So it's obvious that many conservative politicians in Arizona don't much care for immigrants. But according to a study from the Center for American Progress and other groups, the "illegals" next door might also hold some views about women that may strike right-wingers as, well, alien. The survey, conducted in 2009, appears to come to a conclusion that is both banal and surprising: Latinos hold political and social views that are similar to the rest of the population, but on some gender issues, they're evidently more open-minded. The findings reveal a political nuance seldom foregrounded in mainstream media portrayals.
For instance, researchers found that when it comes to "work-life balance":
Latinos express some of the highest levels of support for changes to governmental and business policies to better equip people to handle the burdens of modern life--from increased workplace flexibility to paid family and medical leave to increased child care support.
The social factors that spawn such views vary by individual, but you might reasonably assume that working Latino parents know just how hard it is to scrape by without quality day care, or paid time off when a child is sick. Especially when many of them have little or no access to basic public benefits like Medicaid due to immigration status.
Also, perhaps contrary to stereotypes, Latino men and women in the survey didn't take an especially strict stance on non-traditional family structures:
Latino men, and Latino women in particular, express far less concern than the overall population about the negative consequences of children growing up in a household without a stay-at-home parent.
And it looks like Latinos are somewhat more likely than others to consider societal changes in gender roles as progress.
We asked Americans to evaluate the fact that women today constitute about one-half of all workers compared to 40 years ago when women made up one-third of all workers. ... Positive views about the rise of women in the economy cut across nearly every demographic and ideological group. But Latinos were among the most favorable groups in the survey, with 87 percent of Latino women and 82 percent of Latino men viewing this change positively--7 to 10 points higher than men and women overall.
These trends may not seem remarkable on the surface, but they do stand out against a backdrop of media-perpetuated stereotypes about "machismo" or the conservatism that Latinos supposedly bring with them across the border.
Maybe when it comes to some social issues, including gender, hardship has a way of pushing people to embrace new ideas. Is it possible that communities tied to migration--living at the center of the immigration gauntlet of opportunity and exploitation--tend to key into broader struggles for equality and social protection? Women's roles in America, after all, have been redefined by immigration; immigrant women's multiple struggles as caregivers, workers, and community members have made both immigration and women's issues more politically visible and intricately linked.
It's impossible to gauge exactly what factors push Latinos toward more progressive social attitudes--cultural flexibility stemming from transnational crossings, economic challenges, or the influence of American-born children could all play a role. What's clear, though, is that the country's changing racial and ethnic landscape alarms conservative elites for deeper reasons than only skin color. It's what the browning of America represents: the gradual displacement of a homogeneous status quo with pluralism by necessity.
Photo: istock/Michael DeLeon