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Latinos are facing dramatic changes
Arizona Republic
Oct. 19, 2003
 O. Ricardo Pimentel, Republic columnist
Oct. 19, 2003 12:00 AM

A monumental shift is under way that will dramatically change the dynamics of Latino politics, the national economy and how Americans view Latinos.

For the past 30 years, ending in 2000, immigrants were 45 percent of the country's Latino population, the single largest group among Latinos.

That will change in the decades ahead, with their children, the second generation, becoming the largest group, eclipsing both the immigrants and third-generation Latinos.

This dominant second generation will be fully bilingual or, at least more bilingual than most other Americans. They will remember immigration fondly as the reason they're here, will not be as tied to Mexico as their parents were, but will view it with more understanding than most - even as they are less tolerant of its flaws than their parents have been.

They will also wonder what you've been smoking if you start talking about Latinos as if they are only kinda, sorta Americans. And they will wonder whether you've been consulting with Rush Limbaugh's housekeeper if you keep up with this nonsense about how immigrants will be the ruin of this country.

The data about the demographic shift comes from a recent report by Roberto Suro and Jeffrey Passel for the Pew Hispanic Center. The conclusion about what it means comes from the intuition of a second-generation Latino. That would be me.

And it is simply intuitive that the generation that comes directly from the foreign-born will appreciate those roots even as they embrace the country of their birth.

This means simply that they will be more Anglicized than their parents but not as much as the third generation, which will have lost touch with one of the most important connections to those roots: Spanish.

This group will be transgenerational, traveling to a destination with all of their Latino luggage stowed securely in the belly of the plane and as precious carry-ons, under the seat in front of them and in the overhead.

I don't mean to scare you. But this means that more Latinos will be like me.

If that scares you, the good news is that you've got a while to wait. That's because two-thirds of the transgeneration is currently under the age of 18, according to the Pew Hispanic researchers. The median age will increase from 12.8 years to 17.2 years from 2000 and 2020.

But here's where the economic changes come in. This means that this transgeneration alone will be 23 percent of the total increase in the nation's labor force. The report puts this in economic perspective. From 2000 to 2020, the non-Latino labor force will increase 9 percent. The Latino labor force will increase by 77 percent, between immigrants and native-born Latinos.

This, of course, is the story we've been hearing for a while now. We boomers will be retiring. Latinos will be a major part of the labor force replacing us.

The transgeneration will be better educated than its immigrant parents. They will consequently have higher incomes.

They will, however, continue to have lower education rates and income than non-Latino Whites, given current trends.

This is the challenge. Our replacements can be ready or they can be not ready.

School is where we start. According to the report, one in seven new students enrolling in schools over the next 20 years will be Latino.

I'm hopeful about the prospects for a trangenerational majority among Latinos.

Unfortunately, it's not at all unusual these days to find a voting-eligible Latino who has forgotten his immigrant roots. It's why Arnold Schwarzenegger - himself an immigrant but who voted for California's Proposition 187, had former Gov. Pete Wilson on his campaign team and is threatening to rescind the legislation allowing driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants - could attract about 30 percent of the Latino vote.

Yes, this means Latinos still overwhelmingly voted against him. I suspect, however, that the number who voted for him wouldn't have been possible in a more transgenerational Latino community.

If they bother to vote. And this, too, is the challenge. Mostly, however, this emerging transgeneration means we will all view Latinos a bit differently.

And this would be a good thing.

Reach Pimentel at ricardo.pimentel@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-8210. His column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.