Hispanics or Latinos in the United States tend not to see themselves as part of a single ethnic group but rather as part of a wildly diverse population, representing many different countries of origin and disparate political, cultural and social views, a new survey has found.
At the same time, Hispanics from the various Spanish-speaking countries do share a range of attitudes and experiences that distinguish them from people whose cultures are non-Hispanic, such as a reluctance to box themselves into one of the five racial categories identified by the U.S. Census, according to a comprehensive survey released yesterday by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
In short, a complex process of assimilation and immigration is taking place in the nation's fast-growing and changing distinct Latino communities, the pollsters found. The survey of 2,929 Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Colombians, Dominicans and others from South and Central America reveals in charts and graphs what the nearly 13 percent of the nation's population identified as Hispanic already knew: Hispanics, or Latinos, are neither monolithic nor easy to categorize -- nor do they have unified political goals.
Perhaps the single most unifying attitude among all the Hispanic groups surveyed is the overwhelming belief that learning English is essential to success in this country. Contrary to those who believe that "English only" laws are essential in preventing isolated pockets of Spanish-speaking communities from forming, those in Spanish-speaking communities say that learning English is absolutely essential -- a view, the survey found, that is reflected in how quickly the children of immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries assimilate into the dominant culture.
"I think it's very easy from the outside to see Latino neighborhoods and only see the large number of Spanish-speaking immigrants and paint a very static picture of a population that does not seem to be changing or assimilating," said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center. "We see the assimilation from Spanish to English is almost complete in one generation." The survey found that six in 10 U.S.-born Latinos predominately speak English, while only a third are bilingual.
That Hispanics are assimilating faster than previously thought is borne out by cultural attitudes, Suro said. As Hispanics acquire English, their views change and become closer to the views of non-Hispanic Americans, according to the survey. "That's true of a whole range of issues," he said, "like abortion and divorce, on views on the American workplace and what it takes to succeed."
For politicians courting the "Hispanic vote," the survey suggests that the message must be specific rather than general. Cubans in Florida, for example, have different concerns than do Mexicans in California or Puerto Ricans, who alone among Hispanics are all born U.S. citizens. Politically, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans tend to be the most liberal, while Cubans are the most conservative, with Mexicans in the middle of the spectrum, the survey found. "It will be very difficult for an individual to tailor their political message if it's an ethnic message," Suro said.
The survey makes clear, Suro said, that Latinos are not going to be a minority group the same way African Americans are a minority group, with the unifying influence of being black and having a shared heritage. Only 43 percent of those surveyed believed that Latinos from different countries are working together to achieve common political goals, while 83 percent reported that Latinos discriminating against other Latinos is a problem, reflecting wide divisions among the groups.
"There's no sense of the kind of cohesion that would produce the kind of political mobilization that blacks have been able to create," Suro said, "nor the sense of shared identity. . . . One of the things that you see in the survey is that not only do Latinos resist easy categorization, they also in their self-identification resist lumping themselves together. You put those two factors together, you don't have a single cohesive group that's going to fall into line together."