Throughout its history, the United States has been the destination for migrants from most of the world’s countries, to the point that it is often referred to as a country of immigrants. Current statistics tell us that the richest and most powerful country on the planet receives more migrants annually than any other. Many economists say these migrations are one of the causes of the country’s wealth and productivity.
Mexico, whose history has been inevitably linked to that of its neighbor to the north, is the country’s largest source of immigrants, although people from practically every country in the world have made the journey. California has the largest number of Latino immigrants, but every state in the union has some.
About 50 million Latino immigrants and their descendants constitute the largest ethnic minority in this country; half are of Mexican origin and the rest are from the other countries of Latin America. That’s why U.S. politicians and their parties try to attract the electoral preferences of this group, which is thus courted in a thousand different ways.
Although there is much obvious diversity among migrant groups based on their countries of origin, it is common for Latinos to be considered a compact and unique group, without important differences and with Spanish as a common language to the point that they are mistakenly called “Hispanic,” a word that literally means “Spanish,” or something or someone coming from Spain.
In all the territories of the Americas conquered and colonized by the Europeans during almost three centuries, the conquerors left, in addition to their language and culture, a history of racial and social discrimination that endures to this day, much like that suffered by the Africans captured and sold as slaves (who often replaced the exterminated indigenous people).
Many Latino migrants themselves practice discriminatory customs they bring with them from their home countries, where on the social and racial scale, whites with European features dominate. Further down the scale are the darker-skinned, the mestizo, the indigenous and the black. With few exceptions and variations, a rich white minority dominates in every Latin American country while the rest of the population of color makes up the poor majority.
Some countries rank themselves by virtue of the percentages of whites in their populations. Argentina and Uruguay have a majority white population due to relatively recent migrations from Italy and other European countries, and to the extermination of indigenous people and blacks. In their dealings with the rest of the continent, these countries express a supposed racial superiority. Then there are countries with large indigenous populations, such as Guatemala, Bolivia or Peru, and although Mexico and Brazil match these in the number of indigenous people, in the latter countries that group is a minority. No matter which country they reside in, all indigenous people suffer enormous discrimination.
Latinos in the United States identify by their language, by their origin and as immigrants or their descendants. The “Hispanic” media often publishes messages of unity and promotes a confusing, pro-immigrant agenda (now anti-Trump) and what they call “Hispanic pride,” highlighting successful Latinos like Jennifer Lopez and Ricky Martin. With the possible exception of Cubans, Latinos are generally Democrats politically, although in practice they are deeply conservative.
The diversity of discriminatory attitudes across the Latin American social spectrum is enormous, and is reproduced locally by Latinos in many ways. For example, Central Americans feel superior to Mexicans, but also establish their own strata. I met a Honduran lady who did not believe that I was Mexican and told me that in her family they were all white and superior to other Hondurans. She also assured me that Guatemalan “Indians” were inferior, but still better workers than Mexicans.
I remember, years ago, a seemingly minor dispute in West Marin between the daughters of a racially dark immigrant from central Mexico and other white Latino children from Jalisco who had insulted the girls by calling them “dark Indians.” Another time, some educated and middle-class Argentines asked me how it was possible that the Mexicans and Central Americans they had to deal with in their work “were so ignorant and didn’t know English,” thus justifying the discrimination against them and the notion that they were a burden on the country.
There have always been documented Latino immigrants who reject the arrival of new, undocumented immigrants who are seen as both unfair competition for jobs and not having had as harsh a time as the documented immigrants. I have seen members of the same family complain about each other in this way.
Today there are Latinos who sympathize with Trump, his infamous border wall and his anti-immigrant rhetoric, believing that immigrants are bad people who negatively influence this country. These individuals fail to understand that these migratory flows often obscure economic and military interests—along with the consumption and trafficking of illegal drugs—that caused and permitted criminality, inequality and poverty in the immigrants’ source countries, often promoted at the time by the United States and its allies.