Story and photos by Ashley Barrientos
Countless studies have confirmed that Latinos and immigrants, with and without papers, have been heavily criminalized on different media platforms for generations. Research also suggests that by using language and coded images, various media have indirectly contributed to the rhetoric against Latins and the immigrant community, especially Latino men, portraying them as an inherently criminal threat.
Three Latino students from Middle Tennessee State University shared their thoughts on this story.
Media using coded images to convey ideas about Latino immigrants
A Washington Post Research Study found that, through the choices of media images, there is a reinforced narrative of a ‘Latin American threat’, which portrays immigrants as inherently criminal or refusing to integrate into the United States
Marcos Alvardo, a junior at MTSU, recalls watching the news while getting ready for school as a child and making the connection between how the media chooses to portray Latino or dark-haired men like him. .
“There would always be a crime segment, and whenever he talked about violent crime, the perpetrator or suspect would always be a person of color,” Alvarado said. “And it was really weird after noticing this was going on for a while. It’s like, how come it’s always someone of color and not just anyone of white, even when the statistics tell you white people commit more crimes? “
Alvarado’s experience is consistent with research conducted by the FBI– in 2016, white individuals were arrested more often for violent crimes than individuals of any other race, and evidence shows that immigration is not linked to higher crime rates. Yet many media still choose to include images that negatively frame immigration at a much higher rate than is actually happening.
MTSU junior Sergio Centeno explained how the media’s choice to use coded images of immigrants locked up in facilities can produce negative connotations.
“This is the way [media] describe [immigrants] when they talk about the way they’re in cages, ”Centeno said. He mentioned how media practice constantly emphasizing this rhetoric could possibly contribute to the idea that immigrants should in fact be caged.
Experts argue that images like these serve to visually represent elements of the border, crime and illegality. The Washington Post research study found that immigrants were frequently presented in detention centers or as being associated with border crossings and border law enforcement.
“When they see that – like anyone looking at the news or anyone focusing on immigration – it kind of comes out and they get a sense of how they perceive us and they might mistreat us that way,” Centeno said. .
Jonathan Salazar, a junior at MTSU specializing in video and film production, also spoke about how immigrants and Latinos have also been criminalized on television and in film. He explains how the “Breaking Bad” television series is an example of how Western media platforms tend to portray Latinos and countries like Mexico.
“Whenever there is a scene with Mexicans or the cartel, there is always an orange and hellish tinge. And then when it is back in the United States, everything is back to “normal” colors, ”said Salazar.
This incident is common in the world of television and film. According to Matador Network, a travel and news website, this yellow-orange filter may appear whenever American movies or TV series are set in other countries like Mexico and may convey certain stereotypes about a particular country, alluding to a combination of gangs, extreme poverty, drug use, or war.
Salazar mentions how the strong incorporation in the series of this yellow filter to indicate whenever the characters are in Mexico can portray Latino immigrants as “bad people.”
How language and word choice can contribute to negative ideas about immigrants
The language used to describe immigrants can reinforce certain stereotypes or assumptions about crime.
“In the media, when you talk about immigrants, if you call them ‘illegal’ as opposed to ‘undocumented’, I take note of that mentally. Because there is a big difference between calling someone illegal and undocumented, ”Alvarado said.
The use of words like “illegal” is an example of framing, an effect that can influence attitudes towards certain policies such as immigration and elicit strong emotional reactions from the public.
Another example of how language has the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes comes from former US President Donald Trump, who used certain words like “bad hombre” to express an association between immigrants, especially Latino male immigrants, and violent crime.
“I still hold Trump responsible for what he said about Mexicans who come and don’t send their best employees,” Alvarado said. “Much of his success came from what he said about immigration – and so, of course, he’s got us naughty.”
Along with this, the Trump administration has also frequently used images of Latino teens rather than women or children to describe immigration.
This conscious choice to verbally and visually portray Latino men as more likely to be the default face of immigrants has bolstered the Trump administration’s efforts to make it clear that Latino immigrants are likely to be involved in criminal gangs. or engaged in illegal activities.
Researchers also argue that men of color are more likely to be portrayed negatively, or as criminals, in different media when discussing immigration issues.
The way journalists and other media cover immigration, particularly through photographs and language, has implications that may also negatively influence how the public perceives Latino immigrants.