By Leonel Martinez for South Kern Sol
Whenever I write about the growth of the U.S. Latino population, I always stress one thing: There is no cucuy or “bogeyman” lurking in the closet.
Yes, the number of Hispanics is surging. No, this will not result in cultural chaos because of their supposed failure to assimilate. That didn’t happen for the waves of Irish and Italian immigrants of centuries past, and it won’t happen now. Let me explain.
There’s no denying the Latino population’s growth as demonstrated once more by the U.S. Census Bureau. In a collection of facts released for Hispanic Heritage Month, the government agency indicated that the U.S.’s Hispanic population has risen to 54 million or approximately 17 percent of the nation’s total population.
Numbers that high can be hard to grasp, so let me put it this way.
- That’s almost five times more than the population of Cuba.
- In 2010, the only country with a higher Latino population was Mexico with 120 million.
- Census projections anticipate that by 2060, one in three of the nation’s residents — the entire country, not the Southwest — will be Hispanic.
The U.S. Department of Education has also predicted that for the first time this fall, minority children would outnumber white pupils in the classroom, mostly because of the increasing number of Hispanic and Asian kids.
Changes like those scare some people.
But they’ve been coming for a long time in my home state of California, where in March, Hispanics became the majority ethnic group. And the Golden State hasn’t dissolved into ethnic anarchy yet.
Where I live in the city of Bakersfield, the changing face of America means that the old Builder’s Emporium hardware store is now a Vallarta Supermarket specializing in Latin-American products, the Corkey’s Family Restaurant has become a La Villa Taqueria, and every convenience store seems to offer a way to wire money to Mexico.
Wasted efforts have been made to combat the imaginary evil of failure to assimilate.
In 2007, a Bakersfield city councilman introduced three proposals aimed at decreasing illegal immigration, including one that would have made English the community’s official language. If the real reason for the measures was concern over a broken immigration system and not misguided fear of some sort of ethnic takeover, why include language?
Perhaps sensing the subtext, hundreds of furious residents, from farm workers to college professors, voiced their opposition at City Hall, and the initiatives failed.
But here’s something the supporters of proposals like the ones in Bakersfield overlook: Study after study shows that like the European immigrants that came before them, U.S. residents with roots in Latin America are assimilating quite well.
They don’t need to be forced by a government boot to the behind.
One of the easiest ways to measure this assimilation, for example, is how well immigrants learn English. Only about one of four Latino immigrant adults indicated that they could speak the language very well in a 2007 Pew study, however, that figure increased to almost nine of 10 for their U.S.-born children and even higher for later generations.
That’s been the pattern for me. Born and raised in Mexico, my grandfather often struggled to communicate in English. Yet I make a living writing in that language and work hard to retain my fluency in Spanish.
That’s how assimilation works.
And why wouldn’t Latinos learn English? They know it’s the language of success for themselves and their children.
So relax. These demographic changes don’t mean you’ll wake up tomorrow in a U.S. ripped to tatters by ethnic separatism.
You’ll wake up in an America that welcomes immigrants and lets immigrants make it a better nation.
Leonel Martínez is a regular contributor to the South Kern Sol and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.