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Latino Diversity: Three Myths about Modern Latino Identity

  • January 14, 2010

by Andrés T. Tapia –

You can be sure that one of the big stories that will come out of the upcoming 2010 Census will be the confirmation of the dramatic surge in the Latino/Hispanic presence in the US. Check out these eye-popping statistics:

The numeric results from the 2010 Census will show all these trend lines have accelerated in significant ways. They will confirm the transformation of the American landscape of the past decade:  Spanish newspapers in Wichita Kansas, Quinceañera stores in Waukegan, Illinois, dulce de leche the number two flavor of ice cream behind vanilla, salsa surpassing that quintessentially American condiment Ketchup as number one, Latino purchasing power surpassing $1 trillion, two Latino cabinet members in President Obama’s Administration, 26 members of the House of Representatives, 1 senator, and one Supreme Court Justice.  In response to these massive changes, in 2009 CNN did what was likely one of the most in-depth multi-part news series on Hispanics in America.

With numbers, not surprisingly, comes power. In a January 7, 2010 article, The Economist declares that “hispanics, long under-represented as voters, are becoming political kingmakers.” In fact, in the 2008 presidential election that led to the historic election of Barack Obama as president, it was the first time Latinos played a significant role in determining the outcome. Some more evidence:

The new Census numbers will also surprise because they will bust some myths long held by many. Here are three:

Myth #1: Most Latinos are Spanish speaking.
Fact: While true for first generation Latino immigrants, once you factor in second and third generation Latinos,  the data on Hispanic youth compiled by California-based Cultural Access Group shows that  57% of the young people surveyed prefer to speak English. In charting media usage, a study by the Cultural Access Group found that “young Hispanics in Los Angeles watch nearly twice as many hours of English-language television as Spanish-language TV, with similar responses for radio. These same youths spend five times more hours reading English than Spanish.”

But don’t be misled. Spanish is still very important. The US is currently the fifth largest Spanish speaking country in the world. And for many Latino youth, while not fluent in it, Spanish is still an important part of their identity.

Myth 2: Second and Third Generations Latinos Are More Assimilated.
Fact:They are embracing their Latino national heritage even more so than their parents. This seems to fly in the face of the English dominance among Latino Millennials. But paradoxically it’ s true. According to “Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America,” released December 2009 by the Pew Hispanic Center, 16% of young Latinos identify themselves as white, compared with 30% of adult Latinos reflective of an older generation that often felt it needed to hide its ethnic heritage.When asked how they first described themselves, 52% of Latino youth said their preference was for their family’s country of origin — Dominican, Mexican, Cuban, etc. — over American, which 24% favored. Even fewer, 20%, responded Hispanic or Latino.

Latino  Talent author Robert Rodriguez describes the many ways in which Latinos, including young professionals, are different culturally — not in terms of burritos and bachata — but in how they view the world through a different cultural lens than European Americans. Assuming that they have assimilated will continue make it difficult for organizations to attract and retain Latino talent. For more, see interview with Robert, “Latino Talent Coming to a Workplace Near You.”

Myth #3: Most Latinos Are Immigrants from Mexico.
While the majority are Mexican descent (66%), Latinos come from 27 different countries in Latin America. 15% are from Central and South America, 9% from Puerto Rico, 4% from Cuba, 6% from other countries.Which means while there is the shared heritage for Latinos within the bell curve of this demographic of being Catholic, fútbol-loving, and communal in worldview there are significant differences among the various Latino groups as I wrote in a previous blog, “Not All Latinos Eat Tacos.

And with the upcoming immigration reform debate where politicians and the media will fall into simplistic language that likely will create an impression that most Latinos are immigrants, it’s important to remember that two-thirds of Latinos were born in the US, many of them descendants of Latin American immigrants who began coming to the US in the Sixties. What makes the immigration debate so wrenching for the Latino community, even those who are not immigrants, are the blood ties where families are often composed of a mix of those born in the US and those who  immigrated.

Between the 2010 Census and Immigration Reform debate, it’s going to be a big year for Latino issues. Be ready to discuss and debate knowledgeably about the political, economic, and workplace implications. Because it’s going to matter.

What thoughts do you have on the Latino demographic phenomenon? Other Latino Myths you want to challenge? Things you wonder about that you never have had a chance to ask?

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