The biggest shock to emerge so far from preliminary results of
the 2000 Census has been the enormous growth in the nation's Hispanic
population. The number of Latinos residing in the 50 states jumped
by nearly 60 percent, from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million
For the first time in U.S. history, the Hispanic-origin population
drew virtually even with the black population, which totaled 36.4
million last year. And that's without counting the 3.8 million residents
of Puerto Rico, all of whom are U.S. citizens. Until now most demographers
had not expected mainland Hispanics to overtake African-Americans
as the country's biggest minority group until 2005, but that milestone
will be passed this year.
Even without the statistical sampling adjustment that Democrats
had sought, the Census Bureau's
counters discovered 2.6 million more Hispanics living in the country
than its statisticians had projected. This is a huge number of people
to have lost count of in the first place. While the bureau concedes
its 1990 census was so poorly done that it failed to count some
6 million people, this time around it apparently did a better job.
As the magnitude of this demographic transformation begins to sink
in, every institution of American society will have to rethink its
policies and priorities, every political organization will have
to refashion its platform and strategies. This is as true for conservative
Republicans as it is for radical Marxists.
Consider some details of this amazing transformation since 1990:
In Nevada, where overall the
population grew by roughly 60 percent, the number of Hispanics skyrocketed
by 300 percent--from 131,000 to 394,000--and they now comprise almost
20 percent of the state's population.
In Texas, the second most
populous state, whites increased by 13.4 percent, blacks by 14 percent
and Hispanics by 45 percent. There are now 6.7 million Latinos in
Texas, nearly one-third of the state's population.
In Illinois, Hispanics grew
by 69 percent, to 1.5 million, the black population grew 10.9 percent,
and the white population showed a negligible increase. Latinos now
make up 12 percent of the state's population and a quarter of the
city of Chicago.
In our biggest cities, population growth is being fed by the increasing
number of Hispanic and Asian residents, yet the national debate
around race and ethnicity, around education and social policies,
remains disproportionately focused on relations between white and
black Americans. Too many political leaders, even on the left, are
still staring at the rear-view mirror, looking back at what the
country was, not at what it is becoming. Look, for example, at the
resources and time spent by American radicals on the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict compared to the ongoing popular battles in Mexico.
The Mexican-American population represents the heart of the Latino
migration story. Two-thirds of all Hispanics in the country are
of Mexican origin, and Mexicans are the second-largest immigrant
group in U.S. history, at least since 1820 when the federal government
started keeping immigration records. Whether Mexican immigration
continues to surpass all others depends largely on what happens
south of the Rio Grande.
Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world.
It has 95 million residents, a high birth rate and desperate poverty.
A disturbing portion of its national wealth flows into the pockets
of Wall Street shareholders. So much has been siphoned off in recent
years that the Mexican economy finds it increasingly difficult to
feed and clothe its population.
If these conditions don't change, Mexico will remain an inexhaustible
source of migrants to the United States, and the economic integration
unleashed by NAFTA will only accelerate the process. Thus Mexico's
future is far more critical to that of the American people, and
to American labor in particular, than is Israel's or Palestine's
or Ireland's. But you wouldn't sense that by looking at regular
news coverage of international affairs in either the corporate or
Or consider the growing right-wing assault on bilingual education
in our public schools. It has been mounting for several years, despite
the reality that our nation is becoming increasingly bilingual.
Yet in virtually every state and city where the fight has erupted,
Hispanic activists, educators and parents have found themselves
almost alone in waging the fight, while radical and progressive
whites and blacks have hardly paid attention.
The benign neglect of the left toward this growing sector of our
nation must be confronted. Only organized labor has made any real
attempt to change institutional policies and methods in dealing
with Hispanics. The trade union movement under John Sweeney was
the first to recognize that it was likely to wither away unless
it addressed the needs of low-skilled and unorganized Latino workers
and welcomed them into its leadership ranks. But other progressive
movements and institutions are still resisting substantive change.
Hopefully, the new census figures will rouse the left from daydreaming
about the past, because you can bet the right-wing is already digesting
them--and will soon be shifting its rhetoric and strategies to find
ways to stay in power in 21st-century America.
Read Ted Kleine's article, "Counted