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More Than Black And White…Hispanics Pass Blacks…Population Is Rising At Dizzying Rate

More Than Black And White


June 20, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

The growth of the Latino population in the mainland United States has been head spinning. In just two years, from April 2000 to July 2002, the number of Hispanics grew 9.8 percent, nearly four times as fast as the general population. Their ranks have doubled since 1980. This week, as expected, the Census Bureau confirmed that Hispanics – nearly 40 million of them – now make up the nation's largest minority group. That is part of a larger trend that makes old views of race, in terms of black and white, incomplete and in need of rethinking.

Current census forms ask respondents to categorize themselves by race, then to answer whether they are Hispanic or not. Latinos can be of any race, but when they are forced to select one, many have used white as a default choice. More than half of Latinos, as the Pew Hispanic Center found, see themselves as Hispanic or Latino or "other" – outside the traditional racial boxes. Simply put, most Latinos do not see themselves playing in the colored jerseys that are provided. They are not alone. Other portions of the American population – like Arab-Americans – find no easy fit in the official count.

The United States is a country that once divided the world between black and white so rigidly that a single nonwhite ancestor far back on the family tree was enough to determine a person's racial category. Now our concept of race is, happily, far broader. Intermarriage has created a growing population of people who think of themselves as multiracial or "other" because they have roots in more than one camp. Hispanics and other growing minority groups have helped remind us of the many ways Americans find to define themselves.

Culture and language, the markers that unite most Hispanics, are often diluted through the generations. But other forces – like inter-American commerce, the reach of Spanish-language media, the emergence of majority Hispanic communities and the connection with ancestral homelands by way of the Internet – guarantee that assimilation won't displace heritage.

America looks far different than it did half a century ago, when 87 percent of the population was white, 10 percent was black and the small remainder was Asian, Hispanic and Native American. Shifts in percentages will never erase 300 years of racial history, nor should they. But it's time for new chapters to be written.

Hispanics Pass Blacks As Largest U.S. Minority

Immigration, Higher Birth Rates Indicate That Gap Will Widen


June 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Immigration and higher birth rates fueled the increase in the Census.

New Census Bureau estimates released Wednesday conclude that Hispanics have overtaken blacks as the United States' largest minority, a long-predicted milestone confirming just how thoroughly immigration has altered the nation's demographic mix.

Even as sociologists and political scientists debate the implications of the shift, one thing is certain: Much faster growth in the Hispanic population, fueled by immigration and higher birth rates, means that the numerical gulf will continue to widen.

The Census Bureau's estimates put the number of Hispanics at 38.8 million, compared with 38.3 million blacks, out of a total U.S. population of 288.4 million.

What this means is unclear. Many foresee increasing Hispanic economic and political clout, potentially at blacks' expense.

Some see little prospect of a Hispanic national monolith, noting that the label groups people of widely differing -- and sometimes rivaling -- cultures, national origins and races.

Others note that the effects are already evident. Hispanic voters are a growing factor in state and national elections, in which they often serve as swing voting blocs. Presidential candidates attempt sound bites in Spanish, and more Hispanic candidates vie for, and win, elected office.

''Personally, I don't think that's bad,'' said Donald Spivey, a professor at the University of Miami who specializes in African-American history. ``It means we will see a greater diversity in America. It doesn't mean a lessening of the power or influence of African Americans. There will be more players in the arena.''

Moreover, the national numbers obscure a different picture at the state, local or regional level, where one minority often enjoys a clear numerical, and often political, edge.

In the South, for instance, the black population with the exception of Florida's is still much larger than the Hispanic, and in the Northeast and Midwest, the overall mix and the politics remain very much a white-black proposition, said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., who has written extensively on black migration back to the South in the 1990s.

''The tipping point nationally doesn't make much difference for the local areas that have long been dominated by one race or the other,'' Frey said. ``But Hispanics will have a higher share of all those populations as we move forward.''

Still, fast-growing Hispanic populations in some large metropolitan areas like New York, Boston and Chicago, where the black and Hispanic groups have been roughly equal in size, might change the local political and social equilibrium, said John Logan, director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at the State University of New York at Albany.

''But these are a minority of metros,'' he said in an e-mail.

In other places, like Miami-Dade County, the change happened long ago. Hispanics are an absolute majority in the county, census figures show. And the 2000 Census confirmed that Hispanics are the largest minority in Florida.

The Census Bureau, clearly aware of the benchmark's significance, unveiled the newest numbers at the annual convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, a leading Hispanic organization, held in Orlando. More than 900 people jammed a luncheon to hear Census Bureau Director Louis Kincannon outline the findings, LULAC spokeswoman Lorraine Quiroga said.

Quiroga said organization leaders hope the numbers will give them new ammunition to persuade federal authorities to increase efforts to spur Hispanic homeownership, expand school-dropout prevention programs, and increase Hispanic hires in the U.S. Civil Service, where their numbers lag far behind their proportion in the population, according to a new LULAC study. Those issues bridge divisions among Hispanics, she said.

''There are a lot of common interests that we have, despite our differences,'' Quiroga said.

When exactly the milestone occurred has been the subject of some academic debate. The 2000 Census found rough numerical parity between blacks and Hispanics, and Census Bureau estimates released in January were interpreted by some as indicating that the tipping point had arrived -- a conclusion that others disputed.

At that time, the number of people who identified themselves as either African American only, or as African American in combination with another race, still slightly outnumbered the total Hispanic population.

In this newer set of estimates, however, Hispanics outnumbered the total of all black-only and black, multiracial people. The Census Bureau arrived at those numbers by adding births to and subtracting deaths from 2000 Census figures, estimating net immigration, and adding the net movement of U.S. armed forces and civilian citizens to the country.

''The official population estimates now indicate that the Hispanic community is the nation's largest minority community,'' Kincannon said in a written statement. ``This is an important event in this country -- an event that we know is the result of the growth of a vibrant and diverse population that is vital to America's future.''

Between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2002, the period covered by the estimates, the Hispanic population grew by 9.8 percent, outstripping the national growth rate of 2.5 percent, Kincannon said. Hispanics accounted for 3.5 million of the U.S. population increase of 6.9 million.

Hispanic Population Is Rising Swiftly, Census Bureau Says


June 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved. 

WASHINGTON, June 18 – The Census Bureau released new figures today indicating that growth in the Hispanic population continues at a dizzying rate, having increased by nearly 10 percent in the first two years of the new century.

The number of Hispanics, which totaled 38.8 million as of July 2002, indicates a continued growth in immigration in recent years, even under less favorable social and economic conditions than those of the 1990's. According to the Census Bureau, the Hispanic population increased by 9.8 percent from the April 2000 census figures. Immigration, the new report concludes from estimates of both legal and illegal migrants, accounts for roughly 53 percent of the increase.

"It suggests a demographic momentum so powerful," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Institute, "that the immigration flow is somewhat impervious to the economic downturn or fears over national security."

The report, released today at the League of United Latin American Citizens convention in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., confirms earlier census predictions that Hispanics had overtaken blacks as the country's largest minority group.

As stark as the numbers themselves, is the conundrum they highlight: the growing difficulty of classifying racial and ethnic categories in an increasingly fluid and multi-ethnic society.

The 2000 census allowed respondents for the first time to choose more than one race in identifying themselves, a change that produced a wide array of possible racial classifications. And since Hispanics can be of any race, a census question allowed people to declare whether they were of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino origin.

Previous census estimates, released in January, predicted that Hispanics had edged past blacks in terms of population, but only if the black population totals excluded blacks who checked more than one race or who checked black and Hispanic origin.

The newest figures, according to census officials, put that discrepancy to rest. The population generally identified as black or African-American totaled 36.7 million as of July 2002. After adding the population that identified as black, in combination with one or more other races, the number rose to only 38.3 million, still less than the general Hispanic total of 38.8 million.

"It can seem a bit like comparing apples and oranges," said Robert Bernstein, a spokesman for the census bureau. "but now under every conceivable comparison, the Hispanic population is the largest."

That still left other tricky comparisons for the Census Bureau to clarify. While Hispanics remain the largest growing group, census officials took pains to point out that Asians, whose numbers rose 9 percent to roughly 13 million in 2002, experienced the highest rate of growth among racial group, because Asians are considered a racial group and Hispanics an ethnic group. The raw numbers and percentages convey little about overlaps in race and ethnicity, many demographers say. Filipinos, for example, can identify as both Asian and of Spanish origin.

So far, the Census Bureau has not devised a way for people to identify themselves as Arab-Americans or of Middle Eastern ethnicity.

"What we end up with is a slightly convoluted set of concepts and little uniformity in the way we all think about the concepts or classify the data," said Professor Larry Hajime Shinagawa, director for the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity at Ithaca College in New York.

While the wording of the census questionnaires pushed Hispanics to further classify themselves by race, a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center showed that when respondents were asked to declare themselves by race, 46 percent identified themselves as simply Hispanic or Latino. Another 20 percent responded "other."

"More than half of the Hispanic population doesn't see itself fitting into any of the standard American classifications" said Mr. Suro. "It's not that they are colorblind or beyond racism. They just don't see the world divided into such stark boxes, and that has to be a real engine for change."

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