NOEL KING, HOST:
And now, a story about what happens when two people experience the same thing. One person sees the experience as discrimination, the other does not. According to a new survey from NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Latinos born in the U.S. are more likely to say they've experienced racial discrimination than Latinos who came to this country. NPR's Adrian Florido has the story.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Valery Pozo's parents left their native Peru for Utah 30 years ago. She was born in Salt Lake City that same year. She's lived there her whole life in a mostly white neighborhood. She remembers about a decade ago when immigrants in the area were on edge because agents were conducting immigration raids across the city.
VALERY POZO: And my mom was at a soccer game with my brother, and a parent asked my mom if she was illegal. And to me, that's clearly a racist question and a racist assumption.
FLORIDO: Her mom saw it as a harmless comment, but Pozo was furious.
POZO: I said, here we are kind of just like any other family, playing soccer. And I remember pointing that out, like, no matter what we do, we'll always be seen as other or different. And her saying, well, it's kind of a hot-button issue, and it's in the news.
FLORIDO: Pozo says it's always been like this in her family. She notices subtle ways that the white people in her community - nice as they may be - remind her family that it doesn't truly belong. Her mom thinks she's making a big deal about it.
POZO: Because, for her, she's not from Salt Lake. I don't think she would ever say she's a Utahan, even though we've lived here 30 years. So I can see how that might be a difference in how she perceives things versus how I perceive things.
FLORIDO: That difference is why Pozo says her mom didn't see any point in being interviewed for this story. She's never been subjected to discrimination, she said, so what was there to say? NPR's survey found that Latinos born in the U.S. were nearly twice as likely as immigrant Latinos to say that someone had used a racial slur against them or made negative assumptions or comments toward them because of their race or ethnicity.
EMILIO PARRADO: You know, that's not an unusual finding.
FLORIDO: Emilio Parrado is a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania. He says there are so many possible explanations for this gap in perception. One, he says, is that U.S.-born Latinos may actually experience more discrimination. As they gain education, better pay, better jobs, they come into competition with the dominant racial group.
PARRADO: And so it's in that competition that the dominant group reacts with discrimination.
FLORIDO: Another way to explain why immigrants report less discrimination...
PARRADO: So when you ask immigrants that first arrive, they don't understand race relations in the U.S. With Latinos, it's very clear because there are no Latinos in Latin America. You're Argentinian. I'm Argentinian. You're Chilean. You're Colombian.
FLORIDO: But in the U.S., many non-Latinos don't see those distinctions. They just see Latinos not from here. Parrado says immigrants may start to notice they're treated differently but not really know why.
PARRADO: Immigrants tend to think that it's their own fault. It's because they don't know the rules. It's because they don't know English. But the children of immigrants, they know that they come from ethnicity and not from the behavior of immigrants.
FLORIDO: Karina Ramirez understands this. She grew up in the States.
KARINA RAMIREZ: I currently live in West Palm Beach, Fla.
FLORIDO: She says she's been followed around in fancy department stores and thinks it's because she's Latina. Her mother, Fabiola Hidalgo, has had similar experiences but didn't think it was because of how she looked. She remembers one time when she was waiting in line at a bank.
FABIOLA HIDALGO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: When it was her turn, a white man cut right in front of her despite protests from the bank tellers. Hidalgo says she stayed quiet, but back in her car, she cried.
HIDALGO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "I felt like the lowest person in the world," she said. And yet, she said she didn't pay much more attention to it. She'd just arrived in the U.S. She didn't speak English and assumed she must have done something wrong. Her daughter, Karina, gets emotional hearing her mother tell the story.
RAMIREZ: I got sad for a second.
FLORIDO: How come?
RAMIREZ: So when she started telling me about, you know, these instances that she lived, it's almost like, again, you know, I wasn't there to stand up for her, to defend her.
FLORIDO: Ramirez says she now feels like it's her responsibility to point out the ways that racism, even subtle discrimination, affect her mother's life. Her mother says that thanks to her daughter's lessons, she's learning, and unlike before, is starting to speak up. Adrian Florido, NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.