May 10, 2001 - 03:29 p.m. Pacific
Latin melting pot: Mexicans lead U.S. Hispanic
gains, but distinctions fading
By The Washington Post and The Associated Press
ALAN MOTHNER / AP
hands a customer change at a McDonald's fast-food restaurant in
Suwanee, Ga., where he is an assistant manager.
WASHINGTON - A surge in the Mexican population in the United States paced
the explosive growth among Hispanics over the past decade, the Census Bureau
reports, with newcomers settling in the Midwest as well as traditional
immigrant gateways like Texas, California and Florida.
The Puerto Rican and Cuban populations in this country also rose
significantly during the 1990s, though to a lesser extent, said a Census
2000 report being released today. The once-a-decade head count found nearly
13 million more Hispanics in the country in 2000 than in 1990, of which more
than half were Mexican.
The report offered the first new details of the country's Hispanic
population, which at 35.3 million strong, now is approaching non-Hispanic
blacks as the nation's largest minority group. Non-Hispanic blacks totaled
But the data released yesterday also create a mystery: For the first
time, a huge number of Hispanics, more than 6 million, declined to identify
the country where they or their ancestors were born.
Some experts say this could be confusion over the census form. But many
also say there may be a more profound implication: growing assimilation by
many Hispanics who no longer identify with a home country and see themselves
primarily as U.S. residents.
In any case, Hispanics with no identified national origin are the
nation's second-largest group of Latinos, after people of Mexican origin.
Racially, nearly 17 million Hispanics described themselves as white,
followed by nearly 15 million who checked "some other race."
People of Mexican origin grew by 7.1 million over the decade, accounting
for most of the 12.9 million increase in the nation's Hispanic population,
according to a national head count a year ago.
Advocacy groups seized on the new numbers to call on political leaders to
give more attention to issues affecting those groups. These include
improving educational opportunities and attacking racial profiling.
"The growing number of Hispanics is a catalyst, not only for discussing
the changing face of our nation's demographics, but also for discussing the
changing face of our nation's democracy," said Juan Figueroa, president of
the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
The report did not address how much of the Hispanic population increase
resulted from illegal immigration - a question that bureau officials said
could be better answered when additional figures are released later this
year. The bureau does not ask people to divulge their legal status.
Among the findings:
There were 20.6 million Mexican Americans in the country in 2000, up
53 percent from 1990. Mexicans outnumbered all other Hispanic groups.
Puerto Ricans were the next biggest Hispanic group, increasing 25
percent to 3.4 million. New York had the largest Puerto Rican population,
at 1.1 million, but was also the only state to see a decline among that
group (down 3 percent).
The Cuban population, the third largest group, was up 19 percent,
with the highest growth in the South and West. The Cuban population
decreased in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and the District of Columbia.
Nearly 5 percent of all other Hispanics in 2000 were from Central
America, and 4 percent were from South America.
The census also found the Hispanic population is relatively young,
with a median age of 25.9 years, compared with 35.3 years for the
In Washington state, the Hispanic population doubled in the last decade
and now numbers 441,509, about 7.5 percent of the population.
The large number of Hispanics without an identified country of origin
make it difficult to pinpoint what subgroups are growing or shrinking.
Demographers say Puerto Ricans and Cubans likely are becoming a smaller
fraction because they aren't seeing many new migrants.
Although past surveys have found that Hispanic subgroups see themselves
as having little in common, "perhaps there is an emerging pan-Hispanic
identity," said Urban Institute demographer Jeffrey Passel. The rise of
Univision, Telemundo and other national Spanish-language media could be part
of an increasing Hispanic self-identity that transcends country borders, he
Passel and University of Texas political scientist Rodolfo de la Garza
said any fading of home-country identity would be most true for Hispanics
born in the United States. Two-thirds of U.S. Hispanics were born here.
Passel also suggested that with increasing intermarriage among Latinos
from different countries, parents may describe their children as Hispanic
rather than, for example, as a mix of Salvadoran and Mexican.
When the census began asking about Hispanic origin in 1970, the term was
challenged as "a combination of disparate groups without much in common,"
Passel recalled. The new data suggest that Hispanics may now be more
inclined to view themselves as united under a common identity, he said.
Now, Hispanics must continue to unite their diverse groups and turn the
population gains into political and social gains, said Angelo Amador, policy
analyst with the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
For instance, President Bush's nomination yesterday of 11 lawyers to
federal judgeships included one Hispanic, a statistic that is
"unacceptable," said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National
Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
As Democrats and Republicans rethink political strategies to reach out,
Hispanic Americans must continue to effectively articulate policy
priorities, encourage citizenship and exercise their right to vote, Vargas
Both parties offered glimpses last Saturday of their increased attention.
Bush gave his weekly radio address in both English and Spanish for the first
time and Democrats also gave a bilingual radio response.
Among Mexicans, growth rates surged in places that have not traditionally
drawn immigrants as people flocked to small towns and cities for jobs at
manufacturing and meatpacking plants. The Mexican population in North
Carolina, for instance, rose 655 percent.
But California, with 8.5 million Mexicans, and Texas, with 5.1 million,
were still the top two states, as in 1990.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company