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.