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Analyzing Latino Perspectives On Hard Work and The American Dream

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Latinos think that hard work can get you what you want. According to a new release from the Pew Hispanic Center, three-quarters of U.S. Hispanics (75%) say that most people can get ahead if they are willing to work hard. To anyone with even a casual understanding of the Latino experience and population in this country, this should not come as a great surprise. The same release points out that 55% of Latino immigrants say they came to this country primarily for economic reasons; logic suggests that people with this motivation are going to embrace the effort required to improve their economic situation. This understanding fits with how many Americans see Latinos and how the Latino narrative is often represented in media; hard work is part of the Latino story.

The article makes another point that many Americans might find harder to accept; only 55% of the U.S. general market population believes that most people can get ahead with hard work, while a full 40% of the general market say that hard work and determination are no guarantee of success, compared to only 21 % of Latinos.

The irony is that that most typical of "American" values, hard work, mythologized in everything from history books teaching about the Protestant work ethic to innumerable campaign trail speeches, seems to have more importance to Latinos than to other Americans.

How do we explain this disparity? Are non-Latino Americans more cynical than Latinos? Has life here shown them that they system does not always reward the deserving? Or do non Latinos have a sense of entitlement not found among Hispanics? Has the American experience shown them that you don't have to work hard to succeed? The Pew data does not answer those questions for us. But it does provide us with another nuance to the narrative.

Even Latinos who were born in this country, even third generation Latinos, are more likely to believe that with hard work people can get ahead. 73% of all U.S.- born Hispanics and 70% of those who are third generation think that most people can get ahead with hard work. This data suggests, as so much other data does, that the influence of the broader American culture is not enough to turn Latinos into "Americans." Even over generations, key cultural values persist; time, place of birth and language use cannot be relied on to predict how a Latino will think, as tempting as it is for marketers in particular to do just that. Cultural roots run deep, and sometimes can't be seen from the surface.

Beyond all this, this data raises a larger question that how we think of Latinos and hard work. It raises questions about what it means to be American. Do beliefs determine what an American is? Do beliefs outweigh place of birth and language as factors in making "an American"? Of the people who live in this country today, who will keep the culture's bedrock beliefs and values alive? Which Americans will drive our economy in the future? I think that it will be those who think hard work is worth it, who still have faith in that simple tenet, no matter where they come from.