Most Young Latinos U.S.-Born, Feel Labelled As Immigrants, Study Finds

Most young Latinos U.S.-born, feel labeled as immigrants, study finds

By David Olson
The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), December 14, 2009

Two-thirds of young Latinos are now U.S.-born, a shift from 14 years ago when nearly half were immigrants and a portent of an increasingly Latino U.S. society, a new study finds.

'If you want to understand what America will be like in the 21st century, you need to understand how young Latinos … will grow up,' said Paul Taylor, director of the Pew Hispanic Center, the Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan research organization that released the report Monday.

Latinos now comprise 18 percent of all U.S. youths, which Pew defines as people aged 16 to 25.

No U.S. minority ethnic group has ever made up such a large share of the nation's young people, Taylor said. It reflects the influx of nearly 40 million immigrants between 1965 and 2008, half of them Latin American.

More than 15 percent of U.S. residents are now Latino, according to 2008 U.S. Census estimates.

The study used census demographic data to analyze young Hispanics' economic and educational status, and a national survey of more than 2,000 young Latinos to probe issues of identity, life priorities and aspirations.

Even though the terms 'Latino' and 'Hispanic' are often used by the news media, politicians and Latino-advocacy organizations to lump together the tens of millions of people with Latin American ancestry, 52 percent of young Latinos use national-origin words like 'Mexican' or 'Salvadoran' as the first term to identify themselves, compared with 20 percent who use 'Hispanic' or 'Latino,' and 24 percent who use 'American.'

Jennifer Najera, an assistant professor of ethnic studies at the University of California, Riverside and an expert on Mexican-American culture, said most young Latinos' preference to use terms other than 'American' to initially identify themselves reflects society's views of them. Popular culture often portrays Latinos as immigrants, even though most are not. Non-Hispanics often pigeonhole Latinos by their ethnicity and physical appearance in a way they do not for European immigrants and their descendants, she said.

Discrimination and other challenges that many Hispanics face can also affect Latinos' self-identification, said Susan Brown, an associate professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine and an expert on generational trends among Latinos. Nearly 40 percent of young Latinos said they or a relative or close friend has been a victim of ethnic or racial discrimination.

Roy Beck, executive director of Virginia-based NumbersUSA, which supports greater limits on immigration, said young Latinos' tendency to not identify first as Americans is 'troubling.'

He said the constant waves of immigration into many of the neighborhoods where young Latinos live is continually exposing young Latinos to the language and culture of their ancestors' homelands, making it more difficult for them to see themselves as American.

The study found that second-generation Latinos do much better than their immigrant parents economically and educationally, but the third generation and beyond tended to have higher poverty, school dropout and teen-pregnancy rates.

Ruben Rumbaut, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine and an expert on Latino generational patterns – who cautioned that there are relatively few descendants of non-Mexicans immigrants now in the third generation – said the second generation does better than the first because immigrant parents typically come to the United States for their children, and they push them to do well.

'By the third generation, that drive has faded,' Rumbaut said.

The Pew report is titled 'Between Two Worlds' and it illustrates how many young Latinos embrace both aspects of American culture and of the culture of their parents or grandparents.

By the second generation, 98 percent of young Latinos speak primarily English or use both English and Spanish. But 70 percent of all young Latinos say they sometimes speak 'Spanglish,' a mix of English and Spanish.

Taylor said there was no similar research done on immigrants and their offspring 100 years ago. But he said it is possible young Latinos are more likely to preserve elements of their parents' and grandparents' culture because they are closer to their ancestors' homelands and because Spanish-language TV and radio, e-mail, texting and other technological tools make it easier to stay in touch with relatives abroad and with Latin American culture.

EDITORS NOTE: The Pew study is available online at: