Profile: Historian Rodolfo Gutierrez says too many people stereotype Latinos as strangers



Rodolfo Gutierrez came to Minnesota 23 years ago from Mexico to pursue his doctorate in history. He came with his wife and their two young children.

At the end of the doctoral program, Gutierrez became a professor of history.

In 2007, he joined HACER – Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research. He currently holds the position of Executive Director.

MPR News reporter Vicki Adame asked her five questions about her perspective and experiences.

Latinos are so [more] various today. You see so much diversity now among Latino communities. And also the diversity has increased with almost 32 different Latin American countries now represented in the state. Today we are more visible and in many ways more recognized than when I arrived here. And also today, the needs of these Latino communities are more evident. And with that, the need for the state to take care of these needs is even [more] urgent because otherwise we will have problems in the future.

What’s the biggest problem facing Latinos in Minnesota?

There are stereotypical images of Latinos. My son was referring once [to what] he has experience in high school. And once he spoke about discrimination and racial issues, one of his classmates asked him, “What was that? [like] when you were undocumented in the country? He just got very upset. And he said, “I have never been undocumented. So why do people assume that all Mexicans are undocumented? So this question is really important. There are stereotypical images that put everyone in a kind of homogeneous picture. It is a very, very small minority of that population, the Latino population, that is undocumented, however, we are still represented that way. But also, we are portrayed as people with poor, very poor or poor academic performance.

What does it mean to be Latino in Minnesota?

It means a lot. It means going out on the streets, for fear of being insulted or detained for no reason. It is also being very proud to be Latino. It also means being proud of so many times, managing two languages ​​like so many other people manage only one. It also means having this insecurity of how people are going to receive you in the restaurant or public spaces you are going to go to.

It is also a great pride to have so many different cultural events such as Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead, or music. And it’s also somewhat frustrating that we are always described as mariachis or salsa dancers – because we also have a great diversity of cultural productions. But we are a very proud set of communities, we are different communities, and we are all together when it matters. So it’s a double feeling to be proud, and at the same time to be afraid to live in Minnesota.

Why is it important for you to share your experiences as a Latino?

It’s really important because I’m a historian. As a historian, I see this country having some sort of episodes in which we have to remember historical processes, in which somehow we learn to be better. That’s why I think it’s important to raise your voice and say, “Hey, we’re going through this moment.” We are not, as many people consider us, new immigrants, because we have lived in this country since the beginning of the country. In 1848, when the Treaty of Guadalupe was signed, Mexicans had already lived in this country, and for Minnesota, since 1865. Mexicans live here in Minnesota. So it’s something important to recognize and really dismantle some kind of misunderstanding, some stereotypical images that still prevail.

What do you think is the one thing people misunderstand about Latinos?

Especially since we are foreigners. Seventy-two percent of Minnesota’s Latino population was born in the United States. So just being portrayed as foreigners, immigrants, new immigrants, undocumented migrants, is terrible. This is something that needs to change, because we can no longer rely on false premises that try to convince people that we are all immigrants trying to steal the jobs that most people have. I know a lot of people were born here.

Vicki Adame covers Latin American communities in Minnesota for MPR News via Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to cover under-covered issues and communities.

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