azstarnet.com. He appears on "Arizona Illustrated," KUAT-TV Channel 6, at 6:30 p.m. and midnight Fridays.