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Reports find technical divide among foreign- and U.S.-born Latinos

By Tara Bahrampour
Wednesday, July 28, 2010; A07

Young Latinos born in the United States are far more likely to use text messages, social networking sites and other digital methods to communicate with their friends than their foreign-born parents or peers, according to two reports released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center.

The reports, "How Young Latinos Communicate with Friends in the Digital Age" and "The Latino Digital Divide: The Native Born versus The Foreign Born," found that 85 percent of native-born Latinos older than 16 use the Internet while 51 percent of foreign-born Latinos do; that 80 percent of native-born Latinos between 16 and 25 use cellphones compared with 72 percent of their foreign-born peers; and that 78 percent of native-born Latinos 16 to 25 who have Internet access use social networking sites such as Facebook, compared with 62 percent of their foreign-born peers.

The biggest discrepancy was in text-messaging: 83 percent of native-born Latinos age 16 to 25 do it, compared with 56 percent of the foreign-born.

The studies found that Latinos use digital communication technology less than non-Latinos, with younger people embracing the technology more enthusiastically than their parents.

Gretchen Livingston, one of the authors of the reports, speculated that the wide gap between native and foreign-born populations and between Latinos and non-Latinos might be because new arrivals work longer hours or at jobs with less time for text-messaging or going online.

The studies found that native-born Latinos and those who spoke more English than Spanish communicated more with friends, whether through mobile devices or in-person socializing.

Candace Kattar, executive director of Identity Inc., a Latino youth organization in Gaithersburg, said the discrepancies might be because new arrivals have fewer people to communicate with.

"I would guess that a lot of folks that are recent immigrants just don't have as wide a circle of friends," she said, adding that new arrivals tend to communicate more with family members.

Economics could also play a role, Kattar said, noting that not all Latino families can afford a home Internet connection.

Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino, a civic participation organization, said communication technology would be more likely to be passed from younger Latinos to their parents' generation than vice versa.

"The young people have a unique level of influence in their family -- they tell them what refrigerator to buy, what car to buy," she said, adding that that also applies to digital communication technology.

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