Blog Demographics and Culture

Latinos in the American Kaleidoscope

By Carlos E. Cortés

Every time I look around, we’re growing.  Latinos, that is, along with entities to which Latinos belong.  Two recent examples struck me as indicative.

First was Pew Research Center’s report about Millennials in Adulthood.  Second was an article in Diverse Issues in Higher Education entitled “Hispanic-Serving Institutions Continue Growth with More Poised to Join Ranks.”  Together they added to the chorus proclaiming that we’re here, we’re expanding and we’re making things change.

The Pew report indicated that Millennials (those currently ages 18 to 33) have different attitudes and behavioral propensities then we older folk.  Surprise!!!  But Millennials are different in one other major way: they are more ethno-racially diverse than older generations, 43 percent according to the report, including nearly half of those currently being born in the United States.

As I read the report, it became clear that one significant reason that Millennials think and act in such a distinctive manner is precisely their being so ethno-racially diverse.   In other words, Millennials embody the multiethnic trajectory of America.  In particular, they appear to be more at ease with the idea of diversity as well as its ramifications, even though we certainly haven’t reached the post-racial Eden inappropriately proclaimed by some pundits in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 presidential election.

The demographic change embodied in Millennials is also helping to drive the growth of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs).  To attain that designation, a college or university must meet several conditions.  Most importantly, it must have at least a 25 percent Hispanic full-time equivalent student enrollment.  During the past decade, the number of HSIs has grown by nearly 60 percent, piercing the 370 level (more than 10 percent of all colleges and universities).  In addition, more than 250 other higher educational institutions have been identified as moving inexorably toward that critical benchmark.

Central to that momentum is the fact that birth within the United States has replaced immigration as the primary driving force of Hispanic growth.  No longer dependent upon immigration to fuel the expansion of the Latino presence in our nation, we have become increasingly central to the American future.  The Hispanic impact on the unique beliefs of Millennials and the rise of Hispanic-Serving Institutions provide concrete evidence.

This is quite a change for an old-timer like me, a member of the so-called Silent Generation, growing up in the 1940’s when Latinos barely qualified as an American afterthought.  No longer a footnote in the story of America, today we make headlines on a daily basis.  As the nation evolves, Latino hues should continue to become an even sharper and more omnipresent part of America’s multicultural kaleidoscope.

Dr. Carlos E. Cortés is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Riverside.  He can be reached at carlos.cortes@ucr.edu

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