both spotty and mixed, it appears that beyond the second generation, more successful Hispanics are less likely to self-identify or to be identified by others as Hispanic.4 This highly tentative inference is consistent with patterns of language shift.
Spanish-language use can reinforce Hispanicity as a panethnic identity in the face of rising intermarriage among Latin American nationalities, but two offsetting forces ultimately will decide what the shift away from the Spanish language portends for the persistence of Hispanicity. First, continued immigration from Latin America will slow the rate of language shift, but how much, in what ways, and for what groups will depend on settlement patterns of the foreign born. Second, the geographic dispersal of Hispanics may accelerate the process of linguistic assimilation, which may also dilute the development of a panethnic identity if accompanied by higher rates of intermarriage with non-Hispanics.
Currently, about 28 million U.S. residents—mainly Hispanic—identify as Spanish speakers. Ironically, both their geographic concentration and their residential dispersal generate anxiety that the United States is becoming a linguistically bifurcated nation. Such anxiety is unfounded because, by all indications, Hispanics are following the linguistic paths of prior immigrants in their increasing reliance on English across generations and over time. The proliferation of Spanish in neighborhoods densely populated by immigrants belies the rapid linguistic assimilation evident between the first and second generation, which is nearly complete by the third. This rapid shift to English indicates fluidity in the boundary between Hispanics and non-Hispanics. As a transitional phase of inevitable language shift, bilingualism is not incompatible with English proficiency, which is a requirement for economic mobility, political integration, and social success.
How best to ensure proficiency in English remains highly controversial because there is no consensus on how best to teach non-English-speaking students across the grade spectrum. Many schools serving large Hispanic student populations have instituted programs in bilingual education or in English as a second language to bridge initial language barriers. While well-implemented programs have been shown to reap significant educational gains, program quality varies greatly across schools and districts. For many students, participation in bilingual education courses not only interferes with English mastery, but at times actually contributes to academic failure.5
Finally, two institutions play a role in maintaining and reinforcing Hispanicity as a coherent ethnic identity—the media and government. Media references to “the Hispanic market” and advertising agencies’ refer-