A new law in Arizona has set off a national debate over immigration. The newest justice on the Supreme Court is the first Latina in such a position. A profile in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine looked at the career of someone who is talked about as the first Latino president of the United States – and who doesn’t speak fluent Spanish. Latino populations are among the fastest growing in many parts of the United States.
It’s easy to make a case for the increasing importance of Latino issues in understanding U.S. politics. But are college freshmen getting any context for considering these and other developments?
The odds are against it, according to a survey of introductory political science textbooks. The study, published in the journal PS, did page by page analysis of the 29 introductory textbooks in use at American colleges today. Latinos’ “overall contributions to the political development of the United States are largely ignored,” says the study, by Jessica Lavariega Monforti and Adam McGlynn, both assistant professors of political science at the University of Texas-Pan American.
Among their findings:
- In 20 of the textbooks, the pages focused on any Latino political issues was less than 1 percent. (Latinos currently account for about 15 percent of the U.S. population, a share projected to double by 2050, the authors note.)
- The highest percentage of content was 3.49 percent.
- Many of the texts discuss César Chávez, but for most that’s about it for sustained discussion of Latino civil rights leaders or movements. The Latino civil rights movement is portrayed as “a few random events, not as part of an overall movement,” the article says. Key figures like Dolóres Huerta rarely appear. Only three of the textbooks studied explained terms such as “Chicano” or “Brown power.”
The authors cite considerable research suggesting that, in introductory courses, textbooks are reflections of what students are taught. And since for many students, poli sci 101 (as a general education requirement) will be their entire study of government, these students are unlikely to learn much more about how Latinos fit into the U.S. political system.
The one issue that dominates treatment of Latinos in the text is immigration, the authors find. While not suggesting that immigration should be ignored, the authors note the limitations of having that issue as the sole focus. “Students will walk away from introductory U.S. government textbooks viewing Latinos primarily as immigrants and, in many cases, illegal immigrants rather than politically active and important citizens,” Monforti and McGlynn write.
They conclude with a call for textbook authors and editors to rethink their treatment of the ethnic group. “Election and population data show that Latinos/as have and will continue to play a fundamental role in our political system. The discussion of Latinos/as should be pervasive in textbooks by addressing their role in institutions and elections, as well as offering the traditional discourse in civil rights chapters,” they write. “To continue to segregate and minimize the discussion of Latinos/as in our textbooks does a disservice to our discipline and our students.”