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Ponnada: Rethinking immigrant stereotypes

BY SRI PONNADA | DECEMBER 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Immigrants in this country face a number of challenges. Beside people often fearing or automatically suspecting that because I’m an immigrant, I am in this country illegally, there are also various other stereotypes I’ve had to deal with.

People who know that I’ve lived in the Caribbean, for example, figure that I must listen to a lot of Bob Marley music (although this is quite true) and “smoke a hella lotta that good kush,” as one young man once said to me.

But the truth is that very little of the collective conjecture about immigrants is true. It’s absolutely ridiculous that there are people who choose to believe that such stereotypes are the dominant or even sole identities of immigrants in this country such as me.

A new study, recently published in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, deals a serious blow to many of these stereotypes surrounding immigrant groups. The study shows that immigrants are less likely than natural-born Americans to shoplift, skip work or school, hurt people, or engage in other “antisocial” behaviors — even though they are as a whole poorer, more urbanized, and less educated than people born in America.

Researchers used data from a sweeping national survey of about 43,000 people to compare the actions of immigrants to people born in the United States. They looked at many different forms of self-reported behaviors, including bullying, stealing, getting numerous traffic tickets, and other violent and nonviolent actions.

Overall, the researchers found that immigrants were about half as likely to say they had behaved in these ways.

The results were the same for immigrants from specific regions, including Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. People born in America were almost four times as likely to report engaging in violent behavior than immigrants from Asia and Africa and three times as likely as Latin American immigrants. European immigrants were the closest to native-born Americans, but still exhibited considerably less antisocial behavior than people born in the United States.

Another shocking result of the study was that immigrants who came to the United States before their teenage years were more prone to problematic behavior, and the longer people spent in this country, they more likely they were to be involved in crime. According to the study, an immigrant is 1.9 percent more likely to be violent and 0.9 percent more likely to commit acts of “nonviolent antisociality,” such as stealing or cutting class, for each year that he or she spends in this country.
I guess that’s what it means to do things the “American” way.

So the results are in: immigrants are no more likely than natural-born citizens to be terrorists, drug lords, cold-blooded killers, prostitution ringmasters, welfare cheats, gang members, or even average everyday deadbeat employees. And yet, insidious stereotypes prevail.

So why is it that “Americans” continue to look upon immigrants with such suspicion and paranoia?

Many of us [immigrants] are here to utilize the vast amount of resources and opportunities available in this country to better ourselves and to take care our families. And many of us look at this country as being our home. But because immigrants are seen as outsiders, we are all too often made into scapegoats for many societal problems.

The facts show, however, that if Americans are looking for the people to worry about, they should just look in the mirror.


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