‘Latino Threat’ lecture brings new perspective to issue

“Who gets to be an American?” This was the question posed on a 2006 Time Magazine cover referring to immigrants in America.

Leo Chavez from the University of California-Irvine addressed this question at a lecture he spoke at on Thursday. He said American media falsely construct a “Latino threat” narrative about how Latin American immigrants are illegitimate members of society who refuse to assimilate.

Magazines like Time and Legion from the 1970s contained cover stories like “Time Bomb In Mexico: Why there’ll be no end to the invasion by illegals,” and “Will the Mexican Migration Create a New Nation?” he said these examples prove the “Latino threat” is not new.

“This is the question we are confronting as a nation: Who do we allow to be a part of us?” Chavez added. He said understanding how Americans receive and treat the immigrating population is critical to analyzing immigrant relations.

“Immigrants becoming part of a new nation is really dependent, from our point of view, really more on the receiving nation’s sense of how possible it is to integrate others into the ‘us’,” Chavez said. He presented some of what he believes are Americans’ largest perceived threats about Latinos. These perceived threats include the beliefs that Latin Americans refuse to learn English, they represent a reproductive threat to U.S. society and they desire a re-conquest of the American Southwest.

Mario Nunez, junior in Education, said his family emigrated from Mexico in the late 1960s. He said his older sisters were the first generation to complete college, and he will be the next. He said he thinks the “Latino threat,” has increased since his family immigrated.

“When my family first moved here, they didn’t really have to deal with the whole segregation and intolerance,” Nunez said. “It was really tough for them to grow up, but they kind of assimilated into the American culture, so it was quite easy for them.”

Chavez presented his own data to refute the “Latino threat.” He found that as generations of Southern California immigrants progress, they are more reluctant to learn Spanish. He also found fertility rates of Latin American women are dropping at the same rate as Caucasian fertility rates.

At the end of the lecture, Chavez presented the contributions America has received from immigration, including $7 billion annually from undocumented immigrants to American Social Security and $35 billion from Mexican laborers to the agriculture industry in California.

Julissa Santoy, junior in LAS, attended the lecture to further educate herself about a topic; however she said did not realize the scale of media representation.

“I was a little surprised because I had never seen all the covers of the magazines,” Santoy said. “I would have never imagined that anybody could honestly say those things. It’s bewildering to me.”