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Stereotypes Of Latin Americans

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A Report on Stereotypes of Latin Americans among

Graduate Students of International Management

Carmen Vega Carney and Matilde Franciulli

This study presents the results of a study conducted among graduate students in international management in a US business school. The study aimed at identifying the students’ prevalent stereotypes of Latin Americans as well as to ascertain whether these differ from conventional stereotypes present in the general population. The conventional stereotypes were identified from those reported in the professional literature and from those present in popular media and advertising (Oboler 1995).

Latin Americans are not identified in this study as Hispanics or Latinos because the targets of this study are business executives who will be dealing primarily with Latin Americans at an international level. Categories such as Latino or Hispanic are generally used to define a particular ethnic group mainly within the United States (Oboler 1995). In spite of the US-based genesis of the terms, among the general population there is a tendency to perceive all Latin American based populations, and the Latino-Hispanic population in the United States, as one homogeneous group. Hence, the same stereotypes--negative and positive--are applied to for both groups. The literature about stereotypes asserts: (1) that a Latin American is automatically identified as a Hispanic or Latino once the person takes up residence in the United States; (2) that Hispanics are perceived as being one national group, and (3) that stereotypes about Latin Americans and Hispanics in this country seem to be mostly negative (Nuiry, 1996; Oboler, 1995; SÐ"ÐŽnchez;1989; Sharbach, 1993; Westerman, 1989; Windhausen, 1991).

With the emergence of developing economies in Latin America, the globalization and liberalization of markets, the integration of the economies among the Latin American countries--and the integration of their markets, the frequency of direct contact with Latin Americans is greater now. In addition to economic changes within Latin America, the immigration patterns in the hemisphere continue to favor a movement toward the United States. Effective cross- cultural communications, necessary in the business dealings of a globalize economy cannot be achieved if the participants base the knowledge of each other upon misconceptions.

Stereotypes: The Literature

Stereotypes have been thoroughly discussed in the professional literature. Lippman’s (1921) seminal work laid the foundations for the research that followed. Three important studies on racial and ethnic stereotypes among students were conducted in Princeton over the course of thirty-seven years (Daniel Katz and Kenneth Braly in 1932, by G. M. Gilbert in 1951 and by Marvin Karlins, Thomas I. Coffman and Gary Walters in 1969). Katz and Braly's research confirmed “the uniformity in the patterns of discrimination against various races shown by Americans throughout the United States” (280). These two researchers created the original paradigm for testing students, in which lists of character attributes are paired with different nationalities. Neither Hispanics nor Latin Americans were included as an ethnic group or a nationality in any of those studies.

Gilbert discovered changes in attitudes which demonstrated that some stereotypes fade with time, while others persist. In 1951 his research already showed the reluctance among college students “to make stereotypical generalizations” (252). The tendency towards separating from national origins any identification with negative attributes seemed to have taken hold after the Second World War although some negative stereotypes of Germans and Japanese persisted (Klineberg, 1950). However, they also faded with time, just as, for example, the stereotypes of Russians and inhabitants of other communist nations are disappearing at the present time. What then was speculation on Gilbert’s part has been corroborated by what has taken place in the United States during the last twenty years. Gilbert argued that among the factors which contributed to an apparent "relaxation" or “modification” of stereotypes were, the increased popularity of the study of social sciences, “the changing complexion of the student population”, “the general disappearance of stereotypical characterizations in our entertainment and communication media”, and the changes which took place in American society during the 1960s (253). The unpopularity of negative stereotyping was further validated by the uncomfortable reaction of the students who participated, both in Gilbert’s survey and in the survey on which this report is based. The students tested, Gilbert adds, showed a reluctance to generalize and “regard it as almost an insult to their intelligence to be required to make such generalizations” (252). With regards to Gilbert's comments, cited above, on the entertainment world, he may have been referring to the disappearance of extremely negative stereotypes of African-Americans, but negative images of American Indians and Mexicans, however, have persisted much longer.

The protestation among students tested emerged again when the studies on stereotypes were repeated in 1969. That study corroborated Gilbert’s “fading effect” of stereotypes and, as expected from a study conducted in the 1960’s, the students reflected a negative perception of the American group. Being an American was seen more unfavorably then than it had been during the earlier studies.

From the original studies which considered stereotypes as generalizations, research began to take distinct paths, such as studying the function of ethnic stereotypes in behavior and how their persistence affects society (Brigham, 1971). Brigham and other researchers thoroughly studied stereotypes in search of answers to basic questions about their origin, their meaning, their validity and their influence on society at large: Are stereotypes culturally determined? Do we perceive them through the filters of our culture? Is there a “kernel of truth” in our perceptions? Is there a large degree of agreement about negative perceptions even if those who have the perceptions belong to several and distinct national groups? Do people have similar negative autostereotypes that coincide with the negative stereotypes of outside groups? Do children have similar stereotypes about other groups, which coincide with those of adults? Are there “inherent”

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