"Hispanic Heritage:" What Is It?
Wednesday marked the beginning of "Hispanic Heritage Month," since 1968 an annual recognition of those Americans making up what is now the largest ethnic group in the United States. The month is marked by lectures, events, performances and programs intended to highlight the unique participation of people gathering under the self-identifying label "Hispanic Americans."
According to U.S. Census Department, the Hispanic population reached 39.9 million on July 1, 2003 and, if prevailing growth rates are applied to the intervening thirteen months, it now numbers around 41.6 million residents. This figure does not include the some 3.9 million American citizens now resident in Puerto Rico but does encompass the roughly 2.9 million Puerto Ricans living on the U.S. mainland. With this in mind, it is safe to say that there are some 45.5 million Hispanics now living in the United States and its territories, constituting some 16% of the national population.
In reality, the moniker "Hispanic" has become a term-of-art, principally pushed by organizers, politicians and merchandisers in an attempt to create cohesive psychological "blocks" of activists, voters and consumers. Often individuals falling under that rubric prefer to express their ethnicity in terms of their country of origin or that of their forbearers, i.e. Mexican-American, Cuban-American, Puerto Rican, etc.
The glue holding the concept together is a federal government that, over the years, has embraced the concept by codifying "Hispanics" as an American minority group, thereby qualifying individuals within it for special consideration under national laws intended to create equal opportunities for all Americans.
The concept is enhanced by the U.S. Census Departments policies. In its census questionnaires, separate questions are asked about "Hispanic" origin and race. The question on "Hispanic Origin" asks respondents if they are Spanish, "Hispanic" or Latino. Starting with Census 2000, the question on race asks respondents to report the race or races they consider themselves to be. Thus, "Hispanics" may be of any race, regional grouping or national origin.
For example, modern day descendents of Mexican-American families living in the U.S. Southwest since the Sixteenth Century are grouped as "Hispanic," along with recently arrived illegal immigrants from Central and South America. Cuban-Americans in South Florida, whose political agenda is foreign policy, are placed under the "Hispanic" banner as Puerto Ricans from the South Bronx, whose concern is mainly economic development. The sons and daughters of wealthy "Hispanics" from the world of commerce and the arts wear the same official demographic label as do the children of migrant workers in the harvesting fields and groves of agricultural America.
In spite of this diversity, Hispanics find common cause in a shared "mother tongue," Spanish, although many mainland Hispanics do not speak or read the language, and a mutual regard for cultural values which they perceive as being unique to themselves in comparison to the larger society. These include the tendency to form large multi-generational extended families, to place a strong emphasis on personal relationships and to mistrust impersonal organizations including governmental structures.
Click here for a statistical breakdown of "Hispanics" prepared by U.S. Newswire (PR Herald Volume 8 # 37 "Culture, Heritage, Language).
Because of their large and growing numbers within the population, the study of "Hispanic" attitudes has become a popular field for researchers and pollsters. "How much money do they spend and on what? What social issues do they espouse and in what order of priority? And, in this election year, with what political parties do they identify and for which candidates are they likely to vote?"
In early July, with the focus of the nation turning to the upcoming elections, three organizations collaborated to survey "Hispanic" (Latino) registered voters -- the Spanish language TV network Univision, The Washington Post, and TRPI, a policy research institute associated with the University of Southern California. 1,605 respondents were queried in eleven states wherein Hispanics are the most numerous -- California, Texas, Florida, New York, Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, Colorado, Virginia and Massachusetts. 7 % of respondents said that they were born in Puerto Rico, another 46% born elsewhere in the United States and 48% born overseas. Their combined answers across a range of issues were then compared with answers gleaned from current surveys of the entire national population.
The Republican incumbent President and candidate for reelection, George W. Bush, did not fare well in the many questions directed to his management of the war in Iraq and his stewardship of the economy and other areas of "Hispanic" concern. On average, "Hispanic" response was nearly 10 % less positive or more negative than that of the general public nationally. The following chart illustrates this trend.
Approval of George W. Bush by Category
The poll asked the question if the election was held at the time of the survey (July 6-16, 2004) for who would the surveyed Latino voters cast their ballots. The results and their comparison to national preferences at the time are seen below.
For Who Would You Vote If The Election Were Held Today?
The differences noted between Latino response and that of the general U.S. population evident in this poll strike a cautionary note for those who envision a time in the future when the Hispanic presence in the United States grows beyond 25% of the total population. The question raised by this prospect is if the U.S. political and economic culture will be so fundamentally changed by what they view as a "competing culture" that the nation will more resemble an unstable Latin American country than its present status as a world leader with an enduring Constitution. Political scientist Samuel P. Huntington raises this specter in his seminal work, "The Clash of Civilizations."
Huntington and others view Latin American culture as "foreign" to a North American experience rooted in individual - rather than group - initiative and a strong work ethic. Others point to religion, language and temperament as impediments to Hispanic assimilation into the North American political and cultural experience. This argument, of course, is widely expressed in Puerto Rico by those who wish to separate themselves from the United States politically, while still retaining American citizenship.
The question for Herald readers this week relates to that very issue.
Will the growing U.S. Hispanic population become an integrated part of the political, cultural and linguistic reality of the United States, or will it remain isolated from it?