Hispanic Americans are projected to play an increasing role in American society early on in the 21st century based on demographic growth characteristics. It is widely projected that Hispanic Americans will become the nation's largest minority group by the year 2020 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1997), outnumbering the African Americans. The Hispanic population is also projected to form a majority in California's public school enrollment by 2006 (Pinal, 1996). Because of within-group diversity, it is not easy to describe the demographics of Hispanics. As with most ethnic minority labels, there is no single Hispanic population but rather there are, minimally, four distinct subgroups: Mexican Americans, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Central/South Americans. These groups are identified through place of birth or country of origin. High migration rates and relatively high birth rates are among some of the variables that separate Hispanics from other minorities. As Romero (chapter 11, this volume) also points out, of the four subgroups of Hispanics, Mexican-Americans make up the largest percentage (63%), followed by Central South Americans (21%), Puerto Ricans (11%), and Cuban Americans 5%. Although these four subgroups of Latinos have many common cultural aspects, they also differ significantly with respect to social, political, economic, and cultural histories and experiences. Their demographic features are not all the same, making for quite a heterogeneous overall picture.
Latino or Hispanic immigration into the United States has been one of the more important streams of immigration of the 20th century. In 1990s, about two-thirds of U.S. Hispanic residents were either immigrants or children of immigrants. Less than one-third were children of U.S.-born parents (Pinal & Singer, 1996). In 1996, a little more than one-third of Hispanics were firstgeneration Americans (38%), one-third second-generation Americans (30%), and less than one-third were third-generation Americans (32%).
Although international migration is a large contributor to the growth and diversity of the Hispanic population in the U.S., births to Hispanics contributed nearly two-thirds of the increase in the Hispanic population during 1995 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). Not only does immigration bring in women of reproductive age but foreign-born Hispanic women tend to have substantially higher fertility than U.S.-born Hispanic women. Estimates of Hispanic fertility prior to the mid-1980s were based on scanty data. Systematic collection of Hispanic origin on birth certificates did not begin until 1978, and that data too was available only for few states. By the early 1990s, the size of the Hispanic population was more certain and birth registration by Hispanic origin was much more complete. The recorded dates showed that the fertility of Hispanic women, and of Mexican women in particular, continued to be among the highest of any major racial or ethnic group in the United States. Hispanic fertility is still much higher than that of other racial and ethnic groups. The total fertility rate was three children for Hispanics, in 1995 (NCHS, 1997) and was below 2 for non-Hispanics. Among Hispanics, Mexican Americans had the highest total fertility rate (TFR) (3.3) followed by Puerto Ricans (2.2) and Cubans (1.7) (NCHS, 1997). A TFR is defined as the number of children a woman will have during her reproductive span, given the current birth rates. Cubans were the only major Hispanic group with below replacement level fertility. (A TFR of 2.1 children per woman is required for a generation to replace itself, after allowing for deaths).
Education is a key variable, as it is closely related to fertility through income levels. On average, Hispanics have less education, lower family incomes, and higher poverty rates than non-Hispanics. Among Hispanic women with less than 9 years of education in 1994, the TFR was 4.0 children per woman and 3.8 for 12 years of school (Lee, 1998). Hispanics probably have the lowest rates of high school and college graduation of any major population group. One possible explanation is that Hispanics did not have the same educational opportunities as other groups. Generations of Mexican Americans in the Southwest attended segregated low-quality schools and were not encouraged to excel. Some education specialists see the conflict between Hispanic student's background and the culture promoted in school as the root of Hispanic under-achievement. The pressure of assimilation somehow degrades their culture and families that, in turn, give them low-esteem. They are then stereotyped as noncompetitive, lacking "delayed gratification," and family centered rather than individualistic. All these personality characteristics are usually considered hindrances to their academic excellence.
Hispanics are geographically located primarily in the southwestern United States. Hispanic subgroups in the United States are concentrated in different regions, states, and urban areas. For example, Cuban Americans are located primarily in Miami, Mexican Americans are located primarily in the southwest, and the largest mainland population of Puerto Ricans lives in New York. Based on 1995 census projections, 85% of the Hispanic population is concentrated in nine states: California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado. In 1996, one-third of all Hispanics lived in California.
Currently, Hispanics are an overwhelmingly urban population, although the first large stream of migrants came to the United States to work in agriculture in the 1940s (Shafer & Donald, 1981).
Hispanics have a high profile in Los Angeles, San Antonio, and Miami, where Latinos comprise 40% or more of the population. The 1990 census showed Hispanics to be highly concentrated, percentage-wise, around U.S.-Mexico border areas such as Laredo, Texas (85%), Brownsville, Texas (89%), and El Paso, Texas (70%). Also, the McAllen, Brownsville, and Harlingen metropolitan area in south Texas is composed of 87% Hispanic, or Latino, population, with the vast majority being of Mexican origin. The two lower Rio Grande Valley standard metropolitan areas (SMAs), composed of about 90% Hispanics, are ranked the two poorest SMAs in the United States (Neiman, 1999).
Hispanics often share a Spanish-language heritage, a disadvantaged minority status, and a public image as newcomers who are welcomed by some and resented by others. One general conclusion is that Hispanics are not a monolithic group, but rather are a highly diverse and heterogeneous minority group. Based on the U.S. census classification system, Hispanics are not a racial group but are an ethnic group. According to government guidelines, Hispanics prefer to be identified based on their national origin: Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, or any other term that denotes national origin, place of birth, or community.
Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens whether they are born on the U.S. mainland or in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans may move freely between the mainland and Puerto Rico and are not considered international migrants. Puerto Ricans are not counted as part of the U.S. Hispanic population unless they live in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
The Hispanic population in the United States has steadily increased over the years. Between 1970 and 1980, the Hispanic population in the United States increased by 61%, between 1980 and 1990 there was a 53% increase, and between the intercensal period of 1990 and 1996 by 27%. From 1970-1996, the Puerto Rican proportion of U.S. Hispanics decreased from 16 to 11%. The three major Hispanic subgroups vary in terms of Infant Mortality Rates (IMR) calculated as the number of deaths within the first year of life for every 1000 live births. The Puerto Rican IMR at 78 is the highest among the Cuban, Mexican American, and Puerto Rican subgroups whose rates are, respectively, 51, 59, and 78. A paradoxical finding is that the IMR for Texas border counties (32 in total) is actually lower than the average IMR for the rest of the state of Texas (Texas-Mexico Border Health Coordination Office, 1998). There are other paradoxical health findings, wherein surprisingly lower rates of some diseases and illnesses are found in the Texas-border Mexican American population, such as lower death rates from coronary heart disease, malignant neoplasms, cerebrovascular diseases, and so on (Cuellar, 1999). Some Mexican immigrant colonies
(colonias) along the Texas-Mexico border are economically as bad off or worse in some cases than third-world countries (Cuellar, 1999) and have the highest rates in the state of Texas for numerous infectious diseases such as amebiasis, hepatitis A, shigonelliosis, tuberculosis, chickenpox, and so on (Cuellar, 1999). There is also an increase in neural tube defects, particularly toward the southernmost tip of Texas along the Rio Grande River (Johnson, 1999).
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