Geraldo on Hispanics’ new era of prosperity
Award-winning journalist chronicles Hispanics’ evolving role, cultural impact
Today, Sept . 1, 2009
In his new book “The Great Progression: How Hispanics Will Lead America to a New Era of Prosperity,” award-winning journalist Geraldo Rivera details the evolving role of Hispanics in shaping every facet of American culture. Read an excerpt on how the Hispanic community has socially, economically and politically impacted our future.
For the first time in modern world history a powerful nation is changing complexion right before the eyes of its citizens. In real time it is possible to watch America become more culturally diverse, its face physically darker. The United States has vastly more Latinos than it did just a relatively few years ago, and their numbers are increasing at an explosive rate, on average almost four thousand per day.
This book is about what that dramatic trend means for the country.
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Aided by the vast oceans that separate the United States from the planet’s densest population centers, and by America’s early instincts toward isolation, for most of the twentieth century our nation managed to exclude most Asians, Africans, and Latinos. With passionate vigilance and a largely race-based immigration policy, the country remained overwhelmingly white and Anglo for the first two and a half centuries of its existence.
The relaxation of that restrictive policy in the 1960s civil rights era resulted in a tsunami of Latino migration, which, when coupled with an explosive domestic birth rate, inflated the U.S. Hispanic population to a size almost ten times bigger than it was just fifty years ago, in both absolute and relative terms. In 1950, there were 5 million Latinos. Today, there are more than 46 million. And the recent downturn in illegal immigration due to the lack of good construction jobs in our faltering economy will only marginally slow the pace. During that half-century, Asian and African-American populations also increased, but by not nearly as impressive a rate as that of Hispanics.
A library of scary books and an almost infinite galaxy of anti-immigration opinion pieces warn of how the inexorably increasing numbers of Latinos in the United States are or will soon be overwhelming the existing social order and making America a fundamentally different nation from the one contemplated by the fifty-six signatories of the Declaration of Independence, who were all white Anglos (and only one of whom, Charles Carroll of Maryland, was even Catholic, a then still exotic religion in the thirteen original colonies).
By fundamentally different, I mean a nation other than the industrious, God-fearing, ethical, family-valued, disciplined, self-governing and moral New World colossus the Founding Fathers contemplated. Those fears are widespread, and whether you think them justified or overblown, it is undeniable that the phenomenal Latino population surge in the United States since those revolutionary days is stunning and irreversible.
The percentage of Latinos in the United States population stands at 15.4 percent, which in April 2009 amounted to about 46.7 million people, if not yet strong, getting stronger politically, culturally and economically. Despite the dramatic decrease, even reversal, in recent immigration caused by the collapsing U.S. economy, by the time you read this that 46.7 million figure will already be an understatement of a rapidly expanding demographic, which grew more than 3 percent in the single year between July 2006 and July 2007, and more than doubled just since 1990. Hispanics for the first time outnumber non-Hispanic whites in Dallas, Texas. They are 37 percent of the population of Houston and over 28 percent of the population of Chicago, Illinois.
Similarly, when the Census Bureau announced in March 2009 that New York City had reached a record 8,363,710 people, the bureau revealed that 28 percent were Hispanic, 2,341,839, up 27,000 between July 2007 and July 2008, and most of them native-born. The Latino populations of New York City (2.3 million) and Los Angeles (1.86 million) both outnumber the entire population of Barcelona, Spain, which has just 1.6 million residents. As Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, a professor of globalization and education at New York University, said when the population of the United States hit the breathtaking 300 million mark on October 17, 2006, that 300 millionth American was probably born in Los Angeles and was probably the daughter of Mexicans. “Probably, her name is Maria .... She is the future of America. She is a child of an immigrant. She is a U.S. citizen like you and me.”
In political terms, what makes that historic 15.4 percent statistic even more impressive is that it is comprised mostly of native-born Hispanics, citizens born in the U.S.A., not immigrants either legal or illegal. That is the most potentially profound political development since the silent majority.
As Rosario Dawson reminded us during the Inaugural Gala, as an ethnic group, Latinos are already second in size behind only non-Hispanic American whites. And the percentage of Hispanics is growing by twice their rate and almost that much faster than American blacks whom they supplanted as the nation’s largest minority, far ahead of the date predicted by the social scientists of the 1960s. CONTINUED…