The messages we receive from the media about immigrant women vary widely. Sometimes you hear that immigrant women don’t exist outside the family. Other times you hear that immigrant women use parenting as a way to manipulate the government and the system. Still other times you hear that immigrant women are criminals. Rarely do you hear the truth about our communities and understand the true lived experiences of immigrant women.
Media portrayal matters because they shape policy, and they shape the public’s opinion of immigrant women.
The media narratives about immigrant women sway from one pendulum to another, from victim to villain. In one article immigrant women are victims of a brutal recession that has left Latinos with the biggest losses. In another, they are criminals who come here to take advantage of our government through citizenship for their children.
These media portrayals perpetuate myths about immigrants. Myths like: immigrants don’t pay taxes, they take jobs away from other people in the US, and that they are a social service burden. Occasionally a media outlet works to break down these stereotypes, like this South Florida Times article. It reported, based on a study by New American Media, that many immigrant women are actually thriving and supporting the health of their families and communities. They are increasingly playing the role of breadwinner, raising their children on their own, working actively in and with their communities and fighting for the fundamental rights of all people.
What’s most important, though, is that we hear what immigrant women themselves have to say about their lives and their experiences. Until we find a way to respond to media’s discriminatory assumptions about immigrants, they will continue to spread, and the dialogue around immigration and gender could stay on it’s dead-end course in the public realm.
By Luis Vargas, Community Mobilization Intern is supported by the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program