April 4, 2012

When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity

III. The American Experience

When it comes to their views of the U.S., Latinos are generally positive. They see the U.S. as better than the countries of their ancestors on a number of dimensions—but not all. And when comparing the Latino experience in the U.S with the experience of other minority groups, Latinos see themselves, for the most part, at least as successful as others. They also believe in the efficacy of hard work—more so than the general public. Even so, Latinos in the U.S. express less personal trust of others than the general public.

Latino Success in the U.S.

Hispanics have mixed views on the overall success of their group when compared with other minority groups. More than half (55%) say Hispanics have been about equally successful in the U.S., and 17% say their group has been more successful. But more than one-in-five (22%) say Hispanics have been less successful than other minority groups in the U.S.

Belief in the Importance of Hard Work

More so than the general public, Hispanics believe that hard work gets results. Three-quarters (75%) say that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard, while 21% say hard work and determination are no guarantee of success. By comparison, fewer than six-in-ten (58%) of the general public say hard work can lead to success, and 40% say hard work is no guarantee of success (Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, 2011b).

Belief in the power of hard work is strong among both foreign-born and native-born Hispanics—77% and 73%, respectively. Among the native born, those in the second generation are just as likely as the foreign born (76% versus 77%) to say most people can get ahead with hard work. Among third-generation Hispanics, 70% say most people can get ahead with hard work.

Spanish-dominant Hispanics express the greatest level of belief in the value of hard work. Fully 83% say most people who want to get ahead can make it if they work hard. By contrast, 71% of bilingual Hispanics and 70% of English-dominant Hispanics say the same.

Attitudes about Personal Trust

When it comes to personal trust, most Latinos say you can’t be too careful when dealing with people. Some 86% of Hispanics say this, while 12% say people can be trusted.

This level of distrust is higher among Hispanics than it is among the general public. According to a 2010 survey from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press (2010), a majority of Americans also say you can’t be too careful when dealing with people. But that share, 61%, is lower than it is among Hispanics.

Even though large majorities of Latinos say you can’t be too careful when dealing with people, some small differences are evident among subgroups. Foreign-born Latinos are somewhat more distrustful of others than are U.S.-born Latinos—89% versus 81%.

Mirroring the results by nativity and generation, personal distrust is highest among those who are Spanish dominant and lowest among those who are English dominant. Some 93% of Spanish-dominant Latinos say you can’t be too careful when it comes to dealing with people. Among those who are bilingual, 84% say you can’t be too careful, while 78% among those who are English dominant say the same.

Latinos’ Views of the U.S.

Latinos overall are satisfied with life in the U.S.—at least when compared with the home country of their ancestors. Nearly nine-in-ten (87%) Latinos say the opportunity to get ahead is better in the U.S. than in the country of their ancestors. Nearly three-in-four (72%) say conditions for raising children are better here than in the country of their ancestors. Seven-in-ten (69%) say the poor are treated better in the U.S. And some 44% say the moral values of society are better in the U.S. than in the country of their ancestors.

Only when it comes to the strength of family ties do more Hispanics say the country of their ancestors is better than the U.S. According to the survey, some 39% say this, compared with one-third (33%) who say the U.S. is better than their ancestral home country when it comes to the strength of family ties.

The Hispanic Immigrant Experience

The survey finds that economic opportunities are the most common reason by far that Hispanic immigrants give for coming to the U.S. More than half (55%) cite this as their main reason, followed by 24% who say it was “for family reasons,” and 9% who say it was to pursue educational opportunities.

Asked whether they would do it again, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) immigrant Hispanics say they would come to the U.S., 15% say they would stay in their home country, and just 4% say they would move to another country.

However, not all Hispanic immigrants are sure that if they had to do it all over again, they would come to the U.S. One-third (33%) of recent arrivals say they would stay in their home country, while 58% say they would come to the U.S. again. By contrast, among immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than five years, large majorities say they would migrate to the U.S. again.

This difference in responses by years in the U.S. may reflect the recent economic downturn or the current environment regarding immigration reform. Hispanics—especially the foreign born—were hit very hard by the Great Recession (Taylor, Lopez, Velasco and Motel, 2012).

This finding may also reflect differences in the composition of immigrant cohorts. Among those who arrived in the last five years, there are some immigrants who eventually will return to their home country. By contrast, among other cohorts, many who had decided to return home likely already have.