percent for Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Nicaraguans; and about 31 and 14 percent for Dominicans.

Hispanics’ generational self-identity shift from white to multiracial is unprecedented. Among earlier immigrants, particularly those from southern and Eastern Europe, social acceptance and cultural assimilation often involved shifting racially from nonwhite to white. The generational shift among Hispanics reveals how, with time, the classification scheme proposed by Directive 15 has expanded the meaning of the labels “Hispanic” and “Latino,” transforming them into ethnic identities that also have a racial component.

Children of immigrants exposed to American culture and its definitions of race during their formative years and later classified as Hispanic or Latino at school internalize the belief that they are members of a racial minority. They render their Hispanicity racial by expressing their national origin in those terms. This has far-reaching consequences for the contours of minority group boundaries and potentially, therefore, for intergroup relations. The situation illustrates the arbitrary nature of racial constructs—indeed, the ease with which an “ethnic” category developed for administrative purposes becomes a potent marker of social difference. It also implies that Hispanics are blurring former black-white racial boundaries, although the implications for the country’s racial hierarchy are as yet unclear.18

Hispanicity, then, is both imagined and real: imagined because it is a social construct invented by the federal government for the purpose of bureaucratic accounting, and real because it has been rendered so by its use. Through their broad popular usage, the ethnoracial labels “Hispanic” and “Latino” are increasingly being accepted by immigrants and their U.S.-born children as referring to their own identities. The extent of the impact of these labels as markers of differences in status remains an open question, to be settled by the second and later generations.


English is the door to the American dream. Not until one masters el inglés are the fruits of that dream attainable.19

Unlike the European immigrants who crossed the Atlantic en masse from the 1880s to the 1920s and those from Asia who did so after legal barriers had been removed in the late 1960s, immigrants from Mexico, most of Central and South America, and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean

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