The Latino face of America
By Alan Caruba
A funny thing happened to me while I was pushing a cart up and down the aisles of my local Pathmark supermarket. I hit one aisle and suddenly realized that a very large portion of it was devoted to Goya and other products favored by Latinos. Not being a Hispanic or Latino -- the terms are interchangeable -- I had not noticed that before, but the fact is, New Jersey and nearby New York are major population centers for Latinos, even though much of the Hispanic population remains spread throughout the Southwest and, of course, throughout California.
In the past, I have written some pretty harsh analysis of the impact of illegal immigration on the United States of America. I have not favored the further granting of amnesty to the eight to twelve million illegal aliens here, most of whom are from Mexico, South America, and Caribbean nations. There is, however, a power in numbers and in history. They are both relentless when examined without prejudice.
Let me share some numbers with you from an interesting book, Right Before Our Eyes: Latinos Past, Present & Future (Scholargy Publishing, 1555 W. University Drive, Suite 108, Tempe, AZ 85281, www.scholargy.com) by Robert Montemayor with Henry Mendoza.
All of a sudden, I began to think that maybe Social Security might not go broke if those illegal aliens were given the opportunity to become tax-paying Americans with a better opportunity to have their children schooled so they too can join the workforce as the baby-boomers head toward retirement. What does America need? A "geezer" workforce or one that taps the ability of native-born and immigrant Latinos?
A lot of Americans are going to be very surprised to discover that the taxpayer base in ten years and the workforce in 2020 are going to be predominantly Latino. It will be same kind of surprise I felt when I realized that aisle in Pathmark represented a change I hadn't really noticed.
Part of the problem is that Latinos, particularly native-born, have had an especially hard time climbing the ladder of success in America. The appointment of Alberto G. Gonzalez as the first Latino US Attorney General was widely heralded, but Latinos remain under-represented at the executive levels of business, education, law, politics, and policy. There are exceptions, yes, but they remain exceptions.
Latinos are virtually invisible with the exception of entertainers like Jennifer Lopez and Salma Hayek, musicians such as Emilio and Gloria Estefan, and from the world of sports, golfers LeeTravino, Chi Chi Rodriquez or Nancy Lopez. Baseball has many Hispanic stars such as Alex Rodriquez, Sammy Sosa, and Manny Ramirez. When you look to science, aerospace, art, architecture, medicine, the military, and politics, the names of Latino achievers are barely known to most people, let alone to the vast Hispanic community.
As far as the mass media is concerned, Latinos are an even greater minority than African Americans, but Latinos outnumber them these days. When you read or hear about a Latino it is most likely because they have been arrested. This totally ignores the growing Latino middle class. For those born here and others who arrive here legally or illegally, there is an astonishing 600 Spanish-language radio stations and an estimated 550 Spanish-language magazines, newspapers, and websites. As Montemayor notes, "It is an industry all its own, and it exists within the largest English-speaking country in the world."
Language is a major sore point among advocates and critics of immigration. All previous groups that arrived on our shores, Italians, Russians, Germans and others, embraced English as the unifying language of these United States. It is language that, more often than not, stymies the progress of Hispanic immigrants and, if history is any guide, it is the necessity to learn English that will permit them to make a life for themselves and their children here.
Education is the key to progress, but our education system is in meltdown, poorly serving an entire generation of young Americans and, more often than not, neglecting Hispanic children to the point of their dropping out in numbers too great to ignore without peril to the growth of our economy and the well being of our society.
The numbers of Latinos born here and coming here cannot be ignored. Ways must be found to integrate new Hispanic immigrants into our society, nor should we forget that there are already millions of first, second, third and fourth generation Latinos for whom America is their home. A group that will spend $700 billion this year alone cannot be ignored and that aisle in Pathmark says they are not being ignored.
For those who resist this, a bit of history. Hispanic explorers had begun their travels around the North American continent centuries before their English counterparts. Years before the first English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, Spanish explorers had discovered and traversed most of what would become the Southern States from Florida to Texas, "discovered Lake Michigan in the north, trekked down the Mississippi River, crossed New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, and claimed the California coast extending as far north as Vancouver Island. In 1565, the Spanish admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, Florida." It would serve as Spain's military headquarters in North America for the rest of the 16th century.
There are all kinds of issues swirling around the fact that some 400,000 illegal immigrants from Mexico, South America, and the Caribbean are arriving yearly. There are national security issues, education issues, medical care issues, crime issues, language issues, but there aren't values issues. Latinos who risk everything, including their lives, to come here want to work, want their children to have a better life, want to live in a nation that offers real opportunity. And many come here legally, but go unnoted against the television images of those who do not.
So, let's face it. The future face of America is going to be less English, less Scandinavian, less Russian, less Irish, less Italian, less German. We are going to learn to celebrate Cinco de Mayo along with St. Patrick's Day.
Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba, March 2005
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