Study finds young Latinos have strong ties to parents' homeland

By N.C. Aizenman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 11, 2009

Hispanic young people born in the United States retain a strong identification with their immigrant parents' homelands but also remain optimistic about their future in this country despite lower- than-average levels of education and income, according to one of the most wide-ranging studies of young Latinos to date.

The report released Friday by the Pew Hispanic Center includes detailed analysis of government data on Hispanics ages 16 to 25 -- a generation often referred to as "millennials" -- as well as a survey of more than 2,000 respondents.

"If you want to understand what America will be like in the 21st century, you need to have an understanding of how today's young Latinos, most of whom are not immigrants, are growing up," said Paul Taylor, executive director of the Pew Hispanic Center.

Hispanics already make up one out of five school-age children and one out of four newborns in the nation, Taylor said. Their presence is even more pronounced in states such as New Mexico, California and Texas, where they account for 40 percent or more of millennials. (In Maryland, Virginia and the District they represent between 7 and 8 percent.)

"Never before in this nation's history has a minority ethnic group made up such a large share of the youngest Americans," Taylor said. "Their importance derives from their sheer numbers."

While the report found that Hispanic millennials born abroad were the least likely to consider themselves American, even among the second generation only 41 percent said that "American" was the first term they generally use to describe themselves. Twenty-one percent preferred the terms "Hispanic" or "Latino," while one-third referred to their family's country of origin, calling themselves "Mexican" or "Salvadoran," for instance.

One reason might be that their parents tend to emphasize the importance of maintaining links with the home country: 42 percent of Hispanic millennials surveyed said their parents have often spoken to them of pride in their family's country of origin, compared with 29 percent whose parents spoke of their pride in being American. Similarly, 60 percent said their parents encouraged them to speak Spanish, compared with 22 percent whose parents stressed the need to speak English.

Nonetheless, the study also confirmed earlier findings that by the second generation practically all Hispanics speak English fluently.

The report's authors also cautioned against concluding that today's Hispanic immigrants are assimilating at a slower rate than earlier immigrants. Foreign-language newspapers and theater proliferated in immigrant communities during the early 1900s and "no one ever did a poll asking people if they considered themselves American first," Taylor said.

Though the report also looked at Hispanc millennials in the "third-plus generation" of immigrants, Taylor cautioned that the findings on this group were less revealing because it includes both grandchildren of immigrants and people whose roots in the United States stretch back many generations.

Among the survey's other notable findings was a disconnect between the values of Hispanic millennials and their circumstances. Though nearly all agreed that a college degree is important, for instance, less than half said they planned to get one. Most cited financial pressure to support their family as the reason. Similarly, though 75 percent said that teen motherhood was not good for society, one in four Hispanic girls becomes a mother before 19 -- the highest rate of any ethnic or racial group.

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