US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The "browning" of America

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

It’s been said that “what happens first in California soon happens in the rest of America.” However true that may have been in the late 20th century, the new trends setters seem to be Texas and Florida. But one way California is still setting the pace along with Texas and Florida is in the “browning of America.”

The 2010 census results tells us that the face of those states is changing, with the Asian population increasing even faster than Hispanic and black populations. Through the last decade, census surveys have been hinting that the U.S. population will be increasing less white European, and that some time before the middle of the 21st century the majority of Americans will be what is now consider a minority or some mixture of it.

Hispanics will rival non-Hispanic whites in numbers. Already in Texas there is parity, and in California it's close. In the rest of America the growth may not be as spectacular, but it's noticeable. And since the number of child-bearing women that are Hispanic is greater, the demography suggests that the pace of the “browning of America” will quicken.

The implications of the shift are only beginning to dawn on the country. The fear that fuels the anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other states is partially founded on looking forward, though it is just as much founded on a xenophobic sense of losing what is familiar or having to deal with what is different. Some of it is blatant racism. In the case of South Asians and Arabs there’s a tinge of religious bigotry.

Because of the adverse political atmosphere and Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s posses and crime round-ups, Hispanic growth has slowed in Arizona. Still a significant part of the state’s growth over the last decade has been Hispanic. The public school population is more than half Hispanic.

Much of the speculation has been about the political implications. With the census comes the reapportionment of congressional districts. Texas, for example, gains four new congressional districts. Other states in the west where the Hispanic growth has been largest also gain seats. These are states dealing with restrictive immigration measures.

While the assumption in Texas is that new districts will be to the Republicans advantage, some observers doubt it, so long as the GOP leads the charge against the immigrant. No matter how popular the restrictive legislation is among the party faithful who show up at primaries, some Republicans observers warn the party that it cannot long enjoy success at the polls without making its peace with Hispanic voters. Even though the assault is aimed at the “illegals,” the GOP rhetoric has so sweeping that many Hispanics take it as a slur on their heritage.

There was a times when the Republican did rather well with Hispanic voters. George Bush garnered also half their vote when he ran for governor. What is most curious about Texas is that the Hispanic voters are relatively conservative like most Republicans, and some of them are growing wary of the Democrats and the Obama administration, which has actually increased deportations.

Whatever the political calculus may be, it’s still time to tone down the rhetoric and stop playing on people’s fears. The browning of America may be inevitable, but it will be a two-way street. The Hispanic immigrant population is already assimilating to U.S. culture—sometimes well and sometimes not so well—and is contributing to its ongoing development. There are real problems in this assimilation process that the nation must address. The Hispanic community, especially immigrants, are poorer at a time the whole middle class is stagnant or is failing. Education, indispensable to help migrants move out of poverty, is being underfunded, and as the nation faces a fiscal crisis, it is becoming a target for more cuts.

The 2010 census throws out opportunities and challenges. How are we to meet the needs of aging, and mostly white, boomer generation without shortchanging are children who are increasingly from minority communities? For a start, we could abandon the quixotic crusade to deny birthright citizenship to children of the undocumented or throw them out of public schools. In the past, America accommodated to new peoples. While Hispanics are not all that new, having been in the Southwest and the West even before European Americans, they need a welcoming space to grow.