Why Not a Hispanic-American Identity?

By Stanley Renshon and Stanley Renshon on January 21, 2011

Hyphenated American identities have helped many millions of new legal immigrants to the United States, from every continent in the world, find their way eventually to becoming full-fledged members of our national community. So why do we seem to have discarded that unparalleled record of success when it comes to America's largest and fastest grown new immigrant groups – "Hispanics"/"Latinos" ?

The demographics of this group are startling. Between 2000 and 2009, the U.S. population grew by about 9 percent, "rising from 281 million to 307 million. The Latino population increased by 37 percent – four times more rapidly than the United States overall – and accounted for slightly more than half of the nearly 26 million people added to the U.S. population during this past decade. Today, Latinos make up almost one-sixth of the U.S. population."

Moreover, U.S. government population projections, assuming no new immigration at all finds that "Hispanics" would become 21 percent of the population. At the current rate of immigration, "Hispanics" "would constitute 27.9 percent of the American population at mid-century."

If you Google "Hispanic" you will get about 28 million hits in ten seconds. If you Google "Latino" you will get 117 million hits in 12 seconds. On the other hand, "Hispanic-American" nets 1 million hits in 23 seconds and "Latino-American" nets only 850,000. Clearly when it comes to this important new group of immigrants, a designation that leaves out an American element to the group's identity in this country is by far the most frequently used.

It is how major and important group organizations see and name themselves. Consider the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. It describes itself as a "non-profit, non-partisan organization that facilitates the full participation of Latinos in the American political process, from citizenship to public service." (emphasis mine) While on their website you can link to articles about "How Latinos Exert Political Power," or you could read about how "LATINO VOTERS CRUCIAL IN KEY MIDTERM RACES." You could even read that a, "RECORD NUMBER OF LATINO REPUBLICANS TO JOIN NEW CONGRESS." But nowhere would you read that any of these persons understood themselves, or were understood by the organizations naming them, including their own, as having a stated American element to their identity.

The designation has become so widespread and uncritically accepted that even conservatives who want to reach out to this group of new Americans have adapted this America -absent designation. The other day the "Hispanic Leadership Network," a group of conservative Hispanic American political leaders spearheaded by Jeb Bush and Norman Coleman, among others, sponsored a major meeting in Florida with the intention of beginning a "serious conservative outreach to the Hispanic community." Even Fox News, that supposed bastion of conservative thought, has adopted the no-mention-of-America meme for referring to this group.

The repeated designation of this large group of immigrants by a cultural term specific to their group and not including an American identity element appears to be taking hold among group members themselves. A 2006 survey by the Pew Hispanic Center found that "48% of Latino adults generally describe themselves by their country of origin first; 26% generally use the terms Latino or Hispanic first; and 24% generally call themselves American on first reference."

Adding a hyphen and an American element to "Latino" or "Hispanic" identity designations will not magically aid this group's assimilation or raise that 24 percent figure immediately. But it will help to move members of this group towards thinking of, and characterizing themselves as, Americans over time, and this country should be encouraging that kind of thinking.

If Jeb Bush wants to make an important point without much effort he can rename his outreach group the Hispanic American Leadership Network.