(Actor Diego Luna. Photo/ by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for TriStar Pictures/AP Images)

Opinion: When jokes feed into “hyper-sexual Latino” stereotypes

The exchange between Mexican actor Diego Luna and Conan O’Brien on the Tonight Show illustrates how Latinos often reaffirm stereotypes that are damaging to the community, particularly among Latinas.

During the interview, Mr. Luna and O’Brien talked about the changing demographics of the country and how speaking Spanish would be a necessity in the future. Luna said, “47 million people speak Spanish today and we like having sex, so multiply that [by] eight…” and you get the picture of where the country is headed.

It was an unfortunate quip in an otherwise funny conversation, but it underscored that even Latinos succumb to believing that we are hyper-sexual beings by virtue of our ethnicity.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the teenage pregnancy rate remains two times higher than the rate for non-Hispanic teens in 2011. But does this mean Latinos are more sexual than others? Not likely.

In fact, a recent Pew Research study on how the U.S. birthrate has hit a record low found it was immigrant women, specifically Mexican immigrant women, who had the steepest drop in births, a 23 percent lower birth rate between 2007 and 2010.  By comparison, the drop during those years for U.S.-born women was 6 percent,

RELATED: Report: U.S. birth rate hits record low, largest drop among immigrant Latinas

During the segment, actress Lisa Kudrow interjected a devastating blow to Diego Luna’s ignorant remark. Ms. Paltrow said, “If only the rest of us liked having sex, we might have a fighting chance.” Ms. Kudrow was very right to correct Luna that being Latino didn’t make one intrinsically more sexual. It was an awkward moment, but the conversation recovered.

Latinos are young, with a median age of 27 years compared to non-Hispanic whites whose median age is 42 years. This means we will see greater growth among the non-white population into the future. Minorities made up 93% of the nation’s population growth from 2010 to 2011, and for the first time, minorities made up the majority of births last year.

Two other important factors contribute to the high pregnancy rate among Latinos. Latinos have one of the highest dropout rates in the country, with 20% of Latino males dropping out of High School in 2008, and Latinos are generally poor. The median wealth for Latinos is just over $6,000, compared to over $113,000 for non-Hispanic whites.

What this means is that Latinos aren’t hyper-sexual, but there is a confluence of factors that may make it seem so. With fewer resources available for family planning, lower education to take advantage of what resources are available, and a growing young population, Latinos are likely to have higher birth rates by virtue of these particular ailments that disproportionately impact the community.

Even so, things are changing. Not only is the birth rate among Latinas dropping, but Latina teen pregnancy rates have dropped 37 percent between 1992 and 2008, according to a Guttmacher Institute report.

RELATED: Latina teen pregnancy rates drop sharply

Diego Luna’s comment was unfortunate because it contributes to racist fallacies about the moral compass of the community and stokes the arguments promoted by anti-immigrant groups that Latinos are a threat to the country because of our innate sexuality.

In his book, “The Latino Threat”, Leo Chavez argues that pundits and the media perpetuate the myth of Latino sexuality to malign immigrants and feed the anxiety of whites who fear that Latinos will overwhelm the nation by breeding them out of existence.

No doubt, Diego Luna meant his gesture as a joke, and some Latino males may feel this stereotype is one to be celebrated.  But it’s not only false, it feeds into stereotypes that hurt our community.

Opinion: When jokes feed into hyper sexual Latino stereotypes  stephen nuno nbc final e1370610376199 news NBC Latino News

Stephen A. Nuño, Ph.D., NBC Latino contributor and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University. He is currently writing a book on Republican outreach into the Latino Community.

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