MARCH 15, 2004 COVER STORY
Hispanics are an immigrant group like no other. Their huge numbers are challenging old assumptions about assimilation. Is America ready?
Maria Velazquez was born in a dingy hospital on the U.S.-Mexican border and has been straddling the two nations ever since. The 36-year-old daughter of a bracero, a Mexican migrant who tended California strawberry and lettuce fields in the 1960s, she spent her first nine years like a nomad, crossing the border with her family each summer to follow her father to work. Then her parents and their six children settled down in a Chicago barrio, where Maria learned English in the local public school and met Carlos Velazquez, who had immigrated from Mexico as a teenager. The two married in 1984, when Maria was 17, and relocated to nearby Cicero, Ill. Her parents returned to their homeland the next year with five younger kids. The Velazquezes speak fluent English and cherish their middle-class foothold in America. Maria and Carlos each earn about $20,000 a year as a school administrator and a graveyard foreman, respectively, and they own a simple three-bedroom home. But they remain wedded to their native language and culture. Spanish is the language at home, even for their five boys, ages 6 to 18. The kids speak to each other and their friends in English flecked with "dude" and "man," but in Cicero, where 77% of the 86,000 residents are Hispanic, Spanish dominates. The older boys snack at local taquerías when they don't eat at home, where Maria's cooking runs to dishes like chicken mole and enchiladas. The family reads and watches TV in Spanish and English. The eldest, Jesse, is a freshman at nearby Morton College and dreams of becoming a state trooper; his girlfriend is also Mexican-American. "It's important that they know where they're from, that they're connected to their roots," says Maria, who bounced between Spanish and English while speaking to BusinessWeek. She tries to take the kids to visit her parents in the tiny Mexican town of Valle de Guadalupe at least once a year. "It gives them a good base to start from." The Velazquezes, with their mixed cultural loyalties, are at the center of America's new demographic bulge. Baby boomers, move over -- the bebé boomers are coming. They are 39 million strong, including some 8 million illegal immigrants -- bilingual, bicultural, mostly younger Hispanics who will drive growth in the U.S. population and workforce as far out as statisticians can project (charts). Coming from across Latin America, but predominantly Mexico, and with high birth rates, these immigrants are creating what experts are calling a "tamale in the snake," a huge cohort of kindergarten to thirtysomething Hispanics created by the sheer velocity of their population growth -- 3% a year, vs. 0.8% for everyone else. It's not just that Latinos, as many prefer to be called, officially passed African Americans last year to become the nation's largest minority. Their numbers are so great that, like the postwar baby boomers before them, the Latino Generation is becoming a driving force in the economy, politics, and culture. Cultural Clout It amounts to no less than a shift in the nation's center of gravity. Hispanics made up half of all new workers in the past decade, a trend that will lift them from roughly 12% of the workforce today to nearly 25% two generations from now. Despite low family incomes, which at $33,000 a year lag the national average of $42,000, Hispanics' soaring buying power increasingly influences the food Americans eat, the clothes they buy, and the cars they drive. Companies are scrambling to revamp products and marketing to reach the fastest-growing consumer group. Latino flavors are seeping into mainstream culture, too. With Hispanic youth a majority of the under-18 set, or close to it, in cities such as Los Angeles, Miami, and San Antonio, what's hip there is spreading into suburbia, much the way rap exploded out of black neighborhoods in the late 1980s. Hispanic political clout is growing, too. In a Presidential race that's likely to be as tight as the last one, they could be a must-win swing bloc. Indeed, the increase in voting-age Hispanics since 2000 now outstrips the margin of victory in seven states for either President
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Lamm. many experts think it's more likely that the U. They had their own schools. as well. according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. Back and Forth The 21 million Mexicans among them also have something else no other immigrant group has had: They're a car ride away from their home country. to $652 billion last year.
George W.says Felipe Korzenny. the founder of Erlich Transcultural Consultants Inc. those workers also exert downward pressure on wages across the lower end of the pay structure. Bush or former Vice-President Albert Gore. "Here we have this younger. Vaquero oversees part of the company's 350-person Hispanic unit. The dual identities are reinforced by the constant influx of new Latino immigrants -. Hispanics may be different. especially since they're the fastest-growing demographic. their kids spoke only English and embraced American aspirations and habits. in North Hollywood. delivered a first-ever Spanish-language version of the Democrat's rebuttal to the State of the Union address.S.com/print/magazine/content/04_11/b3874001. Latinos speak Spanish. increasingly reach out to Hispanics in their own language.S.S. which is one of the key contrasts with what people think of as the melting pot. which is hiring 100 mostly bilingual financial advisers this year and which generated $1 billion worth of new business nationwide last year.the change in population.S. But in a few generations. calculates the Internal Revenue Service. and how much will America change them? Throughout the country's history. The steady stream of newcomers will likely keep the foreign-born. Bush opened the election year with a guest-worker proposal for immigrants that pundits took as a play for the Latino vote.. With national TV networks such as Univision Communications Inc. a graying U. traditionally the dominant party among Hispanics. according to the Census Bureau. It didn't always happen right away. and Social Security Administration are hiring more Spanish-language administrators to cope with the surge in Spanish speakers in the workforce. double the pace of the rest of the population. Their presence means that "Spanish is constantly refreshed. the ranks of Latino entrepreneurs has jumped by 30% since 1998. according to a new study by HispanTelligence. in immigration. It boils down to this: How much will Hispanics change America. 5. says Demetrios G. Although the steady influx of low-skilled workers helps keep America's gardens tended and floors cleaned. institutions to accommodate a second linguistic group. successive waves of immigrants eventually surrendered their native languages and cultures and melted into the middle class. even if they also know English. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He will follow up by rekindling his relationship with Mexican President Vicente Fox. Certainly. At the extreme. who now builds homes in Hispanic-rich markets such as San Antonio.acquiring a new culture while retaining their original one -. 78% of U. "America has to learn to live with diversity -. co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington.businessweek. Similarly.S. Texas. allowing them to maintain ties that Europeans never could. Yet the rise of a minority group this distinct requires major adjustments. a Santa Barbara (Calif. Hispanics are spurring U." says Andrew Erlich. ranch on Mar. a Latino research group in Washington. himself a Mexican immigrant based in Houston. a view expressed in a recent book called Mexifornia: A State of Becoming by Victor Davis Hanson. who typically speak mostly or only Spanish.roughly 400. double its goal. Papademetriou. Already. Already." he says." says Roberto Suro. the Latino boom brings a welcome charge to the economy at a time when others' population growth has slowed to a crawl. who's due to visit Bush at his Crawford. Hispanics aren't so much assimilating as acculturating -. too. the highest flow in U. Some even predict a Quebec-style Latino dominance in states such as Texas and California that will encourage separatism. "How are we going to compete in a global market when 50% of our fastest-growing group doesn't graduate from high school?" demands former Colorado Governor Richard D.S. director of the Pew Hispanic Center. might see a long-term slowdown along the lines of aging Japan. economy. too. Democrats. (MER ) Vice-President Carlos Vaquero. Today.Hispanic Nation
http://www. Still. history. and not just because many are nonwhites. a Mexican-American and potential Vice-Presidential candidate. Calif.
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. more salad bowl than melting pot.S. a history professor at California State University at Fresno. and spoke German. who see their jobs and pay being hit. are stepping up their outreach. Who Are We. Huntington in a forthcoming book. These critics argue that legions of poorly educated non-English speakers undermine the U. During the great European migrations of the 1800s.. a professor of Hispanic marketing at Florida State University. Politicians. that accommodates a Latino subgroup without major upheaval. and businesses. The Labor Dept. Hispanics may find it practical to remain bilingual. Latinos are a key catalyst of economic growth." says Merrill Lynch & Co. What's not yet clear is whether Hispanic social cohesion will be so strong as to actually challenge the idea of the American melting pot. (UVN ) and hundreds of mostly Spanish-speaking enclaves like Cicero. Without a steady supply of new workers and consumers. "The impact of Hispanics is huge. True. Hispanic population for several decades. who now co-directs a public policy center at the University of Denver. Even so. has never faced demographic change quite like this before. Germans settled in an area stretching from Pennsylvania to Minnesota. Maria Velazquez worries that her boys may lose their Spanish and urges them to speak it more. says former Housing and Urban Development chief Henry Cisneros. in [Spanish-language] media. much as French is in Canada today. Already. newspapers. Their disposable income has jumped 29% since 2001. Hispanics today may have more choice than other immigrant groups to remain within their culture. will find a new model. Many routinely journey back and forth. These views have recently been echoed by Harvard University political scientist Samuel P. The U. ardent assimilationists worry that the spread of Spanish eventually could prompt Congress to recognize it as an official second language.S. at one-third of the U. hard-working Latino population whose best working years are still ahead. this is causing friction with African Americans.) research group.000 a year.
Today.S. Corporate America itself is helping to reinforce Hispanics' bicultural preferences. Last year... He soon found that they were already 20% of PacifiCare's 3 million policyholders. P&G tailors everything from detergent to toothpaste to Latino tastes. since Latinos are a diverse ethnic and linguistic group comprising every nationality from Argentinians. the nation's No. it added a third scent to Gain detergent called "white-water fresh" after finding that 57% of Hispanics like to smell their purchases. Cypress (Calif.8 million last year to convert the 59. a small town 100 miles south of Mexico City.S.S. outpacing general U. After local Hispanic merchants stole much of its business in a Houston neighborhood that became 85% Latino. store into an all-Hispanic supermercado. the town president. sales. before founding investment bank Guzman & Co. Rumbaut. linguistically and culturally. "Now.S. to Dominicans. according to a decade-long study by University of California at Irvine sociologist Rubén G. Most probably face less racism than African Americans. gradually marry non-Hispanics. Procter & Gamble Co. (PHS ) hired Russell A. Poles. has soared by 44% since
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http://www. In 2002. It's still possible that Cicero's Latino children will follow the path of so many other immigrants and move out into non-Hispanic neighborhoods. began marketing health insurance in Spanish. Instead. in part because many families remain cloistered in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods.)-based PacifiCare Health Systems Inc. Meld into the Mainstream The failure to develop skills leaves many Hispanics trapped in low-wage service jobs that offer few avenues for advancement. Hispanic law firms. society.000 Tonaticans already there. Some 90% of immigrants from Tonatico. Ad revenues on Spanish-language TV should climb by 16% this year. or even former neighbors. Latino Health Solutions. economy. those Latino kids keep their native language at four times the rate of Filipino. Across the country. Now. Sure. even as nearly 90% also speak English very well. A few companies are even going all-Spanish. to 57%. Spanish-language signs welcome customers. Then a wave of young Mexican immigrants drove the population to its current Hispanic dominance. to 63%. joining 5. up from 1% in 1970. Fla.. Latinos have long lagged in U. More striking. a gritty factory town that once claimed fame as Al Capone's headquarters. If they do. from Cuba at 15 and turned a Columbia University degree into a job at Lazard Frères & Co. and Hispanics have replaced whites in the surviving factories and local schools. Other companies are making similar assumptions. vice-president of P&G's multicultural team in Puerto Rico. a longtime Mexico City resident. Most of these. Originally populated mostly by Czechs. the No. a study of assimilation and other factors shows that while the number of Hispanics who prefer to speak mostly Spanish has dipped in recent years as the children of immigrants grow up with English. Spanish-language media are transforming from a niche market into a stand-alone industry. "We knew we had to remake the entire company. 97% of Mexican kids whose parents are immigrants and 76% of other Hispanic immigrant children know Spanish. But many researchers and academics say that's not likely for many Hispanics. Guzman. Hispanic hospitals. to help target Hispanics. from Mexican streetcorner day laborers in Los Angeles to Guatemalan poultry-plant workers in North Carolina. of course. As the ranks of Spanish speakers swell. when the company set up a 65-person bilingual team to target Hispanics. Kroger has expanded its private-label Buena Comida line from the standard rice and beans to 105 different items. that's still woefully short of the 88% for non-Hispanic whites and 80% for African Americans. Kroger Co. according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. head for Waukegan. immigrants tried to become Americans as soon as possible. certainly not for the millions of undocumented Hispanics. Even so. Or take the Velazquezes' home of Cicero. and meld into the mainstream. P&G has been marketing to Hispanics for decades.
A slow pace of assimilation is likely to hurt Hispanics themselves the most. either. will likely all but abandon Spanish. "Miami has Hispanic banks. equivalent to a mayor. Ramiro Gonzalez." says Bennett. (PG ) spent $90 million on advertising directed at Latinos for 12 products such as Crest and Tide -10% of its ad budget for those brands and a 28% hike in just a year. schools. Certainly immigrants often head for a place where they can get support from fellow citizens.-ft. the HispanTelligence study found that the group speaking both languages has climbed six percentage points since 1995. In fact." says Leopoldo E. that specializes in Hispanics. 57. to deal with this market. Incomes may not catch up anytime soon. or at least their children. or Chinese children of immigrants. so you can more or less conduct your entire life in Spanish here. Many low-wage Hispanics would fare better economically if they moved out of the barrios and assimilated into U.S.000-sq.S. toil in the underbelly of the U." says Sergio Bendixen. So while the Hispanic high-school-graduation rate has climbed 12 percentage points since 1980. (KR ). and translating documents into Spanish for Hispanic workers. they." says Graciela Eleta. and is likely to jump to 67% by 2010. Now. the Chicago suburb started decaying in the 1970s as factories closed and residents fled in search of jobs. The trend to acculturate rather than assimilate is even more stark among Latino youth. Cubans dominate. there has been no increase in those who prefer only English. more than other media segments. Now.1 Spanish-language media conglomerate in the U. with their large black population. Their strong work ethic can compound the problem by propelling many young Latinos into the workforce before they finish high school. Vietnamese. especially poor immigrants who show up with no English and few skills. the pull of a common language may keep many in a country apart. is a Mexican immigrant. The audience of Univision. spent $1. Today.com/print/magazine/content/04_11/b3874001. In Miami.1 grocery chain.. Bennett. it's the opposite.businessweek. directing Hispanics to Spanish-speaking doctors. "Before. founder of Bendixen & Associates. So Bennett's new unit. "Hispanics are a cornerstone of our growth in North America. Gain's sales growth is double-digit in the Hispanic market. Ill." Selling in Spanish In its eagerness to tap the exploding Hispanic market. and Slovaks. but spending took off after 2000. Last year. He came to the U. a polling firm in Coral Gables. who have a strong European heritage.. and catfish and banana leaves line the aisles.
2001. Most of these efforts have been ineffective. so he switched back to Spanish-only in 2002 -. English-only laws.
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.to 34-year-old viewership shot up by 95% that year. which limit or prohibit schools and government agencies from using Spanish. Hispanics are adding all kinds of new influences. to ban social services to undocumented immigrants.2011 Bloomberg L. have passed in some 18 states. but more likely they will continue to straddle two worlds.com/print/magazine/content/04_11/b3874001.P. the nation has succeeded in weaving the foreign-born into the fabric of U. With their huge numbers. and Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles. but they're likely to continue as the Latino presence increases.. incorporating strands of new cultures along the way. All rights reserved. In fact. and bureau reports
Copyright 2000. figuring out ways to remain Hispanic even as they become Americans. and burritos are everyday fare. whose audiences have declined in that period. By Brian Grow. Over the years. Americans hablan Español. For more than 200 years. "We do what the networks don't. society. Arlene Weintraub. known as Proposition 187. with Ronald Grover. Mara Der Hovanesian in New York. says Univision President Ray Rodriguez. More and more. The Hispanicizing of America raises a number of political flash points." says Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos.to 34-year-old group. Patrick's Day as a public celebration in some neighborhoods. and by 146% in the 18. Michael Eidam in Atlanta. Many viewers have come from English-language networks.and 18.S.businessweek. and that's devote a lot of our show to what interests the Latino community. Will Hispanics be absorbed just as other waves of immigrants were? It's possible.. They bombed. Univision tried to reach out to assimilated Hispanics a few years ago by putting English-language programs on its cable channel Galavision. notably former California Governor Pete Wilson's 1994 effort.Hispanic Nation
http://www. periodic backlashes have erupted in areas with fast-growing Latino populations. Cinco de Mayo has joined St.