Why Hispanic Immigration is Not a Threat to American Identity

New research by political scientists concludes that available data does not appear to support the claim that Hispanic immigration poses a threat to American identity. Among the key findings of this study are that Hispanics acquire English and lose Spanish rapidly beginning in the 2nd generation; appear to be as religious and at least as committed to the work ethic as native-born whites; and largely reject a purely ethnic identification and exhibit levels of patriotism equal to native-born whites by the 3rd generation.

This research is presented in an article entitled “Testing Huntington: Is Hispanic Immigration a Threat to American Identity?” by co-authors Jack Citrin, Amy Lerman, Michael Murakami (all of the University of California, Berkeley), and Kathryn Pearson (University of Minnesota). The article appears in the March issue of Perspectives on Politics, a journal of the American Political Science Association (APSA), and is available online at /imgtest/PerspectivesMar07Citrin_etal.pdf.

The goal of the study is to test several propositions in the national debate on immigration —put forth by Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington among others—which emphasize the destabilizing impact of Mexican immigration on American national identity. The authors seek to “ground the debate over Huntington’s prognosis…in a sustained empirical analysis of recent immigrants.” The resulting analysis employs data from the U.S. Census and several national and Los Angeles opinion surveys with thousands of respondents.

Traditional patterns of linguistic assimilation result in the vast majority of immigrants becoming monolingual in English by the 3rd generation. Clear evidence also points to the continuation of these patterns in the case of Hispanic—and specifically Mexican—immigrants. In the 2000 Census, 50% of the native-born living in the households of Mexican-born immigrants either spoke only English or spoke English very well. Other data show that 71% of Hispanic immigrants are English dominant by the 3rd generation and that “controlling for age, education, income and residential context, 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics are much more likely than immigrants to speak English well.” The authors note that this “intergenerational rate of linguistic assimilation among the offspring of Mexican immigrants surpassed that of every other immigrant group.” Moreover, they found that “the pace of linguistic assimilation among recent Mexican immigrants seems to be more rapid than in the past.” Finally, the authors observe that by the 3rd generation, Hispanics’ preferences on policy questions related to bilingual education and declaring English as the official language of the U.S. “closely resemble those of whites and blacks.”

Huntington and other nationalists have prioritized identity with the nation over other affiliations and are concerned about a collision between demographic diversity and national solidarity. The data analyzed in this study demonstrate that “the assimilation of Hispanics is proceeding but is not complete.” By the 3rd generation 56% of Hispanics identify themselves as American, and “among native-born Hispanics, an American identity…far outstrips a purely ethnic identity.” In terms of love of country, the authors find that “patriotism among Hispanics, including the foreign-born, is as high as among white Americans.”

Finally, regarding the perceived challenge posed to the cultural foundation of the Anglo-Protestant Ethic by Hispanic immigration, the data shows that “Hispanics as a whole appear to attend church about as often as white respondents” and there is no evidence that they or their offspring are “quicker to abandon God or country than other Americans.” Hispanics are also more likely than whites—by a margin of 59% to 30%–to agree with the statement that “success at work in America comes from doing what is best for yourself rather than what is best for others,” belying the fear that “today’s Hispanic immigrants are unprepared to work hard.”

The prominent debate about immigration and its consequences today has wide-ranging consequences for immigrants and U.S. citizens alike and is a growing field of research for political scientists. This important study examines the veracity of claims made in the immigration debate regarding threats to American national identity. Contrary to these fears, the authors observe that “the data available now suggest that the rise of a self-sufficient sub-population speaking mainly Spanish…is not a serious threat, and that the privileged status of English as the country’s sole common language remains secure.” They conclude by noting that while predictions about the future always are risky “at present traditional patterns of assimilation appear to prevail” among Hispanic newcomers.


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14 thoughts on “Why Hispanic Immigration is Not a Threat to American Identity”

  1. You are obviously not educated. Mexican migrants come here out of desperation, not because they want to be uneducated hate mongers like you. They are here because their country is not providing for them work sufficient to support their families. They would have an easier time learning English if they were not hiding from the punishing fist presented by people like you. Most Mexicans do learn English and make a great effort to learn English. It is really sad how uneducated you are, and sound in your ranting. How often do you associate with a non-English speaking person? when you eat at McDonalds? next time try to think of the irony that is the byproduct of american capitalism, the mexican, working for a direct product of american capitalism and I doubt you will even notice when she says, “jou wan large?”

  2. The United States of America is an English speaking nation. If the immigrants to this country are not willing to speak the language we are under no obligation to accommodate them. Absolutely they are free to maintain their cultural/ethnic/religious heritage thats what America is all about. If you come to this country the basic expectation is that you will assimilate into the existing culture and speak English.

    The last time I checked California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are all states in the United States of America regardless of their geographical location. They are English speaking period. If the immigrants can’t follow this simple guideline they should reconsider coming to this country.

  3. Who cares whether Mexicans illegals are the most wonderful people in the world? We’re talking past each other. Why? Because Mexicans who sneak into America can’t deal with the facts. One fact that stands out is, Mexicans by the millions are disobeying our laws, dishonoring our borders, saying screw American laws, I need a job. Unfortunately, there are natural born Americans who want to see a weak America, they hate Capitalism and use any group (afro-americans, gays, illegals, climate change and animal rights lunatics, atheists, liberals, socialists, etc. to weaken the nation, its sovereignty, its economy, it’s cultural solidarity and traditional identity. Why should Mexico lose control of its border with say Guatemala? Why should the USA lose control of its territory with Canada or Mexico? because you’re from another country and need a job? Because you never figured out or how to establish a fairer government in your own country or fought for same? The rich want the poor Mexicans to leave before they become a threat. The USA is the dumping ground. That way the rich Mexicans will always stay in power as they get rid of any threat from the poor and Mexico will stay in the 18th century.
    My 2 cents.
    Peter K

  4. “Traditional patterns of linguistic assimilation result in the vast majority of immigrants becoming monolingual in English by the 3rd generation.”

    No, they don’t. That’s a common myth (and not exactly a desirable thing either). It was a case for a subset of the Ellis Island immigrants but not for all or even most. The Dutch and German immigrants who came to e.g. Pennsylvania, the Catskills and the Midwest in the 1700’s retained their languages in large groups for 5, 6, 7 or more generations, and in fact German is still spoken in a significant band of the country extending from The Three Rivers up through the Midwest. The “monolingual by the third generation” is in the same category of dumb urban legends as the one that “German would’ve been the US official language except for one vote” (which it wasn’t– that “vote” was a minor decision by a small and insignificant local council in Pennsylvania in colonial America, and the US doesn’t have an official language at all).

    “Other data show that 71% of Hispanic immigrants are English dominant by the 3rd generation and that “controlling for age, education, income and residential context, 2nd and 3rd generation Hispanics are much more likely than immigrants to speak English well.””

    No, they aren’t. This is the classic blunder of using an old, outdated data set to try to interpret modern situations which are very different. In prior decades– especially prior to the 1990’s, and especially in places like Southern California which were conservative, Republican, WASP strongholds actively hostile to the Latino people– there was indeed a concerted effort to powerfully suppress Spanish among the Latino community, which was then quite small and utterly dominated, politically and economically, by English-speaking Anglos. Naturally, Spanish was lost quite often by the Latinos here for obvious reasons– it was a badge of shame and both an economic and political penalty, so parents and grandparents discouraged their descendants from using it.

    Today, in 2007, it’s completely the opposite– Spanish is an enormous asset in economic, political and social interactions, especially in states like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. Not only are Latino families fiercely determined to ensure that their kids and grandkids retain Spanish, but even “Anglo” families are struggling to get their kids Spanish nannies or Spanish-medium kindergarten classes since they know how essential the language is.

    In reality, this is merely returning to historical patterns for the region. The United States Southwest was acquired in the Mexican War, and one of the treaty guarantees after the war was that Spanish would enjoy protected, public status just as English did. So Spanish was in no way an “immigrant” language to be “lost by the third generation”– it was an original, founding mode of discourse in the regions obtained from the Mexican War, intended to be a permanent feature of the territory.

    Seriously, I find it puzzling how so many otherwise intelligent, perceptive people fall right into Samuel Huntington’s trap– Huntington must be laughing at the naivete of so many people. When Huntington makes his alarming statements, his opponents fall right into the classic trap– in response to his claim that “Latinos are not assimilating! Latinos are not assimilating!” a subset of well-meaning defenders of the Latino people blunder by essentially acquiescing to Huntington’s very un-democratic (and un-historical) demands– by claiming that Latinos are giving up Spanish, so the zealots like Huntington need not worry.

    This is basically akin to confronting an aggressor by surrendering to him, or shooting oneself in one’s own foot to show a bigot how unthreatening are. It’s just flat-out stupid.

    The proper way to confront Huntington’s remarks, is not to capitulate to his essentially unstated demands– it’s to confront his ahistorical perspective itself.

    That is, Latinos have every right to– and should feel proud to– speak and write Spanish, not just as a private language but as a public mode of discourse in offices, schools and government institutions, and to ensure that this is propagated through the generations. Spanish came before English in the region and so Spanish isn’t merely a guest language– if anything, in the Southwest, English is the guest. That was the original agreement following the Mexican War, and it will always be in force.

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