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Research shows racism prevalent among Latinos in Miami

A USF professor found through her research that there is ethnic rivalry among factions of the diverse Latino community. This discrimination among Latino immigrants is referred to as colorblind racism.

Specifically, wealthier immigrant groups discriminate against poorer and undocumented immigrants, blaming them for the anti-immigrant climate in the U.S.

Elizabeth Aranda, assistant professor of sociology, presented her research Thursday in a lecture titled “Immigrant Latinos and Colorblind Racism in South Florida,” sponsored by the Institute for the Study of Latin America and the Caribbean (ISLAC).

Frank Hernandez, a junior majoring in history, helped to publicize the event on behalf of the Cuban American Student Association.

“I hope that having this lecture at USF will allow students who may be disconnected with immigration or racism realize that these ordeals are no easy task,” Hernandez said. “Maybe in some way (students will) realize that immigrants are only trying to achieve the same accomplishments that everyone’s family was hoping for before they moved to the U.S.”

Joseph Anastasio, a graduate student in ISLAC, came to the lecture because of his own experiences with immigration.

“I want to hear what someone has to say who studies immigrant assimilation in the U.S.,” he said.

Anastasio’s mother emigrated from Puerto Rico and his father from Italy. They settled in Buffalo, N.Y., an area largely populated by Puerto Ricans and Italians, which made it easy for them to assimilate.

He said recent immigrants, however, have it harder.

“Today, people don’t want to talk to immigrants. With Mexican immigrants, people don’t feel like talking to them. People are less open,” he said.

Aranda, along with fellow researchers Rosa Chang and Elena Sabogal from the University of Miami, conducted 115 in-depth interviews and formed 15 focus groups with recent immigrants from Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Mexico, Peru and Puerto Rico who have been in Miami since 1986. Their research is part of a book they are writing about immigrant Miami.

Aranda said the immigrants she interviewed said Miami afforded them a cultural citizenship in which they didn’t have to explain everything about themselves. They said Miami felt like home to them.

Aranda’s research aims to demonstrate that claims of Miami resembling a Third World country are rooted in cultural racism. Further, she argues that immigrants in Miami are starting to internalize those views.

“Cultural racism is where people think that immigrants have problematic habits and beliefs. It implies a notion of cultural inferiority. Now cultural racism is related to assimilation,” Aranda said. “It’s based on this perception that English is losing its primacy and Spanish is gaining in prevalence and that it poses a threat. But this is an immigrant nation, so it doesn’t make sense.”

The interviews reveal that many Miami immigrants feel the city is becoming overpopulated with immigrants, who they believe are taking all the jobs and giving immigrants a bad name.

Aranda said a dichotomy is forming in the minds of Americans between “good” or “deserving” immigrants and “bad” or “undeserving” ones.

“You could make the argument that the suspicion cast on undocumented immigrants is carried over onto all immigrants as well,” Aranda said. “The ‘good’ immigrant is perceived to be the one who comes by legal means, works hard and becomes as close to white as possible, and embraces Western capitalism.”

“The ‘undeserving immigrant,'” she said, “is becoming the new underclass.”

One of the interviewees in the study was a Peruvian immigrant who said he feels his status in society is below that of Mexicans and African Americans in the U.S.

“He’s saying that life is harder for these ‘undeserving’ immigrants,” Aranda said. “It’s not a glass ceiling, it’s a brick wall.”

These divisions between immigrant groups are causing ethnic rivalries. A Colombian man said in a focus group that he sees Central Americans as being among the lower class.

“They come from the segment that is less educated, they don’t know how to express themselves correctly, they are not respectful, they don’t ask for permission,” he said.

Aranda, who holds a doctorate in sociology from Temple University, is the author of Emotional Bridges to Puerto Rico: Migration, Return Migration, and the Struggles of Incorporation, which was published in 2006. She teaches courses on immigration, race and sociology at the University.