Latin America is generally considered to comprise all of the politically independent territory of the Western Hemisphere outside of Canada and the United States, that was originally colonized by the Spaniards or Portuguese. “Latino” is the umbrella term for people of Latin American descent that in recent years has supplanted the more imprecise and bureaucratic designation “Hispanic”. Latin America as represented in the popular culture of the United States invokes poverty, a rural environment, shantytowns, exotic indigenous, economic and technological backwardness,[weasel words] the Catholic religion's governance of every aspect of life,[according to whom?] personality cult,[according to whom?] dictatorship, authoritarianism, corruption and disorganization, machismo, violence in the streets, drug trafficking, and revolutionary movements. Part of the mystery and difficulty of comprehension lies in the fact that the territory we call Latin America is homogeneous neither in natural nor in cultural characteristics. Latin American stereotypes have the greatest impact on public perceptions and that Latin Americans were the most negatively rated on several characteristics. Americans’ perceptions of the characteristics of Latin American immigrants in particular are strongly linked to their beliefs about the impact of immigration, especially on unemployment, schools and crime.
Portrayal in film and television
Lack of representation
When discussing how Hispanic and Latino individuals are represented in television and film media, it is also important to acknowledge their vast under representation in popular programming. Not only are these individuals often stereotyped on TV, but they are rarely even seen. Latino Americans represent approximately 13% of the American population, but only 0.6 to 6.5% of all primetime program characters, 1% of television families, and less than 4.5% of commercial actors. This poses the issue that Hispanic and Latino characters are not only rarely seen, but when they are, they are more than likely to be stereotyped. In the unlikely case where they are depicted, they are more likely to be limited to stereotypic characters, usually negatively.
Stereotypical representation of Hispanic and Latino characters are typically negatively presented and attack the entire ethnic group’s morality, work ethic, intelligence, or dignity. Even in non-fiction media, such as news outlets, Hispanics are usually reported on in crime, immigration, or drug related stories than accomplishments. These stereotypes can also differ between men and women. Hispanic or Latino men are more likely to be stereotyped as unintelligent, comedic, aggressive, sexual, and unprofessional, earning them titles as “Latin lovers,” buffoons, or criminals. This often results in these individuals being characterized as working less respectable careers, being involved in crimes (often drug related), or being uneducated immigrants. Hispanic/Latino characters are more likely than non-Hispanic white characters to possess lower status occupations, such as domestic workers, or be involved in drug related crimes. Hispanic and Latina women, similarly, are typically portrayed as lazy, verbally aggressive, and lacking work ethic. These stereotypes are seen in characters like George Lopez, who lacks higher education and is written around humor, and Sofia Vergara, who is portrayed as an immigrant woman marrying a rich man, and is often mocked for her loud and aggressive voice and accent.
According to Qingwen, “the impact of television portrayals of minorities is significant because of the ability of television images to activate racial stereotypes and the power exerted by visual images”. Non-Hispanic white Americans who lack real life contact with Hispanic or Latino individuals are forced to rely heavily on television and film, their only source of exposure to this ethnic group, as the foundation of perceiving Hispanic and Latino individuals. If nearly all of the few representations of these individuals are negatively stereotyped, non-Hispanic white individuals are likely to carry this perception into real life, embedding that stereotypical image of Hispanic and Latino individuals into their conscience. Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory gives insight into how these stereotypical character representations are carried into the real world, pointing to the way in which individuals’ perceptions are limited to what they have experienced. Those who lack real life contact with the stereotyped individuals are unable to counter the television portrayals of this ethnic group with a more realistic, less negative image.
Stereotypes in news media
Between the years 2001 and 2010, the Hispanic population increased significantly within the U.S., marking Hispanics as the largest minority in California. As the Hispanic population increased throughout the U.S., the news media began negatively framing Hispanics as criminals, illegal immigrants, dangerous and violent; thus further perpetuating prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes of Hispanics.
- “Research shows that on English-language news media networks, during the 1990s, negative attitudes started to arise against Hispanics-and-Latinos. This began after voters approved California Proposition 187 in 1994.” 
The California Proposition 187 was a 1994 ballot initiative to establish a state-run citizenship screening system and prohibit illegal aliens from using non-emergency health care, public education, and other services in the State of California. This proposition began a spur of negative images and claims associated with Hispanics and Latinos in the U.S.
Negative news media portrayals in addition to Prop 187 affected the Hispanic community greatly— limiting employment opportunities, increasing maltreatment within the criminal justice system, and perpetuating victimization through violent hate crimes against Latinos. Studies show that from 2003 to 2007, the violent hate crimes against Latinos have risen 40%.
Instead of focusing on positive attributes related to Hispanics and Latinos, news media content focused mainly on stereotypes and misjudgments when addressing the population. As a result, news media programs helped build a “semantic meaning of the Hispanic-and-Latino identity as a metonym for illegal immigration.”
- “This discourse consists of promoting the idea that crime and undocumented immigrants, and the costs of illegal immigration in social services and taxes directly result from the increase of Hispanics-and-Latinos in the United States.”
News media portrayed Hispanics as the enemy, consistently labeling them as illegal immigrants and violent criminals without statistics or facts to support their claims. A 2002 study conducted by Chiricos and Escholz examined race and news media content and investigated how news media content primes the local public’s fear of crime.
- “The findings suggested fear of crime forms part of a new ‘modem racism’; that is, that local television news may contribute to the social construction of threat in relation to both minorities; television over-represents African Americans and Hispanics in crime news in relation to their share of the general population.” 
Another study conducted by Waldman and colleagues analyzed three cable commentators: Lou Dobbs, Bill O’Reilly, and Glenn Beck and their discussion of illegal immigration. These results concluded that 70% of the Lou Dobbs Tonight episodes in 2007 contained discussion of illegal immigration, 56% of the O’Reilly Factor episodes in 2007 discussed illegal immigration and Glenn Beck discussed illegal immigration in 28% of his year 2007 programs. As a result of popular shows labeling Hispanics as "illegal immigrants" and often portraying Hispanics in a negative light, these programs gave anti-immigration activists a platform for discrimination.
In attempt to verify the accuracy of stereotypes held against Hispanics and Latinos, studies conducted at Harvard and Michigan showed that undocumented and foreign-born immigrants were far less likely to commit acts of deviance, crime, drunk driving, or any kind of action that may jeopardize U.S. denizens’ well-being. In addition, the study found that the incarceration rate of foreign-born denizens is five times less the rate of native born citizens.
News Media during the 2000s greatly enhanced negative stereotypes associated with Hispanics and Latinos, further perpetuating anti-immigration rhetoric and opinions throughout the nation. In the early 2000s, many news media programs portrayed unfair and inaccurate stereotypes of Hispanics due mainly to their high immigration rate during the time.
Hispanics and Crime in the U.S.
According to several scholars, the stereotypes of Hispanics are similar to the ones associated with African Americans. Often characterized as being dangerous, drug traffickers, drug users, violent, and gang bangers, Hispanics are subjected to much stereotyping within the U.S. in relation to crime, especially by their white counterparts.
Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino men
A very common stereotype of Hispanic/Latino males is that of the criminal, gang member, or "cholo". It is connected to the false idea of Hispanics/Latinos being lower class and living in dangerous neighborhoods that breed this attitude of "cholo". Cholo and chola are terms often used in the United States to denote members of the Chicano gang subculture. These individuals are characterized by a defiant street attitude, a distinctive dress style, and the use of caló, slang, speech. In the United States, the term cholo often implies a negative connotation and consequently tends to be imposed upon a group of people rather than being used as a means of self-identification. This leads to considerable ambiguity in the particulars of its definition. In its most basic usage, it always refers to a degree of indigeneity. This stereotype leads to the larger issue of incarceration of Hispanic males or Incarceration, Race, and Inequality.
The "illegal alien"/ "job stealer"
Hispanics/Latinos are frequently seen as the "others" in the American population despite being a large part of the population. This otherness becomes a lens in which to view them as foreign or not being American. This mentality creates the illegal stereotype and the concept of job stealing. Generally, the term “immigrant” has positive connotations in relation to the development and operation of democracy and U.S. history while “illegal aliens” are vilified. The term "illegal alien" is defined as "a foreign person who is living in a country without having official permission to live there" Despite many Latino/Hispanic Americans being born in the U.S. or having legal status, they can be dismissed as immigrants or foreigners who live without proper documentation taking opportunities and resources from real Americans. Immigrants have been represented as depriving citizens of jobs, as welfare-seekers, or as criminals. Especially with the recent political/social movement in the United States for stricter immigration law, Americans are blaming Hispanics for “stealing jobs” and negatively impacting the economy.
The homogenous origin
A very common stereotype as well as mentality is that all Hispanic/Latino individuals have the same ethnic background, race, and culture when in reality there are numerous sub-groups with unique identities. People in the United States tend to explain all of Latin America in terms of the nationalities or countries that they know. For instance in the Midwest and Southwest, Latin Americans are largely perceived as Mexicans ; in the East, particularly in the New York and Boston areas, people consider Latin Americans through their limited interactions with Dominicans and Puerto Ricans; in Miami, Cubans and Central Americans constitute the reference group for interpreting Latin America.This idea of homogeneity is so extensive in US society that even important politicians tend to treat Latin America as a culturally unified region. Hispanic/Latino Americans become a homogenous group instead of their actual individual cultures, qualities, and differences.
The hard labor worker or the uneducated/lazy
There are two conflicting common stereotypes in accordance to employment that male Hispanics/Latinos tend to fall into: that of a manual labor worker or an unemployed/lazy citizen. Many Hispanic/Latino Americans have equally as much education and skill level, but are seen as 'hard labor workers' such as farm hands, gardeners, cleaners, etc. This stereotype goes along with that of the immigrant in believing all Hispanics/Latinos only work in hard labor fields and manual labor because they are not in the country legally which is false. Latin Americans are also often pictured as not strongly inclined to work hard despite the conflicting stereotype of working manual labor jobs. Today, negative stereotypes against certain ethnic groups about low cognitive abilities exist in many world regions, including stereotypes about people with a Latino background in the US. The stereotype creates a standard of thinking that alienates Hispanic/Latinos from having as many job and education opportunities because they are viewed as less than.
The discrepancy between Hispanic identity and identity
Due to Latino men's masculinity which is already coded as violent, criminal, and dangerous (Collins 1991; Ferguson 2000; Vasquez 2010), the racial project of controlling images systematically restricts Latino men’s lives. Machismo is depicted as the cult of male strength, which implies being fearless, self-confident, capable of making decisions, and able to support one's family. It also emphasized an acceptance of male dominance over women (including the valorization of Don Juanism) and, in its extreme form, a defense of the traditional division of labor (women in the kitchen and taking care of the children, and men as providers). In the United States, Hollywood movies, along with some scholars and others in general, tend to regard machismo as unique to Latin America. Hispanic identity and stereotypes can place a limit on how Hispanic men are able to present themselves such as Hispanic men in the LGBTQ community.
Stereotypes of Hispanic and Latina women
The entertainment and marketing industries
According to scholars, in the entertainment industry, Latinas have been historically depicted as possessing one of two completely contrasting identities. They have been depicted as either “virginal”, “passive”, and “dependent on men” or as “hot-tempered”, “tempestuous”, “promiscuous” and “sexy”. A 2005 study conducted by Dana Mastro and Elizabeth Behm-Morawitz, professors of communication studies at the University of Arizona, found depictions of Latina Americans on primetime television are both limited and biased. The study analyzed the frequency and the quality of the depictions of Hispanic and Latino/a individuals on primetime television in the year 2002. The study found that “ Latinas were the laziest characters in primetime… they were the least intelligent, most verbally aggressive, embodied the lowest work ethic, and (alongside whites) were the most ridiculed”. According to these same studies, the marketing industry has also played a role in stereotyping females with Hispanic origin by using these stereotypical identities to sell product. Specifically, the bodies of Latina women have been used and sexualized to sell product targeted to men. According to Mary Gilly, a professor of business at the University of California Irvine, Latina women in particular are eroticized in the marketing industry due to their frequent portrayal as “tempestuous”, “promiscuous,” or “sexy”.
The fiery Latina and the hot señorita
Stereotypical identities that have spurred from the idea that Hispanic and Latina women are "hot-tempered", "tempestuous", "promiscuous," and "sexy" include the "fiery Latina" and the "hot señorita". Both stem from the fact that Hispanic and Latina women are continually sexualized and eroticized on popular programing and in the entertainment industry as a whole. Recent examples include Sophia Vergara's character on Modern Family, but examples date back to the 1920s and 1930s with, "Dolores del Río playing the exotic and passionate lover of the 1920s, and Carmen Miranda playing sexy and bombshell characters in the 1930s and 1940s". Vergara portrays Gloria Delgado-Pritchett on Modern Family, a "trophy wife" often seen in provocative clothing and high heeled shoes. She often has trouble pronouncing English words and speaks with a heavy accent. Among the contemporary depictions accused of promoting the "Latina bombshell" include Iris Chacón's image, Naya Rivera in Glee, and Shakira and Jennifer Lopez's ""somewhat infamous music videos."
The virginal stereotype
Gina Rodriguez's portrayal of Jane on the CW comedy, Jane the Virgin, is one of the more recent examples of Hispanic and Latina women being portrayed as "virginal" or "passive". Jane is a religious devout catholic who learns that she is pregnant after accidentally being artificially inseminated during a routine check up. The show follows Jane as she struggles with the discovery and faces challenges as a new mother. While Rodriguez's character is almost the polar opposite of Vergara's, both perpetuate extreme stereotypes of Hispanic and Latina women.
The Fertility Threat
It has been established that Latinas in the United States have been hyper-sexualized by the media and societal stereotypes. One reason as to why Latinas are stereotyped as hyper-sexualization is because there is a idealistic picture of large Latino families with multiple children due to the Latina's highly sexualized nature. This has created the political and social threat of Latina fertility in which there is a concern that the hypothetical fertility and birthing rates of Latinas is much more than their non-hispanic white counterparts, adding to the threat of the Latino presence in the United States.
A significant study compared the sexual activity of non-Hispanic white women and Latinas in Orange County, California, where there is a high population of Mexican-American families. Non-Hispanic white women began sexual relations about a year younger than all of the Latinas in the survey reported. The non-Hispanic white women were more likely to report having had five or more sexual partners, while Latinas were more likely to report no more than two. Both non-Hispanic white women and Latinas showed a trend towards fewer children per household. In fact, second-generation Latinas were shown to have fewer children than non-Hispanic white women.  This study's results reinforces the idea that the stereotype of the hyper-sexual fertile Latina is another social construct aimed at creating the Latino threat narrative in the United States.
News and media
According to several sources, while the entertainment industry can be credited with the creation and frequent reinforcement of these stereotypes, the news is particularly important in the maintenance of these stereotypes. Unlike the entertainment and marketing industries, according to several studies, the press produces representations that are based on ‘reality’. A 1994 study by Macrea et al., found stereotypes are generalizations that our culture has defined for us, and that using stereotypes is “more efficient”. Thus, according to Macrea et al., journalists, due to time and space constraints, may be more likely to rely on stereotypic portrayals.
Recent research has consistently found that both Latina and Latino Americans have been underrepresented in news media, and in their limited portrayal have been depicted as a burden on contemporary American society. The recent election of President Donald Trump has brought this issue to the forefront of American news and issues relating specifically to immigration have perpetuated stereotypes of Hispanic and Latino Americans as criminals.
Hispanics are misperceived as “lazy” or “unintelligent” people because of the stereotypes of Latinos strictly occupying blue-collar jobs such as construction workers and older generation Latinos being unable to speak English.
Ethnic-minority students, who are in the lower-income bracket, are more likely to attend schools that are overcrowded, dangerous, and limited in the opportunities they offer for advanced course work with experienced teachers. Because of these inequalities in education, the graduation rate for Latino students is substantially below the rate for white students. Without a sufficient education, Hispanics have a harder time obtaining white-collar or professional jobs.
Contrary to the belief that Hispanics are “lazy,” a study by Andrew J. Fuligni has shown that “students from ethnic minority backgrounds often have higher levels of motivation than their equally achieving peers from European backgrounds…Latin American and Asian families have significantly higher values of academic success and a stronger belief in the utility of education.” This high level of motivation comes from Hispanics having a greater sense of obligation to support, assist, and respect the family.
A common misconception about Latinos and language learning is that not being able to speak English is a sign of unwillingness to learn. Some immigrants, from Mexico and other countries, live in the United States for decades without acquiring a basic command of the English language. The primary reason for this being that it is difficult to learn a second language as an adult. Another reason is that finding time to learn a new language, while struggling to financially support and spend time with family, may be impossible.
The “job-stealing Hispanic” stereotype is also false. According to Pastora San Juan Cafferty and William C. McCready, “a preliminary study of labor market competition among the Black, Hispanic, and non-Hispanic White population (Borjas, 1983) found no evidence that Hispanics had a negative impact on the earnings of the other two groups.” Hispanics are not “taking away” jobs that non-Hispanic groups want. The blue-collar jobs Hispanics obtain are low paying and have few fringe benefits, leading to little or no health insurance coverage.
The aggressive “Hispanic gangbanger/criminal” stereotype, which we often see in movies and on television, is inaccurate. Gang-suppression approaches of numerous police departments have become “over-inclusive and embedded with practices that create opportunities for abuse of authority.” This means most of the gang enforcement police stops are based on racial profiling. These stops involve no reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and oftentimes include non-gang members.
Trouble establishing identities
Hispanic youth have a more difficult time establishing a positive school identity because of the negative academic stereotypes regarding their racial-ethnic group. These academic stereotypes, which have been proven to negatively affect the academic performance of Latinos, focus on inability, laziness, and a lack of interest and curiosity.
Research shows that many Latinos in the United States do not identify as “American” but instead with their or their parents’ or grandparents’ country of origin. One of the reasons for this occurrence is the misbelief that in order to be an American, one needs to be white. Latinos who have experienced racial discrimination are more likely to identify as Latino or Latino American than simply American because they feel they are not treated as “real” Americans.
A study by Suárez-Orozco and Suárez-Orozco (2001) has shown that the internalization of perceived stigmatized identity of Hispanics can lead to resigned helplessness, self-defeating behavior, and depression.
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Olvera Street is a Los Angeles icon—a thriving Mexican market filled with colorful souvenirs, restaurants and remnants of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles. But though the bright tourist destination teems with visitors, few realize it was once the site of a terrifying raid.
In 1931, police officers grabbed Mexican-Americans in the area, many of them U.S. citizens, and shoved them into waiting vans. Immigration agents blocked exits and arrested around 400 people, who were then deported to Mexico, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
The raid was just one incident in a long history of discrimination against Latino people in the United States. Since the 1840s, anti-Latino prejudice has led to illegal deportations, school segregation and even lynching—often-forgotten events that echo the civil-rights violations of African-Americans in the Jim Crow-era South.
The story of Latino-American discrimination largely begins in 1848, when the United States won the Mexican-American War. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which marked the war’s end, granted 55 percent of Mexican territory to the United States. With that land came new citizens. The Mexicans who decided to stay in what was now U.S. territory were granted citizenship and the country gained a considerable Mexican-American population.
As the 19th century wore on, political events in Mexico made emigration to the United States popular. This was welcome news to American employers like the Southern Pacific Railroad, which desperately needed cheap labor to help build new tracks. The railroad and other companies flouted existing immigration laws that banned importing contracted labor and sent recruiters into Mexico to convince Mexicans to emigrate.
Anti-Latino sentiment grew along with immigration. Latinos were barred entry into Anglo establishments and segregated into urban barrios in poor areas. Though Latinos were critical to the U.S. economy and often were American citizens, everything from their language to the color of their skin to their countries of origin could be used as a pretext for discrimination. Anglo-Americans treated them as a foreign underclass and perpetuated stereotypes that those who spoke Spanish were lazy, stupid and undeserving. In some cases, that prejudice turned fatal.
According to historians William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb, mob violence against Spanish-speaking people was common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They estimate that the number of Latinos killed by mobs reach well into the thousands, though definitive documentation only exists for 547 cases.
The violence began during California’s Gold Rush just after California became part of the United States. At the time, white miners begrudged former Mexicans a share of the wealth yielded by Californian mines—and sometimes enacted vigilante justice. In 1851, for example, a mob of vigilantes accused Josefa Segovia of murdering a white man. After a fake trial, they marched her through the streets and lynched her. Over 2,000 men gathered to watch, shouting racial slurs. Others were attacked on suspicion of fraternizing with white women or insulting white people.
Even children became the victims of this violence. In 1911, a mob of over 100 people hanged a 14-year-old boy, Antonio Gómez, after he was arrested for murder. Rather than let him serve time in jail, townspeople lynched him and dragged his body through the streets of Thorndale, Texas.
These and other horrific acts of cruelty lasted until the 1920s, when the Mexican government began pressuring the United States to stop the violence. But though mob brutality eventually quelled, hatred of Spanish-speaking Americans did not.
In the late 1920s, anti-Mexican sentiment spiked as the Great Depression began. As the stock market tanked and unemployment grew, Anglo-Americans accused Mexicans and other foreigners of stealing American jobs. Mexican-Americans were discouraged and even forbidden from accepting charitable aid.
As fears about jobs and the economy spread, the United States forcibly removed up to 2 million people of Mexican descent from the country—up to 60 percent of whom were American citizens.
Euphemistically referred to as “repatriations,” the removals were anything but voluntary. Sometimes, private employers drove their employees to the border and kicked them out. In other cases, local governments cut off relief, raided gathering places or offered free train fare to Mexico. Colorado even ordered all of its “Mexicans”—in reality, anyone who spoke Spanish or seemed to be of Latin descent—to leave the state in 1936 and blockaded its southern border to keep people from leaving. Though no formal decree was ever issued by immigration authorities, INS officials deported about 82,000 people during the period.
The impact on Spanish-speaking communities was devastating. Some light-skinned Mexican-Americans attempted to pass themselves off as Spanish, not Mexican, in an attempt to evade enforcement. People with disabilities and active illnesses were removed from hospitals and dumped at the border. As one victim of “repatriation” told Raymond Rodriguez, who wrote a history of the period, Decade of Betrayal, “They might as well have sent us to Mars.”
Others, like Rodriguez’s father, did not wait for raids or enforcement and returned to Mexico independently to escape discrimination and the fear of removal. His wife refused to accompany him and the family never saw him again.
When deportations finally ended around 1936, up to 2 million Mexican-Americans had been “repatriated.” (Because many of the repatriation attempts were informal or conducted by private companies, it is nearly impossible to quantify the exact number of people who were deported.) Around one third of Los Angeles’ Mexican population left the country, as did a third of Texas’ Mexican-born population. Though both the state of California and the city of Los Angeles apologized for repatriation in the early 2000s, the deportations have largely faded from public memory.
Another little-remembered facet of anti-Latino discrimination in the United States is school segregation. Unlike the South, which had explicit laws barring African-American children from white schools, segregation was not enshrined in the laws of the southwestern United States. Nevertheless, Latino people were excluded from restaurants, movie theaters and schools.
Latino students were expected to attend separate “Mexican schools” throughout the southwest beginning in the 1870s. At first, the schools were set up to serve the children of Spanish-speaking laborers at rural ranches. Soon, they spread into cities, too.
By the 1940s, as many as 80 percent of Latino children in places like Orange County, California attended separate schools. Among them was Sylvia Mendez, a young girl who was turned away from an all-white school in the county. Instead of going to the pristine, well-appointed 17th Street Elementary, she was told to attend Hoover Elementary—a dilapidated, two-room shack.
The bare-bones facilities offered to students like Mendez lacked basic supplies and sufficient teachers. Many only provided vocational classes or did not offer a full 12 years of instruction. Children were arbitrarily forced to attend based on factors like their complexion and last name.
Then Mendez’s parents fought back. In 1945, along with four other families, they filed a class action lawsuit against four Orange County school districts. Their goal: Ensure that all children could attend California schools regardless of race.
The case culminated in a two-week-long trial. In court, school officials claimed that Latino students were dirty and infected with diseases that put white students at risk. Besides, they argued, Mexican-American students didn’t speak English and were thus not entitled to attend English-speaking schools. (When asked, officials conceded that they never gave students proficiency tests.) “Mexicans are inferior in personal hygiene, ability and in their economic outlook,” said one official.
Mendez’s attorney countered with testimony from experts in social science. He argued that the policy trampled on Latino children’s Constitutional rights. When Carol Torres, a 14-year-old Latino girl, took the stand, she immediately proved that Mexican-American students in the district could and did speak English.
It took seven months for Judge Paul J. McCormick to render a decision. On February 18, 1946, he ruled that the school districts discriminated against Mexican-American students and violated their Constitutional rights. Though the school districts challenged the ruling, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with McCormick. Thanks to Mendez v. Westminster School District, California officially ended all segregation in its schools.
Mendez, who was eight when the lawsuits began, later told reporters that she thought her parents were fighting for her right to attend a school with a nice playground. But the case accomplished much more than that. Soon, parents in Texas and Arizona successfully challenged school segregation. In 1954, a decade after Mendez was turned away from the whites-only elementary school, the United States Supreme Court ruled that all school segregation based on race was unconstitutional in Brown v. Board of Education.
Though the case was a victory for the Mendez family, Sylvia was harassed and heckled by her fellow students when she attended the white school. Nonetheless, she pushed to succeed and became a nurse and civil-rights activist. She was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010—and now, two Los Angeles-area schools are named after her parents.
Today, an estimated 54 million Latinos live in the U.S. and around 43 million people speak Spanish. But though Latinos are the country’s largest minority, anti-Latino prejudice is still common. In 2016, 52 percent of Latinos surveyed by Pew said they had experienced discrimination. Lynchings, “repatriation” programs and school segregation may be in the past, but anti-Latino discrimination in the U.S. is far from over.