Esta página no está disponible en español.

Hispanics Cite Importance Of English Proficiency In PollSee Themselves as Diverse

Hispanic Immigrants Cite Importance Of English Proficiency In Poll


December 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Chicago Tribune. All rights reserved.

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Despite the proliferation of Spanish-language TV channels and persistent political controversies over bilingual education, a new survey suggests Hispanic immigrants are assimilating into the American culture and embracing English as a key to success.

Still, as with prior waves of immigrants, the survey found that in many cases it is only their children who become truly comfortable with the language of their new country.

The survey, conducted jointly by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Kaiser Family Foundation, found that 9 out of 10 Latinos believe proficiency in English is important to success in America, even among those who can only speak Spanish.

The survey was based on telephone interviews earlier this year with 2,929 Hispanics, including 915 born in the United States. The margin of error ranges from 2 percent for overall figures to 4 percent for the smaller sample of U.S.-born Hispanics. Another 1,008 non-Hispanic whites were interviewed and 171 non-Hispanic African-Americans.

"What's undebatable in the survey is that there's a process of change under way," Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, a Washington-based non-partisan research institute, said of the poll of Hispanic perspective on social attitudes and ethnic issues. Respondents were asked to identify their ethnicity as Hispanic, Latino or other such background.

"The melting pot still exerts its influence," Suro said.

And among Latino immigrants who are parents, nearly 8 out of 10 said their children either use mostly English or both English and Spanish to converse with friends. Ninety-six percent of U.S.-born Hispanics said they either primarily speak English or are bilingual.

"If there's a lot of Spanish being spoken, it's because there are lots of adult immigrants out there. It's not because people are resisting English," Suro said. Still, the survey also found 6 out of 10 Latino immigrants reported speaking little or no English.

Carlos Arango, executive director of Casa Aztlan, a nonprofit organization that provides social services, including English classes, in Chicago's heavily Mexican Pilsen neighborhood, said immigrants appear eager to learn English. But, he said, they often are hindered by low levels of education they received in their native countries and limited space in English-training programs.

As they learn English and spend more time in the country, Hispanic immigrants and their children also tend to adopt American attitudes toward social issues, work and success, according to the findings.

While Latinos hold views on social issues that are more socially conservative than white Americans, English-speakers and second-generation immigrants are much more likely to accept divorce, abortion and homosexuality. And they are more likely to adopt mainstream views that success at work requires sacrifices in their personal lives.

Still, Suro said there are some distinct Latino values that appear to be passed to successive generations, including an especially strong emphasis on family life and support for a larger role for government in society.

Among Latinos born in the United States, 82 percent agreed that relatives are more important than friends; 67 percent of whites and 68 percent of blacks agreed with the statement.

Among Hispanics who earn more than $50,000 per year, 58 percent said they would pay higher taxes if the money would support a bigger government that provides more services. Because support for lower taxes and smaller government is a linchpin of the Republican political agenda, that political attitude could hinder GOP efforts to reach out to the growing Hispanic population.

The survey also touched on discrimination. Thirty-one percent of Hispanics interviewed said either they, a family member or a close friend had experienced discrimination based on their ethnic or racial background during the previous five years. By contrast, 13 percent of whites and 46 percent of blacks reported such an experience.

Also, nearly half of Hispanics interviewed said discrimination against Latinos by other Latinos was "a major problem." They were most likely to attribute the treatment to prejudices based on different levels of income or education or differences in their country of origin.

Hispanics Polled See Themselves as Diverse

December 18, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved.

Hispanics or Latinos in the United States tend not to see themselves as part of a single ethnic group but rather as part of a wildly diverse population, representing many different countries of origin and disparate political, cultural and social views, a new survey has found.

At the same time, Hispanics from the various Spanish-speaking countries do share a range of attitudes and experiences that distinguish them from people whose cultures are non-Hispanic, such as a reluctance to box themselves into one of the five racial categories identified by the U.S. Census, according to a comprehensive survey released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

In short, a complex process of assimilation and immigration is taking place in the nation's fast-growing and changing distinct Latino communities, the pollsters found. The survey of 2,929 Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Colombians, Dominicans and others from South and Central America reveals in charts and graphs what the nearly 13 percent of the nation's population identified as Hispanic already knew: Hispanics, or Latinos, are neither monolithic nor easy to categorize -- nor do they have unified political goals.

Perhaps the single most unifying attitude among all the Hispanic groups surveyed is the overwhelming belief that learning English is essential to success in this country. Contrary to those who believe that "English only" laws are essential in preventing isolated pockets of Spanish-speaking communities from forming, those in Spanish-speaking communities say that learning English is absolutely essential -- a view, the survey found, that is reflected in how quickly the children of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries assimilate into the dominant culture.

"I think it's very easy from the outside to see Latino neighborhoods and only see the large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants and paint a very static picture of a population that does not seem to be changing or assimilating," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "We see the assimilation from Spanish to English is almost complete in one generation." The survey found that six in 10 U.S.-born Latinos predominately speak English, while only a third are bilingual.

That Hispanics are assimilating faster than previously thought is borne out by cultural attitudes, Suro said. As Hispanics acquire English, their views change and become closer to the views of non-Hispanic Americans, according to the survey. "That's true of a whole range of issues," he said, "like abortion and divorce, on views on the American workplace and what it takes to succeed."

For politicians courting the "Hispanic vote," the survey suggests that the message must be specific rather than general. Cubans in Florida, for example, have different concerns than do Mexicans in California or Puerto Ricans, who alone among Hispanics are all born U.S. citizens. Politically, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans tend to be the most liberal, while Cubans are the most conservative, with Mexicans in the middle of the spectrum, the survey found. "It will be very difficult for an individual to tailor their political message if it's an ethnic message," Suro said.

The survey makes clear, Suro said, that Latinos are not going to be a minority group the same way African Americans are a minority group, with the unifying influence of being black and having a shared heritage. Only 43 percent of those surveyed believed that Latinos from different countries are working together to achieve common political goals, while 83 percent reported that Latinos discriminating against other Latinos is a problem, reflecting wide divisions among the groups.

"There's no sense of the kind of cohesion that would produce the kind of political mobilization that blacks have been able to create," Suro said, "nor the sense of shared identity. . . . One of the things that you see in the survey is that not only do Latinos resist easy categorization, they also in their self-identification resist lumping themselves together. You put those two factors together, you don't have a single cohesive group that's going to fall into line together."

Self-Determination Legislation | Puerto Rico Herald Home
Newsstand | Puerto Rico | U.S. Government | Archives
Search | Mailing List | Contact Us | Feedback