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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

3 - Core Values


Few issues regarding Latinos, particularly Latino immigrants, have been as normatively controversial as perceptions and assessments of the extent to which they hold and embrace core American beliefs and values. But identifying, and measuring, “core” values and beliefs in American politics has never been a simple task in the first place. Both the media and the political realm offer frequent assertions about the existence of an “American Creed,” but there is some debate about what the specific elements of such a creed might be and the importance of each of the values that might constitute that creed, both in its own right and relative to others (see Fraga and Segura 2006). Ideas such as democracy, liberty, equality (of opportunity), and individual achievement (self-reliance) are all considered part of the American creed (Citrin et al. 1990). However, scholars suggest that values, such as equality and the potential need for a firm equality of condition, are pivotal. Moreover, numerous scholars have claimed there is no single tradition but multiple political traditions in American politics (Smith 1993), the existence of which belie the assertion of a singular American creed.

Of these multiple traditions it is the liberal tradition that is generally considered the most prominent. This is, the tradition that stresses freedom, liberty, individualism, and equality of opportunity as the defining elements of American political thought. Individualism is often associated with (strong) beliefs in self-reliance, hard work, and taking responsibility for one's own economic and social situation. There is also a corollary assumption that equality of opportunity is inherently important and an essential structural feature linked to individual beliefs about self-reliance and hard work. Also influential is the civic republican tradition that promotes civic engagement, community, and fraternity as essential traits of American society. We discuss civic engagement in Chapter 7, but readers will find aspects of community integrated into topics throughout the book. A third tradition, ascriptive hierarchy, focuses on traits such as race-ethnicity, gender, and class,which have served as ostensible justifications for exclusion and/or an unequal status by those who would argue that some individuals and groups are less (or more) deserving or worthy of a legitimate place in the American polity (Smith 1993; see Elazar 1966). We chose to focus our survey questions on issues associated with individualism, self-reliance, and equality of opportunity that are most closely associated with the liberal tradition because of that tradition's ostensible primacy among American political values, and because Latinos’ beliefs in such values has often been an implicit and sometimes explicit basis on which Latinos are “evaluated” by the larger society.

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Citrin, JackReingold, BethGreen, Donald P 1990 American Identity and the Politics of Ethnic ChangeJournal of Politics 52 1124
de la Garza, Rodolfo OFalcon, AngeloGarcia, F. Chris 1996 Will The Real Americans Please Stand Up: Anglo and Mexican-American Support of Core American Political ValuesAmerican Journal of Political Science 40 335
Elazar, Daniel J 1966 American Federalism: A View from the StatesNew YorkCrowell
Fraga, Luis. R.Segura, Gary M. 2006 Culture Clash? Contesting Notions of American Identity and the Effects of Latin American ImmigrationPerspectives on Politics 4 279
Smith, Rogers M 1993 Beyond Tocqueville, Myrdal, and Hartz: The Multiple Traditions in AmericaAmerican Political Science Review 87 549