By Gabriel Medina Arenas
María, Alma and Lorena are all immigrants from Mexico, and all three say they have experienced discrimination since they moved to Lincoln.
Most troubling—and most painful for them—has been how much of it has come from fellow Mexicans or Mexican-Americans.
Lorena, 35, is from San Luis Potosi, a state in north-central Mexico. She has lived in the U.S. since 1999. Her husband has a well-paying job in construction, but with five children—ages 8 months through 13 years—they struggle to survive.
“Sometimes Mexicans forget where they come from,” Lorena said. “Once they start living in the U.S., many of them forget they were poor and look down on people with less money than them. There is a lot of discrimination and competition among Mexicans. We should help each other, instead of turning our backs on each other.”
These three women have felt discriminated for several reasons: their economic situation, their immigration status in the U.S., the kind of jobs they do, their English language skills and their skin tone.
Money and skin tone are the main factors that generate social division in Mexico, according to a 2010 national discrimination survey by Mexico’s National Council to Prevent Discrimination.
Six out of 10 Mexicans surveyed believed their economic situation was the main reason for discrimination. Four out of 10 believed people were discriminated against because they had a darker skin tone, and three out of 10 said people are insulted in the streets for that same reason.
Other causes of discrimination in Mexico found in the survey were education level, political affiliation and sexual orientation.
María, 38, used a metaphor from a favorite book to explain how Mexicans sometimes treat one another.
“Some Mexicans are just like crabs in a bucket,” she said. “Instead of pushing and helping each other to get out, they pull the legs of the ones that are climbing to the top of the bucket to get outside.”
Darker-skinned Mexicans living in the U.S. are hired to do lower prestige jobs than lighter-skinned Mexicans because they face more discrimination in the labor market, according to a study done by Rodolfo Espino and Michael M. Franz at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
María is light-skinned, and while that may have given her advantages at her job, it has also caused her problems with darked-skinned Mexicans. At a meatpacking plant where she once worked, she said, her skin tone helped her move out of the least appealing jobs quickly.
“The supervisor picked the better-looking and lighter-skinned women to give them preferential treatment and less dirty jobs,” she said. Though she considered herself a hard worker and fast learner, she said some of the other women became angry with her and splattered her with pork blood and feces.
María said she also worked with some Mexican descendants born in the U.S. who mistreated undocumented Mexicans workers.
“They didn’t think it was fair,” she said. “They didn’t agree that undocumented workers got jobs with false IDs and also got Medicaid, food stamps, as well as other government assistance, while they, who were here legally didn’t get those benefits because they reported their real incomes and real names.”
Maria said some of them reported the undocumented workers to plant supervisors for no reason. “They wanted them to be fired.”
Alma said she also heard about Mexicans or Mexican-Americans with documents who mistreated undocumented Mexicans at work, but, as a stay-at-home mom, she has not experienced such discrimination firsthand.
María said she also has felt mistreated by Mexicans and Mexican-Americans bank employees.
“Some tellers were mean,” she said. “They received my money with repugnance and tried not to get their fingers dirty. They thought they were better than us because they were seated in an office and wearing fancy clothes, even though they knew that workers like me could double their month salary.”
The women say they also have come across Mexican-Americans or Mexicans who have lived in the U.S. for a long time—and therefore speak English well—who discriminate against Spanish-speaking Mexicans by pretending they can only speak English.
“Once I got really angry because a Mexican employee didn’t want to speak Spanish to me,” María said. “I heard her speaking Spanish with another employee. When I confronted her in Spanish, she spoke in English and pretended she didn’t understand what I was saying.
“But then she apologized and said that they didn’t allow them to talk in Spanish with the customers.”
María was born in Michoacán, a western state in Mexico, and she came to the U.S. in 2005. Her husband works in road construction, and they have two children, ages 5 and 8, who attend to Arnold Elementary School.
“The other day I was in the park, and I saw a Mexican-American woman with her children,” María said. “She told them in English not to hang out with the Mexican kids, which were my children, because they were vulgar.”
Alma, 27, was born in San Luis Potosi. She, too, has lived in the U.S. since 2005. Her husband currently works as a welder, and they have two children, ages 3 and 6.
Alma’s husband came to work in the U.S. when he was just 16, she said, and was mistreated by a Mexican-American police officer when he asked directions to a city in Texas. “The police told him to go back to Mexico or else they would call immigration.”