July 18, 2005


Hispanic Immigration and Assimilation into the American Culture (Jose Maria Marco, Hispanic American Center for Economic Research)

[H]ispanic immigration appears to have three main characteristics. First, it tends to be concentrated in a few geographical areas in Texas, Florida, Southern California, New York and Illinois, although the dispersion is accelerating lately.

Second, most immigrants generally have abandoned their language of origin in favor of English between the second and the third generation. And in the case of Spanish-speaking immigrants, Spanish is spoken only among family members or the immediate community, where it does not compete with English, which most Hispanics view as necessary for societal integration.

On the other hand, many wish to maintain the use of the Spanish language, and given the size of the Spanish-speaking population, it is conceivable that a significant portion need not learn English to live in the U.S. Third, a large portion of U.S. territory was for a long time under the control of the then Mexican and Spanish Crown.

The combination of these three factors worries many in political circles as well as some American intellectuals. The best example is Samuel Huntington's book, "Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity," in which the phenomenon is described as a danger for the unity of the nation. When it was published, Huntington's book was ferociously attacked in Latin America as well as in Spain.

Huntington's warning should not be taken as a joke. In Europe there are numerous examples of Balkanization in countries with very aged and solid cultures. Spain is a good example. If the politics of identity are promoted like the ones that are promoted in some mass media and in many American university departments, and if politicians begin to appear that see political opportunity in the fragmentation of the electorate, the danger could become real.

Contrary to Huntington's thesis, and paradoxically, to that of Jorge Ramos in "The Latino Wave," there is no reason that there should be a clash between the American cultural identity and that of Hispanic immigrants. While Huntington carefully analyzes the roots of the American cultural identity, he fails to properly analyze the roots of Hispanic culture. Contrary to what Huntington seems to suggest, Hispanic culture is of a Judeo-Christian, that is to say Roman, and European origin.

It can be argued that Hispanic culture has produced neither the same economic nor institutional successes as that of American culture. But the same can be said of Europe. Without U.S. intervention, there would be no democracies in Europe today.

And there is no economic or institutional success there.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 18, 2005 12:55 PM

I'm the wrong one to ask about this. I learned in parochial school in the 50's that the wrong side won when the Armada fought in the Channel and that the right side won the Spanish Civil War.

This is all just one more indication that you don't need to be a weatherman to see which way the wind is blowing.

Posted by: Lou Gots at July 18, 2005 3:07 PM

"most immigrants generally have abandoned their language of origin in favor of English"

Hispanics' preference for the Spanish language in every situation, including home, work, and media consumption, is on the rise - from 44% in 1997 to 53% this year...Up from 63% in 1997, 69% of Hispanics say that the Spanish language is more important to them now than five years ago...Fewer Hispanics are concerned with fitting in (72% in 1997, 64% in 2000) and with finding acceptance from non-Hispanics (77% in 1997, 68% in 2000)

"Hispanics also participate more in public life over time"

Slightly, while still lagging in comparison to immigrants from Asia.

"Moreover, if the American culture has assimilated and is currently assimilating people of African and Asian origin, it should certainly be capable of assimilating Hispanic immigrants"

The US continues to do a fine job of assimilating Asian immigrants, but not Hispanic ones. Take California: Second generation Asians have high levels of education and low poverty rates, second generation Latinos have low levels of education and high poverty rates. [PDF] That study also finds that only 11 percent of the third-generation Latinos graduate from college.

Unlike Asian immigrants, Latino immigrants are not assimilating.

Posted by: carter at July 18, 2005 3:07 PM

I have employees who have lived in America for up to 25 years (granted not 2nd Generation) who speak no English whatsoever.

Posted by: h-man at July 18, 2005 3:53 PM

The right side did win the Spanish Civil War. A comunist triumph would have been far worse.

Posted by: Bob at July 18, 2005 4:03 PM

As hustling materialists who pledge fealty to any workable structure, the Asians are uniquely assimilable.

The trouble with Mexicans in CA is that the "old country" is two hours away, so the psychic/physical break isn't nearly as decisive as with the Euro immigrants. But in the age of cheap jet travel, this is the case to a certain extent with all the others. Also, they arrive in such mass (and in the media age, have their own broadcasting services) that it's almost possible to have no contact with the native culture.

Posted by: Al Cornpone at July 18, 2005 5:45 PM

The second generation kids are the bellwether. Can't speak for Southern California, but here in Western Oregon they look and sound American.

Posted by: ghostcat at July 18, 2005 6:42 PM

"The second generation kids are the bellwether. Can't speak for Southern California, but here in Western Oregon they look and sound American."

The one you know.

Posted by: NC3 at July 18, 2005 8:09 PM

They are assimilating very well here in Florida, at least in my small town; it was utterly inundated and are into the second and third generations now.
At my church, if they speak english, they attend the english mass. They're even attending if their english is broken. They really desire to assimilate. Also, most of the natives are welcoming even of the newly arrived ones.
I've noticed that the crying about "they're not assimilating" or "worse than blacks" seems to come from California especially, and Arizona to a lesser extent.

My guess for the difference in the behavior of the two groups is the religion and politics of where they go.
My community is very religious and conservative; the Hispanics seem to feel right at home. I see them sporting all the same Jesus stickers and Fish on their cars, clothing, etc. Technically, we aren't in the bible belt, but with them added to the religious already here, we might as well be.
I remember eating at a deli when a hispanic waitress, with whom I had been talking about the hurricanes, gave me a hug and said "Prayers, Girl!" in accented english.
That, and many possible other stories, tell about the hispanic experience in my town.

My problem with illegal immigration has never been the people, I don't like the law being mocked and I fear terrorism.

Posted by: Emily B. at July 18, 2005 9:58 PM

The reality is and will be for the next several generations of American history that if you want to advance economically in this nation you will have to learn how to speak, read and write English fluently. Every immigrant coming to America whether from China, or Mexico or the Trobriand Islands understands this. If you want your kids to be cutting lawns, cleaning houses and picking crops for the rest of their lives, by all means lock yourself away in your linguistic ghetto.

Sure, a lot of Latinos are buying into a bill of goods which lets them live in a linguistic and cultural ghetto. But that is a legitimate short-term response to the political culture in which they arrive. The politicians and the media, and especially the schools, lie to them, telling them that they need not assimilate in order to advance. In NYC, there even is a public community college where the courses are in Spanish. Why? The reason is quite simple. Politicians and business people understand that if they can 'segment' the market and they can capture 100% of a decent sized segment, they win. A Hispanic politician has every incentive to keep his constituents monophone Spanish. If they were to learn English, they could start voting for people named Ryan or Shapiro, and he'd be out of a job. Similarly, if people start speaking English, what do 'bilingual educators' do for a living? Quiere Usted Fritas con esta, Senor?

Some of it is cultural. There is a sense among many Hispanic immigrants that they will always be peons and their kids will always be peons, so they do not have the same drive to advance that other immigrants have. This phenomenon was particularly observable among Italian immigrants in the first quarter of the 20th century, but after exposure to American culture, their kids became as ambitious as anyone else. What we need to do is make sure that Hispanic kids get exposed to the broader American culture.

The answer is simple and that is to end taxpayer funded bilingualism with the exception of matters of criminal law.

Posted by: bart at July 19, 2005 8:57 AM

I'm curious as to whether any immigrants have been elected to some government office without speaking English.

Also, seems like a lot of people view illegal immigration as the original sin of new Americans. I'm sympathetic to that, but like Emily, the law breaking just grates.

Posted by: RC at July 19, 2005 4:45 PM