Latino Students in the US as seen through Mass Media


  Mass media in this modern age has plagued the lives of consumers to an absurd extent. It is so absurd that it hinders and constructs the way individuals see life. Though the media we consume is often times invited by us, we become oblivious to what we are exposed to and how what we see can become ingrained in our minds. The creators within mass media assert their individual views of others by portraying them in certain ways, often times following the stereotypes pertaining to race, sex, religion, and so on. Stereotypes seen in mass media help develop preconceived notions, which ultimately do more harm than good.

  Nothing brings more pride to me than being Latino, however, as a young Latino student in the US education system, I was left distraught at the thought of being treated as less than. I was always questioning why I had to attend summer school, despite having good behavior and great learning ability. It took a lot of maturing and thinking to realize that I was part of a group full of stigma and stereotypes. It is clear that mass media and pop culture portray Latino students in the US as more problematic and less capable than other students. I am one of those Latino students in the eyes of the mass media.

Where do these stereotypes arise?

  Sadly, the way that I and other Latino students are viewed in mass media can originate from prejudice behavior of educators. In John Benson’s “Lower Expectations And Stereotypes, Biggest Challenges For Latino Students,” Benson highlights a quote from the president of The Education Trust, Kati Haycock, where she notes that “many educators, and frankly many other members of the public, believe that poor kids and Latino kids and African-American kids just aren’t capable of learning to the same levels of other kid.” Haycock learned of this while gaining some insight going around the nation promoting high academic achievement for all students. The predetermined mindset she saw the educator reflect automatically sets Latino students up for failure. By not allowing the students to truly show their capabilities with an open mindset, educators and company succeed in proving the stereotypes they set right. Educators also prevent Latino students from succeeding above expectations by not providing the right challenge. In dialogue with a teacher in North Carolina, Haycock hears that teachers and educators are afraid Latino students would fail if pushed too hard. A decision and appraisal made subjectively by educators without student input, which then reflects in the media.

How are Latino students portrayed?

  The gif from above is from the movie Stand and Deliver. Stand and Deliver is a movie that I have always loved watching as it has an emphasis on Latino students. Stand and Deliver is based on a true story where a Latino teacher in Eastern LA decides to take the role of a math teacher after the original math teacher announced his departure. Taking on a class full of Latino students, the teacher works them up from Math 1A all the way up to Calculus using his creative style as a teacher to encourage their efforts and participation. Again this movie is based on a true story, meaning that what is portrayed on the film may offer different aspects to the story.

  The story this movie presents is incredible and definitely worth watching, but after seeing this movie many times and again now for my research, I see new things. The story about the students making their way all the way up to calculus is great, but the way the students are presented in the journey is different. As seen in the gif above, they are represented as disrespectful, especially in the first encounters of the movie. Along with that, it seems like the narrative of the movie is about a teacher dragging students to success. A typical movie theme. There are also some harsh realities in this film reflected in real life and of course, media. When taking the AP test, the whole class passes, but they are then discredited by The Educational Testing Service. The teacher, Escalante, believes in them so he initiates a test-retake where they pass again. The message that this shows is that there is very little belief in Latino students in the education system and public, but the belief that there is comes from Latinos.

  In a similar fashion, Freedom Writers, also based on a true story, shows some of the same patterns. The teacher, in that case, Erin Gruwell goes through a similar process in guiding her students to success. She goes above and beyond to connect with her students, including Latino students. The Latino students throughout the movie are shown to be very vocal and somewhat aggressive. Another reality expressed in the movie, similar to Stand and Deliver, is the fact that the Latino students along with other minorities are relegated to lower standards of learning. If it weren’t for Erin Gruwell, that would have remained the case.

  Both the movies are fantastic, but they do not depict Latino students for what they really are and the drive they carry. The movies instead romanticize the idea of a teacher doing the unthinkable with unlikable and unteachable students.

Why is this important?

  The stereotypes perpetuated by the mass media affect Latino students in the US by derailing their character and opportunities for success. Latino students then become easy targets for labels that carry stigma. For example, Latino students face disproportionate discipline making them seem like a bad demographic altogether; the labels attached to the disproportionate discipline can then spiral the students into a self-fulling prophecy where they believe and act on the labels they are given (Moreno and Segura-Herrera 40-41). Due to school’s discretion, they are also able to appraise students with having a Specific Learning Disability and Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, which can be abused to relegate Latino students back into their stereotype of less capable to learn (38-39). The influence of the mass media is detrimental to the Latino students.

What is the reality behind Latino Students?

  The reality is that the US has thousands of Latino students, each with special stories that are worth hearing. Gaspar Marcos has a very special one as he immigrated to the US alone after his parents died. He works to provide for himself and attends school on a daily basis, hence the name 19 hours. His teachers recognize his brilliance and hard work, however,  they are well aware that in the eyes of the public and mass media, he is a dangerous kid. I encourage you to watch the video (above) and see how by following him for a day, he dismantles stereotypes.  

  The reality is that Latino students are breaking the stereotypes they are given. Jens Manuel Krogstad gives “5 Facts About Latinos and Education,” focusing on the trends since 1993. The article includes the biggest trends such as the dropout rate for Latino students in high school dropping from 33% to 12%. Krogstad also notes that Latino enrollment in college has increased from 22% to 35% (Krogstad). These statistics exemplify the way Latinos are becoming immersed in the US education system. Another important figure from the article states that in 2014, 66% of Latino students got a job or joined the military to help provide for their families instead of proceeding straight to college right after high school. This indicates that the stereotypes from the mass media are unjust as they ignore the socioeconomic status of Latino students and their families.

Two things I learned:

  Throughout this research and writing, I learned to analyze things objectively. After seeing both the Freedom Writers and Stand and Deliver again for this project, I noticed the way the stories were portrayed to make a teacher heroic and Latino students (amongst other students) a byproduct of the teacher’s success and not their own. A perspective that can be overlooked by two wonderful stories. I additionally learned that within the last five years, more than 100,000 children immigrants have arrived in the US without parents (Caramo). That was something shocking that I learned and means that there are many more stories like Gaspar Marcos out there.


Works Cited

Carcamo, Cindy. “Nearly 1 in 4 students at this L.A. high school migrated from Central America — many without their parents.” Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 15 July 2016. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Freedom Writers. Dir. Richard LaGravenese. Paramount Home Entertainment, 2007. DVD.

Krogstad, Jens Manuel. “5 facts about Latinos and education.” Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center, 28 July 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Moreno, Gerardo, and Theresa Segura-Herrera. “Special Education Referrals and Disciplinary Actions for Latino Students in the United States.” Multicultural Learning and Teaching 9.1 (2013): n. Pag. Web.<;.

Ramos, Zuania. “Lower Expectations And Stereotypes, Biggest Challenges For Latino Students.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 14 Jan. 2013. Web. 14 Feb. 2017.

Stand and Deliver. Dir. Ramón Menéndez. By Ramón Menéndez. Warner Bros., 1988. DVD

19 Hours. Prod. Adam Perez. 19 Hours. LA Times, Summer 2016. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.