Hispanic Community in the US

Edward Schumacher, Editor of Wall Street Journal

27 February 2003

Hispanics now make up roughly 13% of the U.S. population and have surpassed African-Americans as the largest minority. One in five teenagers in the U.S. is Hispanic, reflecting how Hispanics are a young population. By 2050, Hispanics are projected to make up a quarter of the U.S. population. In one sense, we are witnessing the Reconquista, explains Edward Schumacher, Editor of Wall Street Journal.

By virtue of their having the ambition to immigrate, often illegally, these Hispanics immigrants bring energy to the country and contribute to its future. One irony is that this modern Reconquista will not make Spain or much of Latin America stronger; it will make the United States stronger.

The one other country most likely to benefit is Mexico. Two-thirds of the Latino population in the U.S. is of Mexican origin. In addition to sending money home, Mexican-Americans contribute to the disappearance of the border between the United States and Mexico. Borders are fictions created by governments. The flow of people and commerce between the two countries is challenging that fiction.

Hispanics will have an increasingly strong cultural impact on the United States. Salsa already outsells ketchup, and almost every city neighborhood and town has a Mexican restaurant. Penelope Cruz, Salma Hayek, Gloria Estafan, Antonio Banderas, John Leguizamo - these are household names now in U.S. pop culture. Football, as Spaniards know it, is growing like mad. Spanish words are creeping into the U.S. vocabulary. Hispanic mafia dominate the drug trade.

We also see growing Hispanic political power. Both George Bush and Al Gore campaigned in Spanish, and both political parties are fighting for the Hispanic vote. More Hispanics are being elected to office, and that number will greatly increase in the coming years.

[*D We also see growing Hispanic political power.... *]

It is premature now to say what policy impact that might have. Polls show that Mexican Americans, for example, do not blame the United States for Mexico´s problems. They blame Mexico. By extension, the solutions in their view lie in Mexico more than in anything the United States can do. Some of the toughest supporters of controlling immigration are in fact Hispanics. Now that they are in the country, they want to close the door behind them. New immigrants compete for jobs. Hispanics have not made themselves felt as a group on other foreign policy issues, such as war with Iraq.

Indeed, I would caution that we not exaggerate the influence Hispanics will have in the United States. More than Europe, the United States is an immigrant country. It absorbs immigrants better, and Hispanics are not much different than the earlier waves of Italians and Irish and Chinese that the country has seen. The United States will not become a bilingual country. Indeed, the use of Spanish as a language may have peeked in the country. Research shows that young Hispanics educated in American schools consider themselves more American than Hispanic, speak and write better English than Spanish, prefer English language radio and television more than that of Spanish language. They retain their Hispanic roots and speak Spanish at home with their elders. But amongst themselves, they belong to urban hip-hop culture, or Generation Y, or whatever you want to call the mainstream. They will stay part of the mainstream as they age, as will their children.

Still, for the foreseeable future, there will remain a large Spanish-language niche of immigrants. It will be replenished by future immigrants so long as the economic gap between the United States and Latin America remains so huge. But remember, this niche is made up of the immigrants themselves, not their children, who are a much larger group.


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