The face of America is undergoing vast changes, and most of these pertain to “Hispanics,” as the 2010 United States Census referred to the Latino population.
Because the growth of the White population in our nation is very small (one percent) and is decreasing, Whites are predicted to be a minority in about 40 years. At that point in our nation’s history, Hispanics are slated to become the largest ethnic group.
The shift has been rather rapid, with much of the change occurring in the last decade alone, in which Hispanics accounted for more than half of our nation’s growth. One out of every six Americans—over 50 million people—are now Hispanic. Latinos are expected to comprise one-third of America’s population in 40 years. In other words, one out of every three Americans will be Hispanic.
We must all be highly aware of the ramifications of this sea change. Our American society has been predicated throughout our history on the pre-eminence of the White culture, largely because our White population has consistently been the largest demographic group.
Along with our country’s historical beginnings and historical evolution, plus the establishment of English as our nation’s language, a Eurocentric culture has flourished, has led our nation in all aspects of life, and has been the face of America to the world.
Hispanics and American Diversity
Diversity is one of our country’s greatest strengths, however, and the infusion of increasingly diverse populations through the centuries has caused other cultures to slowly take their proverbial place at the table. Traditionally, the Hispanic culture, the Hispanic people collectively and generically, have been more of an afterthought, however.
There has been a diminished focus on the Hispanic peoples in the United States, and this oversight of Hispanics has often been linked to the public’s association of this demographic group with a ‘foreign’ language, with Spanish.
Inclusion of Hispanics in the social, economic, and political fabric of American life has been slow, as data regarding Hispanic representation in many American institutions and endeavors have consistently shown: professorships in our universities, the halls of Congress, municipal governments, school district leadership, judicial posts, corporate board rooms, and so on.
In fact, Hispanic representation in these and other significant areas of participation and leadership has lagged behind representativeness attained concurrently by other ethnic minority groups, even in areas in which competent Hispanics were ready and available to step up to the plate.
Preparing for Future Influence
In a democracy, when a given group of people predominates in numbers, it is incumbent upon them to willingly take up the mantle of leadership, of responsibility for the well-being and prosperity of their society. Our White fellow Americans have done this throughout our history; they have led and shaped our society through crises, wars, immense change, and needed growth. They have predominated in government and in all our institutions, in public and private sectors, and have gone out into the world to represent our nation in good times and bad.
It goes without saying that none of this predominance would have been possible, or would have been effective, without perquisite education, training, and preparation for such roles. No society can flourish without its leaders being absolutely the best they can be in every facet of their work on behalf of the people they represent and are a part of.
If indeed, Hispanics become the majority group in America by 2050, as the projections indicate, and if they are to have great, positive influence in the course and fate of our nation, there is much work that must be done.
The Advocacy of Professor Pachón
If Hispanics needed to listen to any one individual regarding their future lives in America, it was Professor Harry P. Pachón, whom the University of Southern California’s Tomás Rivera Policy Institute called “among the most influential voices of his generation in public discourse about the Latino population.” Until his death earlier this month, Dr. Pachón was a USC professor of public policy and former Executive Director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund.
Dr. Pachón researched and wrote about Latinos’ education, political participation, electoral practices, and racial justice. For 40 years, he examined how public policies affected Latinos and their roles in society. Not partisan or demagogic, he quietly advocated for Latinos and studied their voting patterns. He once said:
“For every 100 Latinos you see walking down the street today, 34 of those 100 are under the age of 18, so they’re not qualified to vote. That leaves 66. Of those 66, in certain states, 33 aren’t U.S. citizens yet, so that leaves 33 Latinos. Of those 33, something like 16 don’t register to vote. That leaves 17. Of the 17 Latinos who are left, about 11 to 12 actually vote.”
Dr. Pachón worked tirelessly to educate Latinos about the importance of voting, to register them to vote, and to promote naturalization. He also focused on public education, informing Latinos of scholarship opportunities and of how they could rise to the middle class. His influence was tremendous.
Who will fill Dr. Pachón’s shoes? This remains to be seen, but the reality remains that many Latinos are still not accustomed to being a part of the political process in America, of having a voice that will be heard and valued.
Imagine if 33 Latinos voted, instead of the 11 or 12, according to Dr. Pachón, that eventually make it to the polls. This translates to one-third of the entire Hispanic population in America today, or approximately 16.5 million people voting. This is a sizable mass.
What Happens Next?
The implication of Hispanics becoming a critical mass is even more compelling when we consider that they now comprise 23% of all people below the age of 18. In California, for example, 51% of all the children are Hispanic. Nationally, the average age of Hispanics is around 35.Consider how this Latino “population bulge”—when the present children become adults—might affect our nation.
There is time to prepare American Latinos for their future as the largest demographic group, but molding young Latinos to be good citizens in our democracy involves acculturating them and affording them ample opportunities for assuming responsibility in school and civic affairs, of training them to participate in democratic processes and decision-making.
Our nation needs to understand census projections and to accept the reality, if it indeed comes to pass, that Hispanics will predominate demographically. It is in the nation’s interest that this large group of Americans no longer be treated as an afterthought.
Citizens of a diverse democracy should always learn about, respect, and appreciate the cultures of others. Only by understanding what other groups value and yearn for, what their goals, priorities, and needs are, can we assure that no group shall be left behind in our nation’s progress and prosperity. Knowing one another well serves as a deterrent to discrimination and exclusion.
We must do this not only for Latinos but for all our people. Starting with providing the best education we can for all children, and holding high but reasonable expectations for them, we must involve parents in our schools and partner with them to prepare all our children to be bearers of the torch, to take our nation forward.
As I said, we have much work to do, but let us engage in it with an open heart and mind willing to embrace change, because, surely, change will always keep us on our toes.