THE NEW HISPANIC MARKET
We have written many times over the years about the size, growth and importance of the US Hispanic market ($1 trillion in spending power by 2010), and the significance of the Hispanic youth market as a bellwether, leading-edge group. In issue #945 (September 2002), we reported on several sources of research that suggested a trend toward English preference among a large majority of US Hispanic youth in terms of media usage (TV, radio, print media, film and Internet). That trend appears to be accelerating.
According to a recent study conducted by researchers at the State University of New York (SUNY), English remains the language of choice among the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, despite continuing waves of migration from Latin America. In contrast to concerns from some analysts that English may be losing ground to Spanish in some parts of the United States, the study finds the majority of Hispanic Americans moving steadily toward English monolingualism. Among third-generation Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the US Latino population, 72% speak English exclusively.
Further, the study finds that this trend has generally continued among Mexican-Americans, the country’s largest immigrant group, even during the immigration boom of the 1990s. Even for Hispanics in Los Angeles, a magnet for immigration from Latin America, the pattern of language shifts across generations remains similar to those among Hispanics nationally. The report suggests that many other researchers and analysts have underestimated the pressures of assimilation, and are missing its contemporary signs.
WHO WE ARE. WHAT WE ARE BECOMING
For example, Samuel Huntington, a professor of political science at Harvard, touched off a furor last year by warning in his book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity, that continuing high levels of Hispanic immigration might “eventually change America into a country of two languages, two cultures and two peoples.” He is quoted in the International Herald Tribune as saying that the SUNY study reflects the experience of current third-generation Hispanics, but does little to predict the experience of future third-generations.
Richard Alba, director of the SUNY study, counters that available statistics do not suggest a substantive change in historical patterns. His view is echoed by Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California, co-director of the largest multiyear survey of children of immigrants, whose findings show that continued bilingualism among Hispanics does not occur at the expense of English. Even among Mexican-born young people who came to the US as young children and are living on the border, the UC survey finds, English is still overwhelmingly preferred.
What’s behind this English preference trend? The growth rate of Hispanic immigration to the US, as well as the share of the US Hispanic population that is foreign-born, both peaked years ago. Migration to the US will decrease even further after 2010, according to University of California professor Philip Martin, due to a dropping Mexican birthrate (now below 2.4 children per female). Hence, the growth of the US Hispanic population in coming decades will be fueled more by natural increase (native births) than by immigration. This will speed the processes of assimilation, acculturation and English-proficiency.
Huge Spanish usage in the United States will continue for decades. But English is the language of that powerful machine known as American culture, and the behavior of Hispanic kids signals a trend. According to the Latino Intelligence Report, a national survey of Hispanic teens conducted by a division of Creative Artists Agency, only 8% of those surveyed said they speak Spanish better than English or Spanish only. While 48% said they speak English and Spanish equally well, only 20% of those responding to telephone interviews volunteered to take the survey in Spanish. In other words, Hispanic teens overreport their Spanish-speaking ability.
Copyright FutureScan Feb 2005
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