The Latinization of America

April 28, 2004|By Jorge Ramos and Adam J. Segal

THE UNITED STATES is being transformed by Hispanic influence, and there's no turning back.

Beyond nearly every expectation, Census Bureau researchers found that by 2050, America's population will be solely composed of minorities. The Latino population will triple, and one in every four Americans will be Hispanic.

The demographic revolution, led by the impressive growth of Hispanic communities, is transforming the economy and culture of our country. There should be no doubt that our future will be bright, diverse and enhanced by these changes.

Hispanic influence and contributions are spread across the country, and the cities and economies of tomorrow are being built by a rapidly growing pool of immigrant and second-generation workers. Even unexpected places such as Alaska and North Carolina have seen dramatic Latino population increases.

We are seeing a Latinization of America.

This means the speaking of Spanish will only strengthen, not disappear, and that the culture and values of Hispanics' countries of origin will continue to permeate American society. But also, despite the doubts of skeptics, Latinos are going through a very rapid and successful process of Americanization and integration. The United States will one day be a nation shaped by many different Hispanic heritages.

For many of us, the image of an America made up of minorities in 50 or 100 years is abstract. But we don't have to wait that long to experience the implications. The impact of Hispanics will be felt not just in 2050, but this November, because Latino voters will help decide who will be the next president. Campaign strategies and record spending on Spanish-language political advertising confirm that Hispanic outreach is now a top political priority.

National political campaigns are increasingly bilingual as they are reflecting who we are becoming as a nation. Though we are months away from Election Day, the leading candidates and their affiliated groups have already launched Spanish-language television, radio and print advertisements intent on attracting the attention and support of Latino voters in Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

In the past, political strategists debated whether to invest thousands of dollars for specialty media efforts to reach Hispanic voters in limited areas.

Now they ask which prominent group will handle this strategy and how many millions of dollars will be set aside for this purpose in more than a dozen states.

Presidential candidates and parties are increasingly steering their national campaign strategies toward Latino voters, who are flexing their political muscles in key battleground states.

For example, the Bush-Cheney campaign and the Republican National Committee spent $2.2 million in 2000 and the Al Gore campaign and the Democratic National Committee spent $960,000 on Spanish-language TV advertising. The New Democrat Network, an independent Democratic organization, has pledged to spend $5 million to aim for Latino voters on behalf of Democrats. The Bush-Cheney campaign told CNN's Inside Politics it plans to surpass its previous record.

In dozens of states and hundreds of communities around the nation, Hispanic political influence is growing at the local and state level and is expanding to the national level. For example, Silver Spring voters elected their first Latina, Ana Sol Gutierrez, to the House of Delegates in 2002. In the same year, the first Latina was elected to the Colorado Board of Education and the first Latino attorney general was elected in Nevada. In Virginia, J. Walter Tejada recently was the first Latino elected to the Arlington County Board.

Latinos might still be lacking in political representation but not in cultural influence and economic power. Hispanic purchasing power will reach a trillion dollars before the end of the decade and continues to rise rapidly each year, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

This future for America can be overwhelming to some Americans not yet comfortable with the inevitable diversity to come. Yet changes are abundant all around us. America has long been a multiethnic, multiracial, multicultural nation, and our battles over inclusion and acculturation have transformed our identity. Now Latinos will be leading the way to the next important demographic transformation in America.

Hispanics are changing America and forging our new future. Business, entertainment and political success will be tied to the Hispanic community of 2004 and far into the future. Those who embrace the evolving cultural makeup of America will help lead our nation into the future and will benefit from its transformation.

Jorge Ramos is the anchor of Noticiero Univision, a national Spanish-language news program. Adam J. Segal is director of the Hispanic Voter Project at the Johns Hopkins University in Washington.

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