Stereotypes of Chicanos in the US

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

20 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Stereotypes in the American News

3. Stereotypes in Movies

4. The Negative Image of Mexicans

6. Picture Books for the Early Childhood Classrom and Stereotypes therein

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In this term paper, negative stereotypes of Mexicans and Chicanos in the U.S. media will be examined. These stereotypes include violent, criminal and vile behavior while wearing a wide-brimmed sombrero with a bottle of tequila in hand. Why do they exist? What are the reasons for this? Berg argues that one prominent source for the dominant stereotype of Chicanos is the media, primarily the globally dominant U.S. media, and specifically – though not exclusively – Hollywood movies.[1] According to the psychologist Yueh-Ting Lee, “stereotypes are probabilistic belief [which we] use to categorize people, objects, and events and we have to have them in order to deal with all the information in a world with which we are often uncertain as well as unfamiliar.”[2] A dangerous character is ascribed to stereotypes when we consider Bower’s statement that stereotyping can be seen as a “breeding soil for errant generalizations about others that easily [merge] into racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.”[3] Since a complete presentation of the existing stereotypes would stretch the point, I will focus on the most popular stereotypes ascribed to Chicanos. Furthermore, the origin of these negative stereotypes towards this minority will be analysed.

In order to explore this, I will place emphasis on stereotypes in American news, movies and in advertisement. Last but not least, I will talk about multicultural picture books and stereotypes therein.

In the first part of this term paper, I will talk about blurred coverage in American news. Syque states that in creating stereotypes “we often mistakenly assume things are correlated when they are not; when we make this mistake, we will find ways to ‘prove’ it or simply believe and assert the correlation.”[4] This is called illusory correlation. The problem of this psychological phenomenon will be connected with partial coverage, which can cause stereotypes. In the second part, the presence of Chicanos and their language in American movies will be scrutinized. Thereby, the phenomenon of the so-called ‘Mock Spanish’, which describes a variety of usages common in some otherwise monolingual Anglo-American circles, will psychologically be clarified using the social identity theory.

Stereotypes in advertisement are discussed in the third section. A reference to the Mexican bandit stereotype will be shown by the ‘Frito Bandito’ which was the name of an advertising campaign in the seventies. In the final section, negative stereotypes in one of the most famous American picture books will be analyzed. Bunting’s “A day’s work” will serve as a prime example of pitfalls, which come up when confronting young children with such stereotypes. The result is an implicit stereotyping.

2. Stereotypes in the American News

This section deals with the presence of Chicanos in U.S. TV news. The coverage of American news will be observed in order to find out if it can be a present-day source of negative stereotypes about Chicanos. Huff brought forward the argument that a common heuristic amongst children and grown-up seems to be“[i]f that is in the media, it must be true”.[5]

This statement turns out to be prevalent in the fields of reporting, and it can be regarded as even worse if there is on the one hand a certain prejudice or a given preselection in favour of particular groups or on the other hand against other people. This oftentimes happens if the discriminated group presents as a minority. Events that are reported – contrary to movies where everything is unreal – actually happened. We run into danger to believe biased news coverage since it is by far more credible compared to movies. Todd Nelson stated that “[…] we use the media as a tool to help us decide the pervasiveness and acceptability of our beliefs and attitudes.”[6] From this statement, we can conclude that a person who often sees stereotypes depicted in the news will believe that these attitudes represent the society’s standard view.

Johnson notices a certain danger in the fact that “individuals may rely on mass media for impressions of others with whom they do not have interpersonal contact.”[7] The result is that they will accept the information presented to them on television as valid. The reporting of American news can be categorized as mainly biased. For example, black people, Asians and Latinos are portrayed as criminals, whereas white people are often presented as the victims.

“We conducted a content analysis of a random sample of local television news programming in Los Angeles and Orange counties to assess representations of Blacks, Latinos, and Whites as lawbreakers and law defenders. ‘Intergroup’ comparisons of perpetrators (Black and Latino vs. White) revealed that Blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely than Whites to be portrayed as lawbreakers on television news. ‘ Interrole’ comparisons revealed that Blacks and Latinos are more likely to be portrayed as lawbreakers than as defenders, whereas Whites are significantly more likely to be portrayed as defenders than as lawbreakers.”[8]

As a result, a common idea among many US citizens is that Chicanos are more likely to engage in criminal doings. According to Nelson, the phenomenon of deriving such a stereotypical attribute from the news is named illusory correlation. This means that the stereotypical attribute is falsified, manipulated, and blurred. “Such [blurred] portrayals of [Chicanos] in the media can […] lead to the formation of an artificial or illusory correlation between [Chicanos] and criminal behaviour.” [9]

As noted by David Myers, once “we believe there is a relationship between two things, we are likely to notice and recall instances that confirm our belief.”[10] Nelson defines the term in the following way: “When a person observes a certain group (e.g. a minority group) acting displeasingly (e.g. violating the law), we are more likely to notice such an event, since it illustrates an exceptional occurrence. The co-occurrence thereof can cause a connection between the group and its apparently natural tendency to behave displeasingly.[11] The more attention is paid to such a co-occurrence, the merrier this illusory correlation will be kept in mind, and consequently it will have an impact on the judgments of the target group.[12] Therefore, illusory correlations can obviously cause not only formation, but also maintenance of stereotypes.


[1] Berg, R. Latino Images in Film. Austin: University of Texas, 2002,: 2.

[2] Bower, B. “Fighting Stereotype Stigma.” In: Science News 149 (26), 1996: 408.

[3] ibid.: 408.

[4], September 10th, 2008.

[5] Huff, D. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton, 1954.

[6] Nelson, T. The Psychology of Prejudice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006.

[7] Johnson, M. “Pre-television Stereotypes: Mexicans in Newsreels, 1919-1932.” In: Critical Studies in Mass Communication 16 (4), 1999: 417-435.

[8] Dixon, T., Linz, D. “Overrepresentation and Underrepresentation of African Americans and Latinos as Lawbreakers on Television News.” In: Journal of Communication 50, 2000: 131ff.

[9] cp. Nelson, T. The Psychology of Prejudice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006: 42

[10] (September 12th, 2008)

[11] cp. Nelson, T. The Psychology of Prejudice. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2006: 42.

[12] ibid.: 42.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Stereotypes of Chicanos in the US
University of Freiburg
Mexicans in the US
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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444 KB
Stereotypes, Chicanos, Mexicans
Quote paper
Dominik Lorenz (Author), 2008, Stereotypes of Chicanos in the US, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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