Tag: Hispanic challenge

Lasagna and Tortillas

I’ve mentioned before that I am part Italian. My paternal grandmother came off the boat from Naples as a teenage girl in the 1920s. She settled in New York City, like many Italian immigrants did, and lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for fifty years.

greenwich

In her old age, she developed a reputation as a cantankerous character who snapped at people for littering the sidewalk, often unleashing a string of Italian vulgarities and insults at them.

But that is another story.

The point is that many of my Italian grandmother’s descendents, including me, have achieved a much higher standard of living then she did. This is despite the fact that my grandmother was basically a high school dropout who spoke no English. As an Italian immigrant, she represented the fears of the established Americans, who were not terrible pleased at the new swarthy arrivals.

Yes, that sentiment sounds terribly familiar.

So it is most interesting that “a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

And that pattern is that immigrants arrive “in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English.”

From both Italian and Hispanic perspectives, this is true of me. And it is also true of my son, because “the grandchildren look ever more American.”

Of course, there is no magical guarantee that the descendants of Latino immigrants will completely close the gaps in education and income that separate Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

But it is certainly moving in that direction. For example, in the last decade the number of Latinos graduating from college has doubled. And second-generation Latino households are much closer in median income to other groups than their immigrant parents were.

The researchers conclude that the so-called Hispanic challenge is a real phenomenon. But rather than being an unprecedented cultural crisis, it is analogous to the Italian challenge, Chinese challenge, or Jewish challenge of the past.

Indeed, “over time, the specific challenges — legal, cultural and educational — have changed. Yet the core parts of the story have not, including its trajectory.”

 


More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


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