Illustration of criss-crossed string pinned to European countries.

Accents, language differences spark fear amid the coronavirus pandemic

By Stanley Dubinsky, University of South Carolina; Kaitlyn E. Smith, University of South Carolina, and Michael Gavin, University of South Carolina

As the coronavirus spreads around the globe, it’s being characterized by media and politicians alike as an “invisible enemy.” People are afraid others may carry the virus but not show symptoms of the disease it causes – especially strangers, who may or may not have taken proper precautions against spreading the disease. It is this fear of strangers that causes people to be on heightened alert for anyone who might be somehow different. In some cases, the differences are visible, matters of physiological appearance and perhaps dress, leading to the racism and general fear of foreigners that has seen Asians attacked in Australia and the United States, and Africans kicked out of their homes in China. As researchers of people’s language differences, we find that our preliminary research and anecdotal evidence reveal another sort of discrimination, which happens when people’s differences are audible, not visible. Studies have shown that the language or dialect a person speaks is far and away the most important marker of group and national identity, and is the means by which people can immediately and accurately recognize strangers among them.

Un trabajador agrícola mantiene el campo limpio de hierbas con el tractor donde se cosecha la fresa en Oxnard, California. (Photo: Martha Ramírez/El Nuevo Sol)

Coronavirus threatening seasonal farmworkers at the heart of the American food supply

By Michael Haedicke, Drake University

Many Americans may find bare grocery store shelves the most worrying sign of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their food system. But, for the most part, shortages of shelf-stable items like pasta, canned beans and peanut butter are temporary because the U.S. continues to produce enough food to meet demand – even if it sometimes takes a day or two to catch up. To keep up that pace, the food system depends on several million seasonal agricultural workers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants from Mexico and other countries. These laborers pick grapes in California, tend dairy cows in Wisconsin and rake blueberries in Maine. As a sociologist who studies agricultural issues, including farm labor, I believe that these workers face particular risks during the current pandemic that, if unaddressed, threaten keeping those grocery store shelves well stocked.

Census form and mailbox

Fear may keep undocumented immigrants out of 2020 census, hurt communities

By Mary Lehman Held, University of Tennessee

The United States might not be able to get information about more than 10 million people in the 2020 census. That’s the number of undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Another 16.7 million individuals live in a household with an undocumented member and so might also not be counted in this year’s census. The primary reason that undocumented immigrants might forego participation in the 2020 census? Fear.

All Latinos don’t vote the same way – their place of origin matters

By Eliza Willis, Grinnell College and Janet A. Seiz, Grinnell College

Joe Biden won Florida’s 2020 Democratic primary, capturing a majority of the state’s Latino voters. Polls have been tracking the Latino vote in Democratic presidential primaries, and many analysts are trying to predict which candidate Latinos might favor in November. Interest in Florida has been especially strong. Observers commonly speak of “the Latino vote” as if Latinos make up a distinct and unified interest group. This both overstates and understates Latinos’ uniqueness.

Children of color already make up the majority of kids in many US states

By Rogelio Sáenz, The University of Texas at San Antonio and Dudley L. Poston, Jr., Texas A&M University

Demographers project that whites will become a minority in the U.S. in around 2045, dropping below 50% of the population. That’s a quarter-century from now – still a long way away, right? Not if you focus on children. White children right now are on the eve of becoming a numerical minority. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that, by the middle of 2020, nonwhites will account for the majority of the nation’s 74 million children.

A sacred light in the darkness: Winter solstice illuminations at Spanish missions

By Rubén G. Mendoza, California State University, Monterey Bay

On Saturday, Dec. 21, nations in the Northern Hemisphere will mark the winter solstice – the shortest day and longest night of the year. For thousands of years people have marked this event with rituals and celebrations to signal the rebirth of the sun and its victory over darkness. At hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of missions stretching from northern California to Peru, the winter solstice sun triggers an extraordinarily rare and fascinating event – something that I discovered by accident and first documented in one California church more than 20 years ago. At dawn on Dec.

Adding ratings on source reliability helps limit spread of misinformation

By Antino Kim, Indiana University; Alan R. Dennis, Indiana University; Patricia L. Moravec, University of Texas at Austin, and Randall K. Minas, University of Hawaii

Online misinformation has significant real-life consequences, such as measles outbreaks and encouraging racist mass murderers. Online misinformation can have political consequences as well. The problem of disinformation and propaganda misleading social media users was serious in 2016, continued unabated in 2018 and is expected to be even more severe in the coming 2020 election cycle in the U.S.

Most people think they can detect deception efforts online, but in our recent research, fewer than 20% of participants were actually able to correctly identify intentionally misleading content. The rest did no better than they would have if they flipped a coin to decide what was real and what wasn’t. 

Both psychological and neurological evidence shows that people are more likely to believe and pay attention to information that aligns with their political views – regardless of whether it’s true.

The Supreme Court and refugees at the southern border: 5 questions answered

By Karla Mari McKanders, Vanderbilt University

I sat in a small room in Tijuana, Mexico with a 13-year-old indigenous Mayan Guatemalan girl. She left Guatemala after a cartel murdered her friend and threatened to rape her. Her mother wanted her to live and believed the only way for her to survive was to send her daughter alone to the U.S., to apply for asylum. Now she was alone and stuck in Mexico. Every morning, the Guatemalan girl, along with other asylum seekers, would frantically gather at the Tijuana-U.S. border where they waited to hear their name or their number called so the Mexican government could escort them to the U.S. border.

Far fewer Mexican immigrants are coming to the US — and those who do are more educated

By Rogelio Sáenz, The University of Texas at San Antonio

Once upon a time, not long ago, Mexicans dominated the flow of migrants coming to the U.S. Mexican migration expanded over the course of much of the 20th century and into the start of the 21st century. That is no longer the case. The number of Mexican migrants fell during the economic recession and has continued to fall further after the U.S. economy recovered. The downturn of Mexican migration
Data from the annual American Community Surveys, which I analyze in my research on Mexican migration, show that the number of foreign-born Mexicans migrating to the U.S. in the previous year fell from 2003 to 2017. The numbers tell the story, with the volume of Mexican migration dropping from nearly 1.7 million in 2003-2007 to 778,000 in 2013-2017.