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Stereotype This: “Lazy Mexicans” And Other Insolvent Myths of American Superiority

| April 15, 2011

You think you work harder than us? (Robert Runyon, Jacal, 1913)

FlaglerLive Editor Pierre Tristam’s weekly commentaries are broadcast on WNZF on Fridays just after 9 a.m. Here’s this week’s.

A few weeks ago the BBC had to apologize to the Mexican government because one of the hosts of a macho BBC television show about cars described Mexicans as “lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight,” and another said Mexicans won’t complain because they’d be too lazy to be watching their show: the Mexican ambassador, they said, would be asleep on his sofa, snoring. It was only the latest but far from foulest recycling of one of the oldest stereotypes about Mexicans, whose origin is not British but American. The stereotype was so well entrenched by the late 19th century that the New York Times referred to “Lazy Mexicans” in a headline in a story about New Mexico in 1879. By the late 1920s, Texas Congressman John Box could go on the floor of the House of Representatives and call for restrictions on Mexican immigration by describing Mexicans as “this blend of low-grade Spaniard, peonized Indian, and negro slave” which “mixes with negroes, mulatoes, and other mongrels, and some sorry whites, already here.” A variation of that bigotry echoes to this day, especially as an undercurrent to the anti-immigration debate. An immigration “reform” message board asks the question: “Why are Mexicans so lazy?” First answer: “Because they are all so obese and know nothing about physical fitness. And its [sic.] easier for them to sponge off the white man.”

Well now. As it turns out Mexicans are not only harder workers than Americans. They are the hardest workers in the industrialized world, China included. The OECD—the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, of which the United States is a member—studied working trends in three dozen countries, including paid and unpaid work. Mexicans topped the list, and exceeded the United States in both categories. The US comes in ninth, behind New Zealand, China, Canada and Japan, among others.

That’s just one of the report’s demolitions of a stereotype that still influences public discourse and policy, especially when it comes to who’s really fat and obese. The report found that Americans spend just 30 minutes per day on average on cooking, the lowest among the 34 countries, and the third-lowest amount of time eating, yet Americans have the highest rate of obese people in the industrialized world. Talk about overdevelopment. Public and private spending on health care is also the highest in the U.S., almost double the OECD average, and for that we have a lower life expectancy than 26 developed countries. At least angioplasties and diabetes are a booming business.

Here’s another corrective. The United States is known as a land of immigrants, with 13.7 percent of its population foreign born. But 11 of the 34 OECD countries have a higher share of foreign-born population, which suggests that America is no longer choice destination Number 1 when it comes to the tired and the poor. Those huddled masses yearning to be free are discovering that this land is becoming a lot more miserly and preferential with its opportunities, which are themselves becoming an outdated stereotype.

Finally, this is less surprising, because we’re becoming complacently—dare I say lazily?—used to it: The United States has the second-highest household income after taxes and benefits (though you wouldn’t know it from listening to tea party machismo), but we also have the fourth-highest rate of poverty, and the fourth-highest rate of income inequality in the developed world. That sort reality once panicked and incensed the nation’s moral sense, launching wars on poverty and decades of more egalitarian policies. By the 1970s, the United States had become, in just half a century, one of the most egalitarian societies in the West. We’ve zoomed the other way since.

There’s not much of that moral sense left these days. Since 1981 the national political sport has been to cut taxes, borrow, spend, cut taxes, reduce everybody’s benefits but the elderly, wage a war on the poor, rather than on poverty, cut taxes, and wage several pointless wars offshore as well, of course, to justify military spending increasing 81 percent since 2001. Meanwhile we get the likes of Congressman Paul Ryan proposing to eliminate Medicare and Medicaid as we know them, cut an unspecified $1.6 trillion out of so-called discretionary federal spending (while sparing the military, of course), and lower taxes on the rich to levels unheard of since the 1920s. Barack Obama’s proposal pretends to be a kinder version of the same. At this rate, it won’t be long before Mexico is a more attractive land of opportunity than the United States, where smugness, selfishness and the pursuit of inequality are becoming national brands. Maybe those lazy Mexicans could teach us something.

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20 Responses for “Stereotype This: “Lazy Mexicans” And Other Insolvent Myths of American Superiority”

  1. Felipe Calderon says:

    Dont call the U.S. America, the U.S. is not the entire continent.

    • Gustavo gonzalez says:

      mexicans are not lazy, ALL OF THESE LIES MAKE ME F***ING ANGRY>:(

  2. DLF says:

    Pierre: the government you make reference to here for spending money on wars, not taking care of the poor, is the same government you were telling us how great is was last week. Many years ago ;when you were at the DNJ you again told us what a great job the government was doing and made it point to make reference to how they were helping your parents. Now, you condemn the same government for allowing the seniors to ride free, which is it? I guess you can ride both sides of the fence when it serves your purpose, that a liberal thing.” I voted no before I voted yes” All the slander you make reference to happened many years ago and in some cases not in the USA. You may want to get a little more current.,you are aware that women have the right to vote? I agree we have become lazy and fat (myself included). However, in my opinion being fat and lazy is a by- product of a big inefficient government. Many Americans feel the government should take care of them and why should I work The feeling that I should have what everyone else has without working is called lazy.
    We are not the country we were at one time; maybe we should be asking why, I don’t think the liberals of America will like the answer. Even with all our faults I don’t see a big lone waiting to leave the USA. As you have told me if I don’t like the news on Flagler Live I should go somewhere else, maybe the shoe is on the other foot.

  3. Bruce F. Driscoll says:

    I did not and will not read this article but I will comment that no matter how hard working they are let them do the work in MEXICO not here ILLEGALY in our own counrty, if people dont want to do the work you offer then you are not paying enough, move your company to MEXICO and sell your SHIT there………….

    • Daniela says:

      Bruce, you just said you did not and will not read the article, but it’s funny how you clearly stated one of the points written in the article. And yes, they are in fact the most hard working people that you will ever know. Because I know for a fact that you are not going to do the jobs that they do. Am I right?

    • Laura says:

      1. Not all illegal immigrants are from Mexico. Mexico is ONE country. Many cross through Mexico from the rest of the American continent (yes it’s a whole continent, not just ONE country) to get to the U.S. to escape violence, poverty etc.
      2. Great idea, tell YOUR nationals to take their businesses to Mexico…. take all the jobs (that many U.S. citizens complain that are already being stolen by immigrants) abroad. Hell, outsource them all. Why pay educated people to do the job when you can pay someone in India a fraction of the wage they would have to pay at home? Goods as well as services, outsource them ALL.
      THEN, maybe citizens would be desperate enough to work those low-paying, back-breaking jobs that only undocumented immigrants are willing to take.

  4. Mike Bencal says:

    “I did not and will not read this article” by the level of intellegence of his post it looks like Bruce missed out on a lot of other readings also.

  5. Rebecca Fiedler OShane says:

    sounds like a MEXICAN racist to me! I suppose your ancestors were native Americans huh? LMAO

  6. Deb Lawrence says:

    Great article. I live and work in Mexico and they DO work much harder than most Americans I know. BTW, I am an American.

  7. palmcoaster says:

    Great article!

  8. Liana G says:

    In his book, Defining America Through Immigration Policy, Professor Bill Ong Hing, University of California, Davis included research that shows 67% of immigrants return to their home country before or upon retirement often giving up their retirement benefits they paid into because Uncle Sam does not mail SS / Medicare checks outside the country.

    The research was unable to break down the 33% who are unable to return because of political asylum / other circumstances, and those who have died here in this country at an early age which makes it impossible to know if they would have returned.

    I remember some time last year on of my kids telling me about how being obese in some cultures were admired as signs of good luck and prosperity, but how western influence has now made them give up this important aspect of their belief. I believe the country is American Samoa, an unincorporated US territory. But this influence is also seen in many Latin American countries too where there is heavy western influence.

  9. William says:

    Strange how people like Bruce Driscoll automatically attach the word “illegal” to anything associated with the word “Mexican.”

    FYI Bruce, there are millions of LEGAL Mexican immigrants in this country. And they are indeed very hard working. To presume otherwise makes you an ignorant Xenophobe.

    It must be very dark and frightening in your alternate reality

  10. Kevin says:

    Back in a day and sometimes in some places even today, Most Americans lived the same hardships or worse, inorder to get ahead. Since then through American ingenuity and efforts, many Americans have elevated themselves to not having to live those same hardships that our forefathers once suffered for our benefit. Many of this worlds best products and services are Americans or were trained in American colleges. Get over it!

    When it comes to trying to equate the lethargic and lazy uncompelled masses, mostly created from liberal agendas, relate them to yourself and those related to you–not me or the “Americans” I know because we bust our asses and work very hard at everything we do.

  11. DLF says:

    Kevin: well said and from the heart. Too bad, Pierre does not see it that way, but that is a liberal for you.

  12. swatson says:

    Interesting, but Mexico’s ranking in corruption is much lower than the the US (98, tied with Egypt, vs 22) according to Transparency International ( Perhaps some …of the extra work is going to compensate for corruption? For a country that was ruled by the PRI ( for over 70 years, it makes me wonder. Agreed that America needs to make clean up it’s act as well.

  13. Liana G says:

    And let’s not forget those Americans were ALL immigrants fleeing their homeland in search of a better life and most were willing to work hard and sacrifice for a better life for their children, least we forget. A wealthy person does not leave a priviledged life behind to become a poor hardworking nobody in a new land, unless it was taken away from them. Hence the saying on the Statue of Liberty. Bring me your. . . .

    Even though Winston Churchill admired the Jews for their perservance and sacrifices and willingness to work hard to the point of exploitation, he resented them for the very reaons. I guess the world is full of Winston Churchills.

  14. Sherrrrry says:

    Excellent article Pierre!

    Here are the rules (from the SS web site) for receiving Social Security checks while visiting or living outside the US:
    If you leave the United States
    If you are a U.S. citizen, you can travel to or live in most foreign countries without affecting your Social Security benefits. There are, however, a few countries where we cannot send Social Security payments. These countries are Azerbaijan, Belarus, Cuba, Cambodia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

    Let us know if you plan to go outside the United States for a trip that lasts 30 days or more. Tell us the name of the country or countries you plan to visit and the date you expect to leave the United States.

    We will send you special reporting instructions and tell you how to arrange for your benefits while you are away. Be sure to notify us when you return to the United States.

    If you are not a U.S. citizen and you return to live in the United States, you must provide evidence of your noncitizen status in order to continue receiving benefits. If you work outside the United States, different rules apply in determining whether you can get your benefits.

    I agree, it is insulting that many people use the term “America” when referring to the United States of America. Canadians, Mexicans, Central Americans and South Americans are also “Americans”.

    I also agree that often times stereotyping is nothing short of racism. While I feel all immigrants should go through the process of being here legally, who then would clean the houses, watch the kids and do the gardening of the wealthy. . . while being paid less than minimum wage, and having no Social Security and other taxes paid by their US employer.

  15. Atv says:

    I agree in part, mexicans are hard workers, but harder than americans? What a myth! Some work very hard, some do not and the same for americans, I am in construction and see all kinds of hard workers, my current job is 95 percent Mexican and maybe 60 percent of them are great workers the others are on the can’t wait for them to wash out list.

  16. Lizette Duran says:

    Us Mexicans Are Not Lazy!!! We are the ones who do the jobs americans sometimes cant do! the houses people live in , yeaa well most of them have been bulit by Mexicans! the fruit in groceary stores, yea those have been picked by mexicans in the fields! tell me one american you have seen working in the fields! almost none! its usually always mexicans! and im not be racial causse i have some close friends who are american! but you see all we have done for this world…. well yeaa its all possible beacause of mexicans! Mexicans dont work to party all weekend they actually work so they could raise thier families. they arnt immagrants.. they came to the U.S to get a better life for their families! They arnt different from mericans or any other person or race! we are all the same people ! mexicans also came to the us for a better life for their kids ! they didnt want thier kids to have the same life they did! what makes us mexicansso different? a border? our skin color? or what? citizens in the us who are mexican and have illgal parents often suffer so much becasue of the us trying to get rid of illegals! i mean think about it, wouldnt you americans hate it if someone was trying to get you out of your home? roght , you most defenently would! so do you think mexicans dont have feelings or what?? God Bless all you people who think mexicans are lazy! cause i can assure you we are not!!!

  17. Samantha says:

    Wow, this article is such an eye opener! You know I have all this anger towards issues in America and our ethnocentrism towards the rest of the world, but I honestly just don’t have enough facts to back up my beliefs. This article helps change that! Thanks Tristam for making me a more educated college student:)

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