The narrative of this book begins in 1940, when Latinos were a small minority and lacked political representation or public voice in California (see Figure 1). The Spanish language itself appeared to be on the verge of extinction in the state. Certainly schoolteachers prohibited the speaking of Spanish, even in the rigidly segregated "Mexican schools" to which Latino students were routinely assigned, even if they knew how to speak English. Latino daily life was marked by a number of indignities, including housing covenants, which restricted their house occupancy to a few segregated areas; widespread employment discrimination, which defined the types of jobs that were "appropriate" for them; and social and racial barriers, such as having access to public swimming pools only on the one "colored day" per week. When the Latino presence in the state was noticed at all, it was viewed as a problem, the "Mexican Problem," that most public officials hoped would quietly go away.
But Latinos did not go away quietly. Instead, a combination of dynamics—war, labor needs, immigration, fertility, and mortality—created for Latinos a "second act" rare in American society. For, rather than fading away, Latino numbers surged and resurged after World War II, so that by 2000, one out of every three persons in California is Latino, as seen in the 2000 composition in Figure 1. Particularly in southern California, the number-one television and radio shows are routinely broadcast in Spanish; billboards in Spanish announce tortillas, disposable diapers, and new automobiles; music awards shows honor Latino artists whose verses are in Spanish; and one of the largest, most powerful political groups in California is the Latino Legislative Caucus. Clearly, there have been changes from 1940 to 2000.
Yet even more changes are afoot. Currently, one out of every two babies born in the state is being raised by a Latino family. (See the California composition of births in Figure 35, on page 000.) And among the nearly ten million residents of Los Angeles County, nearly two out of every three babies are the product of a Latino family (see Figure 35). When these children already in the state today become adults, Latinos will comprise by 2040 nearly half the population of the state of California (see Figure 1).
The road from demographic near-oblivion to demographic preeminence is only part of the narrative of this book. Far more important than sheer numbers is the question of what a Latino majority in California means for the future of American society and identity. That is really the topic of this book.
The Burden of Support
The fact of Latino demographic growth into the future should be considered, by now, a given. In 1988, when I published one of the first scholarly works on Latino demographic projections, The Burden of Support: Young Latinos in an Aging Society (D. Hayes-Bautista, Schinck, and Chapa 1988), the notion that the Latino population could possibly grow to be nearly half of California's residents seemed unrealistic to most policymakers. After the release of this book, I was taken aback by the negative response to the idea that half the state one day might be Latino (I discuss this experience in greater detail in chapter 3, below). That negative reaction was not about the projections themselves, which were based on solid demographics and an unarguable methodology; the reactions were instead about the meaning of such projections for the future of California and the United States.
At that time (the late 1980s), the general public image of Latinos was one of failure and dysfunction. On magazine covers or on the eleven o'clock evening news in English, the images of Latinos making the news were inevitably of three types: the undocumented immigrant, the gangbanger, and the welfare mother (Leo Chavez 2001). These public images drove the concern about Latino population growth; after all, if they were true representations of Latinos, then soon half the state's population could easily consist of poverty-stricken, poorly educated, welfare-dependent, law-breaking people. The events of the 1990s seared those images in the minds of many: the Los Angeles riots of 1992, Proposition 187 with its repeated images of vast numbers of dark figures furtively sneaking across the border, and Proposition 227, which banned bilingual education. Yet these images were all wrong. I describe in chapter 3 my own intellectual development regarding the meaning of Latino population growth for the state, including my epiphany when I realized that sixty years of data on Latino behavior and values completely contradicted the popular public images that had driven so much of California's politics during the 1990s.
Latino Civil Society
What I had not seen, even in my own research, prior to my sudden insight, was that Latinos were not the phenomenon described by all the policy models used until the present day: a racial group, a language group, a group locked into a traditional culture, a dysfunctional minority group, an urban underclass. All these models—which I had been taught as an undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley, and as a graduate student at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco—had missed the central dynamic that made Latinos so Latino: the continuing presence of a Latino civil society, dating in this state from April 1769 and continuing to the present. This Latino civil society, alive and functioning in the Latino families present in the state for more than two hundred years, provides to young children their initial introduction to the world of right and wrong, the desirable and the undesirable, duty and dereliction. Around the kitchen table, out in the garden, tucked into beds at night, through thousands of simple daily acts, Latino civil society provides Latino children with their first introduction to the social world, gives them their first notions of civic responsibility and their first hints of personal identity (see the discussion of this in chapter 7, below).
Beginning in 2019, half of the young adults who turn eighteen, and who will able to express their opinion by registering and voting, will be Latino. Their choices of candidates, their preferences on issues, their decisions about their own education, about their families, and about the future of the state, all will rely to a great extent on the daily dichos y hechos (sayings and doings) their parents repeat to them thousands of times, unaware of the tremendous import of what they are doing.
Judging from sixty years of data of the Latino population, these children, once grown, will make many decisions that will benefit the state. They will most likely continue to be the hardest-working component of the state's labor force, with the highest rate of workforce participation, working far more hours per week, working far more in the private sector, and using welfare far less than any other population. They will continue to marry and form families with children at far higher rates than any other population. They will continue to have far fewer heart attacks, lower cancer rates, fewer strokes, a lower infant mortality rate, and a five-year-longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic whites. They will be proud to be Americans, and they will be disproportionately willing to fight and die in this country's wars. These behaviors are easy to project, because they are based solidly on sixty years of Latino history.
For anyone using most current models of Latino behavior—the dysfunctional minority, the urban underclass, and the like—these behaviors seem surprising. But when one understands the presence and function of Latino civil society, these behaviors are not at all surprising; they are derived from the experience of the meeting of peoples in the Western Hemisphere since 1492, as Indians, Europeans, Africans, and Asians met and melded in most of the two continents known today as the Americas (discussed in chapter 7). The Mexican variant of this experience can be dated from August 13, 1521, with the fall of the great city of Tenochtitlan, and was brought to California with the first group of Mexican colonists to the region in 1769, who bestowed not only names famous around the country to the area—Los Angeles, San Francisco, San José, San Diego, Fresno, Santa Barbara, Sacramento—but also a Latino civil society, into which Latino babies have been born and children raised since that day.
A Note on Terminology
This book is a data-based recounting of the population whose primary socialization took place in Latino civil society from 1940 to 2004; it is also a projection into the future of the population's effects on American society and identity. As will be detailed in chapter 1, Latinos are not a simple racial or ethnic group; they are the product of a distinctive civil society. Yet the available data treats Latinos as the equivalent of a racial group; hence, I shall use the census bureau's groupings of data, and we shall speak of non-Hispanic whites (abbreviated as NH whites or NHW in the illustrations), African Americans (abbreviated as AfrAmer), Asians and Pacific Islanders (abbreviated as A/PI), American Indians (abbreviated as AmerInds), and, of course, Latinos.
Given this book's interest in civil society, the racial groupings it must employ are only poor, surrogate measures what for really drives sometimes differential behavior patterns: the constellation of a group's values, images, and beliefs generated by historical experience. As I describe in chapter 7, it would be ridiculous to speak of "white civil society," because the genetic fact of being "white" has little to do with the emergence of civil society among that population. Rather than dwell on the putative genetics of a group, I will speak of a shared social experience communicated from parent to child, hence my term "Latino civil society." Although I will often refer to a generic national American society and identity, at times I will refer to a specific regional variant of the national society and identity as "Atlantic American." This regionally specific variant is grounded in the historical experience begun by predominantly British settlers on the North American coast of the United States (Fischer 1989), which has molded the socialization of people, irrespective of race or ethnicity, who are raised in that region. In a delicious irony, just as the U.S. Bureau of the Census announces on its charts that "Hispanic may be of any race," in my view an Atlantic American likewise may be of any race or ethnicity. A member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an African American whose ancestors arrived on these shores before George Washington was born, and the descendant of an Italian immigrant who was processed at Ellis Island are all products of the Atlantic American civil society.
The future of American identity and society will be the result of the current encounter, on somewhat unequal terms, between Latino civil society and Atlantic American civil society. The racial categories of data we currently use will provide some notions of how this encounter is faring, but we must remember they are only surrogate, substitute indicators of the real phenomenon occurring: the emergence of a distinctive, regional civil society that will draw on roots in both the Latino and Atlantic American historical experiences.
The movement of Latinos from near-oblivion to a position of major social influence, and its implications for American society, is handled in eight chronological chapters. In 1940, non-Hispanic white America defined the public image of Latinos: who they were, what race they belonged to, what language they could speak, what their culture was like, what houses they could buy, what schools they could attend, what public facilities they could use. Although Latinos made up barely 2.4 percent of the state's population in 1910, revolutionary events in Mexico propelled twenty years of immigration; by 1930, about two hundred thousand Mexican immigrants lived in California and had started families. The state's major policy response to the Depression of the 1930s was to trim welfare rolls and provide jobs for "Americans" by deporting one-third of Mexican immigrants back to Mexico. The tactics used to isolate and repatriate Mexican immigrants created a decade-long climate of fear of appearing "too Mexican" in that deportation-era Latino population.
Officially, Latinos were a race, for census purposes, and race-based segregation limited Latino access to schools, public facilities, and real estate. Yet in 1940, the census bureau ruled that Latinos were white, and Latinos ceased to be counted as a separate entity on official forms, yet they were still subject to restrictive covenants that forbade sale of property to "members of the Mexican race."
The U.S. bipolar racial algorithm collided with the Latino racial dynamic, which has been one of intermarriage and mestizaje (ethnic mixing) of Indian, African, European, and Asian forebears. Subsequent censuses defined Latinos as a Spanish-surname group and as a Spanish-speaking language group. Anthropologists defined Latinos as a "traditional culture" group, characterized as suffering from fatalism and familism. The Zoot-Suit Riots of 1943 created public hysteria about the Latino presence by combining racial and cultural definitions of Latinos, to paint a picture of an undesirable social element. During this period, America defined Latinos.
The Chicano generation, born in postwar America, grew up in still-segregated California, being told in many different ways that they were not quite American. They arrived at university campuses in the 1960s, breathed in the heady rebellious atmosphere, and began to protest the treatment accorded their parents and grandparents. As part of this confrontation, they actively rejected the definitions imposed on them by American society. Impelled by a sense of psychological bonding to a common movement, they burst forth from the campuses and the barrios to stamp their presence on society by creating organizations, political movements, service centers, and artistic expression, to present a bilingual, bicultural face to the world that their parents' generation had avoided. Tired of being rejected as Americans, they gladly embraced a new, emergent identity as "Chicanos." For all their claims of cultural vindication, however, few were fluent in Spanish, few had visited Mexico or other parts of Latin America, few knew any history and literature from south of the border. When some did manage to visit Mexico, they quickly discovered that they were not Mexican. They were considered American. And so they found themselves too Mexican to be accepted as American, and too American to be accepted as Mexican. Even as this generation defiantly rejected American definitions of Latino, they lived during a period of heated debate over what a "real" Latino was like.
Below the radar screen, the ending of the bracero program in 1964 coincided with changes in immigration law that allowed Mexican guest workers to change their status from temporary sojourners to permanent immigrants. The immigration wave returned to Latino barrios after a nearly forty-year absence. But these new immigrants were generally not involved in the Chicano movement and did not engage in debate over what a "real" Latino might do. Instead, unconsciously, or simply without reflecting, they asserted their cultural presence through their ways of living, which underpinned all their life decisions.
During the period of the "long, hot summers," when American cities burned every year from 1965 to 1969, Washington policymakers created the model of the "minority" population to guide public programs and expenditure. Drawing on research on the culture of poverty and the urban underclass, a model of minority dysfunction emerged to explain urban poverty and unrest. Minority-group poverty, unemployment, low education levels, and disintegrating families were considered to be the result of the absence of middle-class values and behaviors to be found in the rest of America. This absence was in turn perceived to be the result of racism and oppression. A "War on Poverty" was declared, and social programs were geared accordingly. Eager to be eligible for this federal largesse, many Latino groups willingly embraced the minority label. During the Reagan years, however, a "compassion fatigue backlash" set in, and the lack of socially acceptable behaviors was imputed to weaknesses inherent in minority groups. Out of this thinking emerged what can be called the "minority dysfunction" model.
I began my academic career being taught this particular model, but as data on Latinos became available, it grew more and more evident that it did not describe Latinos very well. In fact, in the health care arena, the minority dysfunction model was on a collision course with Latino health reality. In spite of high risk factors (that is, low income, poor education, and limited access to care), Latinos have far fewer heart attacks, lower cancer rates, fewer strokes, lower infant mortality, and live more than five years longer on average than non-Hispanic whites and nearly eleven years longer than African Americans. Moreover, while poorer than non-Hispanic whites and African Americans, Latinos have higher workforce participation, work more in the private sector, and rely less on welfare. Latinos demonstrate very middle-class values and behaviors, with very low income. While Latinos do not behave like one, Washington continues to define them as members of a dysfunctional minority group.
The first trickle of immigrant Latinos turned into a flood by the early 1970s. Immigrants accounted for nearly 60 percent of Latino population growth between 1970 and 1990. Latino immigrants had a heavy impact, due to the fact that they were concentrated in the young adult, young parent age group (twenty to thirty-nine); they rarely immigrated as children or elderly people. Thus, they arrived, joined the labor force, and started forming families. Compared to U.S.-born Latinos, immigrant Latinos have far higher labor-force participation and far less welfare dependency; they are far more likely to form a household composed of the classic married couple with children. These behaviors seem paradoxical, as immigrant Latinos also have far lower incomes and poorer educations, deepening the Latino Social Paradox explored in chapter 3. This is, however, evidence of the very middle-class values Latinos, especially immigrants, hold.
Such a vigorous population concentrated in a narrow age range has had a disproportionate effect on the economy; virtually any service or good important to young families with children quickly became reliant on this expanding consumer base. The food industry was first affected, as Latino consumers chose salsa rather than catsup, tortillas rather than white bread. Media in Spanish were given a tremendous boost with growth in viewers, listeners, and readers. Purchasing power grew and outdistanced the gross national product of Latin American countries such as Mexico. U.S.-born Latinos either became retro-assimilators, picking up their Spanish and reestablishing their cultural roots, or felt doubly alienated, now too American to be considered Latino by immigrants. The tremendous market impact of Latinos changed the nature of their relation to society, from a civil rights relation of a small minority to the large-scale market impact of an emergent majority. The important change was that Latinos were now defining what was Latino.
While both the non-Hispanic white and African American middle classes fled urban poverty in Los Angeles, immigrant Latinos were willing to move into emptying "ghetto" areas in South Central Los Angeles, to renovate the housing stock, thus keeping it active on the tax rolls rather than languishing as derelict property, and to reintroduce family and commercial life to these areas. When the 1992 riots erupted, because Latinos were the majority population where the unrest took place, they were involved in the action, first as victims of car damage, physical beatings, and shop lootings, and then, with stores closed and food in short supply, days later they became involved as furtive looters. But their behavior did not demonstrate solidarity with the largely African American, incendiary crowd. Nevertheless, images of Latinos looting stores led to the perception that Latinos were suddenly numerous and out of control, which in turn led to the formation of Proposition 187 as a state initiative for the 1994 ballot. This measure's existence was used by then-governor Pete Wilson to shore up his flagging reelection strategies, and he exultantly rode it to victory in a divisive campaign. It turned out to be a pyrrhic victory for him, however, because he awoke the political sleeping Latino giant, galvanizing it into action with his virulent attacks. Even years after Proposition 187, both U.S.-born Latinos and immigrant Latinos still feel bitter about the initiative. Subsequent initiatives to ban affirmative action and prohibit bilingual education led to a deeply polarized electorate, with about 80 percent of Latino voters rejecting the measures, and about 60 percent of non-Hispanic white voters approving them. Latinos felt rejected, but rather than shrinking into invisibility as deportation-era Latinos had done, they sprang into action. Along with the Chicano-era organizations, they responded by leading a legal and political charge against the measures. Immigrant Latinos became naturalized citizens and registered to vote in unprecedented numbers, then voted in a record turnouts for Latino candidates. This political turnaround led to the emergence of the Latino Legislative Caucus as one of the most powerful groups in the state government.
In 1997, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) wanted to create a message to counter lingering anti-Latino sentiments created by the Proposition 187 campaign. Focus groups were conducted with non-Hispanic whites to understand their concerns about Latinos. These participants defined being American not in cultural terms, as their parents did (for example, by language or food preferences), but by adherence to civic values, including patriotism, achievement, and rugged individualism. Their concern about Latinos was that attachment to Latino culture was perceived as political attachment to Mexico and Latin America instead of civic attachment to the United States, expressed by one non-Hispanic white participant as doubt about which side Latino soldiers might fight on if there were ever a war with a Latin American country. Focus groups were also conducted with Latinos to probe how they felt about being American. U.S.-born Latinos described feeling American as children, but being gradually excluded from that identity by non-Hispanic whites, who did not see Latinos as being fully American. Immigrant Latinos described the process of going from being recently arrived immigrants to having an emotional attachment and feelings of patriotism for the United States. Data from a 2000 survey corroborate that Latinos nearly unanimously feel proud to be American; only recently arrived immigrants show a less-than-unanimous feeling of pride, but this feeling develops over time as they make investments—economic, social, and emotional—in this country.
Based on these findings, MALDEF ran a thirty-second commercial, a "Message from Hispanic Americans," that aired on prime-time television in southern California for three months, showing Latino daily life: parents with children, buying a house, teachers in classrooms, soldiers returning from war, graduation. Follow-up focus groups about the commercial were held with non-Hispanic whites, who initially described feeling good, with a sense of hope and commonality of interest with Latinos. But then the serpent appeared in the garden: after repeated viewings, these images of achieving Latinos came to be thought too middle class to be believable. In their daily lives, these non-Hispanic whites saw Latinos in terms of failure, of inability to move ahead in spite of having a strong work ethic, of inability to do anything other than menial labor. Ultimately, they rejected the commercial on the grounds that Latinos were not as middle class as they were depicted in the TV spot.
Latino focus groups shown the commercial had a completely different reaction. U.S.-born Latinos were overwhelmed, seeing positive images of themselves for the first time in English-language media. Immigrant Latinos felt the commercial depicted them accurately, showing the daily activities of their lives. These middle-class images that were so shocking for non-Hispanic whites were seen by Latinos as so mundane as to be almost boring. Roberto Lopez, a Los Angeles Times reporter who had graduated from Belmont High School—the most dysfunctional high school in the dysfunctional Los Angeles Unified School District—persuaded his editor to do a follow-up survey of the class of 1989. To his surprise, the vast majority of his classmates had achieved, within ten years, very middle-class lifestyles, including a 28 percent college graduation rate and high levels of marriage, children, and home ownership.
Non-Hispanic white perceptions of Latino failure miss the "elevator effect" by which immigrants rise into the middle class. Public attention instead is focused almost exclusively on the recently arrived immigrant.
Adolescent development includes the emergence of notions of citizenship. Nearly half of all adolescents in California, and 62.4 percent in Los Angeles, are developing their notions of American citizenship in their families, influenced by their largely Latino peer groups. By sheer magnitude, Latino adolescents today are defining the nature of American identity and culture. They feel entirely American but are not at all self-conscious about speaking Spanish as well as English or listening to rock en español as well as to rap music. Even non-Hispanic white focus group participants felt that Latinos were reshaping American identity into a new complex, which will include large elements of what is today considered Latino culture: "They want to be American, as Latinos."
Being Latino is not tantamount to being un-American. Rather, it is like being a Texan; it is a distinctive way of being American. The quintessential Texas icon, the cowboy, is a regional identity figure, which itself developed out of the meeting and interaction of Atlantic American and Mexican cattle cultures and technologies in the early nineteenth century. The regional identity that is being created by young adults in California, half of whom are Latino draws heavily on their early socialization in Latino civil society, which influences daily behavior and is rooted in the larger civil society that resulted from the cultural dynamics of Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America, a true "melting pot" where Indian, European, African, and even Asian cultures have left their imprint and progeny. The viability of those patterns of civil society can be seen in the health beliefs encountered in current medical visits, for example concerning diabetes causation, prenatal care, and heart transplantation beliefs, which can be traced back to Mesoamerican cultures. Two general traditions in Atlantic American culture have different interactions with groups they perceive to be "different": Puritans, who have always had difficulty with any form of diversity, and Quakers, who have always embraced diversity. The Quaker variant of Atlantic American civil society and Latino-Catholic civil society will most likely provide the new underpinnings for a new regional identity.
The early traces of the new regional identity are seen in interpaternity patterns, in which non-Hispanic white, African American, and Asian mothers increasingly have Latino fathers for their children. Intermarriage patterns show "mixed marriages" but do not show unilateral assimilation patterns. As these marriage, paternity, and cultural patterns continue, California demographically and culturally points the way for the rest of America. Young adults in California are recreating the "Latin-Yankee" society that once held sway in the state. Such an easy cultural-racial blend may very well be the hallmark of Californians in the future.
At the end of this study, a "best-case" scenario for California in 2040 is presented. That scenario is of a culturally dynamic, economically vigorous state at the forefront of defining American society and identity. The entrepreneurial and professional energies of Latinos have been welcomed, invested in, and unleashed to provide impetus in various industries, ranging from music and film to high-tech businesses and international trade, making California the gateway to the surging economies of Mexico and Latin America, as well as the wellspring and epicenter of American society for the twenty-first century. A "worst-case" scenario for California of 2040 presents a Blade Runner-type image of a state whose economy has unraveled, and ethnic groups in the state are virtually at war with one another, as ethnic secessionist movements tear the state apart. Meanwhile, the neighboring country of Mexico has imploded politically, economically, and socially. The major difference between the best- and the worst-case scenario is the educational attainment of Latino children in the state's schools by 2015. The good news is that the educational attainment of U.S.-born Latinos has been rising quickly, far outpacing the attainment levels of the largely immigrant Latino parents. The bad news is that the state's public education infrastructure has crumbled and the admissions bar to the University of California has been raised, making college-level education more difficult for Latino students than it was for non-Hispanic white students during the baby-boom years. The Latino physician shortage is provided as a case history of the effects of the limited Latino presence in higher education. The decisions, public and private, made over the next ten years about investing in Latino potential will determine which of the two scenarios the state ultimately resembles.
The poet-laureate of Atlantic American letters, Walt Whitman, was asked in 1883 by the non-Hispanic white city leaders of Santa Fe, New Mexico, to address them on the celebration of their city's founding. Unable to travel to Santa Fe, Whitman nonetheless offered some written words in which he reminded the proud new leaders that they, unwitting or not, shared a cultural space with the Latino society that antedated them by centuries. "We Americans have . . . the notion that our United States have been fashion'd from the British Islands, only . . . which is a very great mistake. We do not begin to appreciate the splendor and sterling value of the Spanish stock of our Southwest" (Whitman 1907, 388-89). While, at the time of the request, British Protestant-based Atlantic American culture was on the upswing, Whitman presciently cautioned that Latinos were far from gone from the scene. He imagined a day, perhaps far in the future from his time, in which Latinos would once again be an important part of the culture of the region. "Who knows but that element [the 'Spanish stock'], like the course of some subterranean river, dipping invisibly for a hundred or two hundred years, is now to emerge in the broadest flow and permanent action?" (Whitman 1907, 389). At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Whitman's words are 120 years old, and, as if to make a prophet of the great American poet, Latinos have indeed emerged into public view, poised to become the majority population in major California cities over the next decade and slated to become the state's numeric majority within the next three to four decades.