Latinopalooza: How Latinos are Changing the USA
There she was. Mi’ja. My daughter, tiara perched on her jet-black hair, looking radiant and happy, surrounded by her friends and family. It was her quinceañera—her fifteenth birthday—a rite of passage in the Latino culture where a girl becomes a young woman. Mom and Papi, proud … and torn.
It was 2006. Our daughter was coming of age and this joyous celebration with 200 people, a live salsa band, and a Peruvian food buffet, also marked one major milestone in Marisela’s passage toward independence and coming into her own identity.
In 2010, my daughter and I were among the 50 million Latinos counted by the U.S. Census Bureau, making us part of the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the country. In many ways this, too, marked a coming of age for U.S. Latinos.
Today, Latinos are coming into their own in American society as my daughter did at Hothouse, the world music club where we held the fiesta. The guests were a cross section of the Latino population boom and its myriad ripple effects: Half of all babies born in Texas, nine out of 10 babies born in New Orleans, and one-third of Californians are Latino.
In fact, in the first decade of the 21st century, Latinos grew at three times the growth rate of the rest of the population and, in this, accounted for half of the overall U.S. population growth. At this rate, Latinos are expected to become one-fourth
of the United States by 2025.1 As was exemplified at my daughter’s party, in the hubbub of conversation between bites of arroz con pollo and trumpet blasts from the salsa orchestra, the United States is the second largest Spanish– speaking country in the world.
Macro-economists point out that to have a growing economy, societies need to have a growing population. I would say we Latinos are doing our part!
The United States is in the midst of a Latinopalooza, an explosion, a cornucopia of Latino cultural touchstones that are changing everything about U.S. national culture—the way the country looks, feels, thinks, relates, eats, dances, buys, works, and votes. And just like the surge of European immigrants at the beginning of the 20th Century, today’s rise of the Hispanic population—both native-born and immigrant—infuses a new vitality into the country’s social fabric.
Here are just a few examples of how:
• Hispanic purchasing power reached $1 trillion in 20102, which is greater than the gross national product of Mexico. This makes U.S. Latinos the 15th largest economy in the world.
• Barack Obama got the majority of the Latino vote in the historic 2008 presidential election, which contributed significantly to his margin of victory. And the 2012 election will feature a caliente battle between Democrats and Republicans for the Latino vote.
• The Latino presence influences proactive policy agendas in support of Latino issues, which in turn incites reactive counter measures to stem Latinos’ growing influence. The polarized immigration debates around new laws, such as Arizona’s SB1070 hard-line immigration legislation, are just one example.
• Salsa has surpassed all-American ketchup in U.S. condiment sales.3 Dulce de leche ice cream, unexpectedly, is in demand. Mexican restaurants are one of the most common ethnic eateries in the county, and, in 2010, the New York Times noted the soaring popularity of Peruvian food.
This decidedly Latino spice to the U.S. population raises questions for both Hispanics and mainstream Americans about race and ethnicity, culture, and identity. In the same way a heavy dose of Serrano chiles in a stew changes the culinary experience, so are Latinos changing the United States. And they, in turn, are being changed by it. In this complex paso doble dance we’ll call ñation building lies profound implications for diversity workforce management strategies in corporate America and not-for-profit organizations.
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