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Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future
Over generations, the comingling of different Latin American immigrant populations in multiethnic cities could consolidate panethnic Hispanic identity as a racial category, as now experienced by second-generation youth living in Miami and San Diego. Alternatively, cultural diversity accentuated by the dispersal of recent immigrants could repeat the residential segregation patterns that characterize the traditional gateway cities. Which scenarios play out and where they do so hinges on whether Hispanic immigrants settle among blacks, whites, and Asians in their new destinations and, especially, on whether their geographic dispersal sharpens class divisions and increases social isolation. The relative recentness of the Hispanic scattering precludes long-term forecasting.
Finally, Hispanics take part in social transformation through their political participation and civic engagement. Although references to “the” Hispanic vote are a misconception, average differences in voting behaviors and political attitudes between Hispanics and whites are discernible. For example, because Hispanics express higher levels of trust in government than do whites, they also are more supportive of taxation for collective goods, such as education, public services, and social security. Moreover, differences in these political attitudes across national-origin groups are relatively small.
A distinctive, and discouraging, feature of Hispanics’ political behavior is their low participation, evident across a range of electoral, civic, and organizational activities. Particularly noteworthy are their lower rates of voter turnout compared with blacks and whites, even among registered voters. Young age structure, low education, and high poverty levels largely explain the low voting rates and low rates of office holding, but the net result is relatively little political influence, particularly noticeable in areas of high Hispanic concentration. That electoral participation and civic engagement of the foreign born rise with time spent in the United States and also across generations imply that Hispanics will have increased political influence as the second generation comes of age. This outcome, however, rests on making educational investments in the young to socialize them politically and prevent pervasive civic disengagement.
The Costs of Assimilation
At the same time that Americanization facilitates social and economic mobility, it also exacts cultural costs. One cost is the erosion of Hispanics’ traditional strong commitment to family life, even at the expense of