The changing definition and use of “Latino”

Here is a quick recap of how American society has defined and used the term Latino in recent decades:

If all ethnic identities are created, imagined or negotiated to some degree, American Hispanics provide an especially stark example. As part of an effort in the 1970s to better measure who was using what kind of social services, the federal government established the word “Hispanic” to denote anyone with ancestry traced to Spain or Latin America, and mandated the collection of data on this group. “The term is a U.S. invention,” explains Mark Hugo Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center. “If you go to El Salvador or the Dominican Republic, you won’t necessarily hear people say they are ‘Latino’ or ‘Hispanic.’?”

You may not hear it much in the United States, either. According to a 2012 Pew survey, only about a quarter of Hispanic adults say they identify themselves most often as Hispanic or Latino. About half say they prefer to cite their family’s country of origin, while one-fifth say they use “American.” (Among third-generation Latinos, nearly half identify as American.)

The Office of Management and Budget defines a Hispanic as “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race” — about as specific as calling someone European.

“There is no coherence to the term,” says Marta Tienda, a sociologist and director of Latino studies at Princeton University. For instance, even though it’s officially supposed to connote ethnicity and nationality rather than race — after all, Hispanics can be black, white or any other race — the term “has become a racialized category in the United States,” Tienda says. “Latinos have become a race by default, just by usage of the category.”

A good discussion throughout. And, the definition and usage of the term Latino or Hispanic is likely to change in decades to come. All together, it suggests racial and ethnic categories can be quite fluid based on a whole host of social factors.

Housing markets could benefit from Latinos who want to buy their first homes

The executive director of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals says many Latinos want to purchase homes:

Q: Your report (“The State of Hispanic Homeownership” at, assembles data from a number of private and governmental sources, and contends that the number of Hispanic homeowners has grown to 6.69 million in 2012 from 4.24 million in 2000 and that they represented 51 percent of the total net increase of 694,000 owner-households in the United States in 2012. Considering the nation’s economic circumstances, that sounds pretty good. Yet, you say they’re facing head winds?

A: Even to our surprise, Hispanic homeowners seem to be very resilient, especially coming off the (housing) crisis. Affordability is at an all-time high and a lot of Hispanics have jumped into the market recently. Some of the biggest factors in this are household formation, income trends and overall consumer confidence. They’re forming households at a faster rate than the general population. If you look at the market of Hispanic households, they’re much more likely to be made up of a husband and wife with children, (an arrangement that’s) much more aligned with the purchase of a home.

But there are a couple of major barriers to this trend continuing, and though difficulty in accessing mortgage credit is an important one, even more important right now is the lack of inventory of houses for sale…

The fulfillment of this scenario of Hispanics being a dominant force in future homebuying will require the industry to be able to adapt to cultural nuances. And basically, NAHREP is saying the industry isn’t there yet. Twelve years ago, when we started this organization, we were selling a vision that few people bought into. It’s not really like that anymore — the major players in housing now understand, or are starting to understand, how important the Latino market is.But there are nuances to working with the Hispanic market — there’s language, of course, and the likelihood of so-called “thin” credit files (that limit access to mortgages) within a culture where having debt is not a desirable thing.

The housing market could benefit from such a reservoir of buyers. For example, those baby boomers who want to unload their homes in the near future may just want to access possible Latino buyers. Plus, the one cited figure above seems to suggest that some of the uptick in housing in the country can be attributed to Latinos. But, assuming different groups in the United States want to or perhaps more importantly can, given the wealth differences in the United States, purchase homes is not a given. There are still big gaps in homeownership rates by race and ethnicity.

It would be interesting to hear how real estate agents and others in the real estate industry are really adjusting their methods for potential Latino customers.

Hispanics will be largest group in California by 2020

New demographic projections for California suggest Hispanics will pass whites to be the largest group by 2020:

Population projections released Thursday by the state Department of Finance show that Hispanics will become the dominant ethnic group in California for the first time.

By 2020, demographers say Hispanics will be about 41 percent of California’s population, with whites less than 37 percent.

The white population will fall to about 30 percent by 2060 from the current 39 percent, affecting politics and public policy in the nation’s most populous state. Whites currently lack a majority in only Hawaii and New Mexico.

It will be worth watching to see what changes this brings to California’s society, economy, and politics. Another issue to consider is whether the trend in California will extend to other states or whether California is uniquely positioned to experience this sort of demographic change. While we have been reading about these projected demographic changes in California for years, I don’t recall seeing similar projections for states like Texas. This, of course, could suggest demographic change is taking place more slowly in other states.

Latinos and the “religion” of the American Dream

A new poll suggests Latinos are optimistic about the American Dream:

The poll, which surveyed 887 likely Latino voters, found that 73 percent believe that their families will achieve the American Dream, compared to only 7 percent who don’t think they’ll attain the American Dream.

“When they come to this country, they are like someone who has converted to another religion,” said Vincent Parrillo, a professor of sociology at William Paterson University, about the immigrant experience in the U.S. “They are a little more devout than those who are born here.”…

The Fox News Latino poll also found that Latinos believe the next generation of Latinos in the United States will be better off than they are today.

About 74 percent of those surveyed said that life will be better than today, while only 13 percent believe it will be worse and 3 percent said it will be the same, the poll states.

I’m intrigued by the link between the American Dream and religion. Does the American Dream really function like a religion in Durkheimian terms, as an ideology about ourselves that helps bring us together and helps provide social cohesion? There may even be rituals associated with it such as buying a home, going to college, and seeing your children get ahead. If we look at the words used at the recent Republican and Democratic National Conventions, both invoked the phrase “American Dream” with Republicans doing so at a slightly higher rate. Since we have freedom of religion and thus a variety of different beliefs and unbeliefs plus a fairly multicultural society with many subcultures and backgrounds, is the American Dream what truly unites Americans?

Latinos in American cities “Latinize” homes and use parks like plazas

As part of a larger article about Latinos in American cities and suburbs, here is an interesting section about how Latinos adapt American houses and parks:

In 2005, the California State Assembly published a paper by then Senior Legislative Assistant Michael Mendez titled “Latino New Urbanism: Building on Cultural Preferences.” In the paper, Mendez notes that in established Latino communities in California, Latino living preferences are often carryovers or hybrid forms of living preferences typical of Latin America.

For example, Mendez noticed that “the adaptive reuse of homes” in established Latino communities — and in particular, East Los Angeles — was often “neither entirely Mexican, nor Spanish, nor Anglo-American.” Instead, Mendez writes, “the introverted American- style homes are transformed to extroverted, Mexicanized, or Latinized homes.”

Mendez also discusses the role of the public plaza in Latin America as a community’s essential social hub. In Latin America, the plaza is a place for people to gather to talk, play, party, and do business. Citing a 1995 survey of behavioral patterns in California’s public parks, Mendez notes that Latino use of public parks as “a surrogate for the misplaced plaza…is a great contrast to Anglos, who primarily participated in mobile, solitary activities such as jogging, walking, bicycling, or dog walking.”

In 2009, Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty formally dedicated Columbia Heights Plaza. “Before, the plaza was an open lot full of drunks,” Toledo recalls. Now young people gather in the plaza after school and hipsters walk their dogs. During the summer, parents bring their children to play in the fountains surrounded by seating areas for people watching. Despite the decline in the neighborhood’s Latino population, Columbia Heights Plaza acknowledges the Latin American preference for public plazas in urban spaces.

It is too bad there aren’t more examples about residents and cities changing the physical form of space to accommodate Latinos and other groups. How far are cities willing to go to do this? In visiting such neighborhoods, would the average American pick up on the fact that the space has been altered or is used differently?

Study: American “multiethnic neighborhoods are populated mainly by Latino and Asian families,” not by Whites and Blacks

A new study in American Sociological Review shows that residential segregation still endures as “multiethnic neighborhoods are populated mainly by Latino and Asian families”:

Researchers who analyzed the mobility trends of more than 100,000 families in metropolitan areas over nearly three decades found that the majority of blacks and whites continue to live in neighborhoods with high concentrations of residents of their own race…

Sixty percent of families leaving black neighborhoods moved to a similar community and nearly 75 percent of whites transitioned from a mostly white neighborhood to another white area.

Only about 19 percent of blacks and 2.4 percent of whites moved to a multiethnic neighborhood.

Both whites and blacks were more likely to move to diverse areas with new housing, while there was more of the churning effect in older neighborhoods.

While recent figures might suggest that residential segregation has decreased in recent years, there are still some stark differences. The three most interesting findings to me:

1. The long-standing black-white differences continue to matter but the positions of Latinos and Asians within American society are more fluid (partially due to more immigration in the last half-century).

2. The summary also suggested the study found that there is more diversity in neighborhoods with newer housing as compared to neighborhoods with older housing stock. A couple of things could be happening here: this could be referring to more suburban neighborhoods and it could also be the result of class differences (newer housing often being more expensive to purchase).

3. I like the emphasis in this study on tracking where people move from and move to. In other words, do people move to similar kinds of neighborhoods over time or do they move up some sort of socioeconomic ladder? It sounds like there isn’t as much movement as people might think.

Differences in who blogs by race and education

A new sociological study shows that who blogs is affected by both race and education:

While African Americans as a whole are less likely to afford laptops and personal computers, Internet-savvy blacks, on average, blog one and a half times to nearly twice as much as whites, while Hispanics blog at the same rate as whites, according to a study published in the March online issue of the journal, Information, Communication & Society.

“Blacks consume less online content, but once online, are more likely to produce it,” said the study’s author, Jen Schradie, a doctoral candidate in sociology at UC Berkeley and a researcher at the campus’s Berkeley Center for New Media.

Schradie analyzed data from more than 40,000 Americans surveyed between 2002 and 2008 for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which tracks Internet use and social media trends. Her latest findings follow up on a 2011 study in which Schradie found a “digital divide” among online content producers based on education and socio-economic status…

But, she said, “While blacks are more likely to blog than whites, it doesn’t mean the digital divide is over. People with more income and education are still more likely to blog than those with just a high school education and Internet access.”

There is not a whole lot of public discussion about this “digital divide” but it is interesting to see how this plays out with blogs. Of course, blogs are just one part of the content of the Internet and are a form that generally lends itself to longer pieces of writing (say compared to Twitter, Facebook, comment sections, discussion boards). In general, how involved are minorities in other forms of web content?

I wonder if the link between blogging and education is tied to the idea that more educated Internet users feel like they have something to say and contribute. Or perhaps education leads people to think that they should have a voice. For example, if you think about Annette Lareau’s theories about two types of parenting, “concerted cultivation” leads to adults who are assertive and comfortable in conversing with others.

Latino population growth slows in some US cities

While sociologists and demographers have watched with interest as the Latino population grows in the United States, new data suggests the rate of that growth has slowed in some cities in recent years:

But with the economic downturn that began in 2007, the meltdown of the housing market and a slowdown of new foreign arrivals, many of these same communities have seen the Latino growth rates flatten out.

Of 107 metro areas where the number of Latinos doubled between 2000 and 2010, almost all showed a slowdown in population growth by the end of the decade, according to William Frey, a Brookings Institution demographer who analyzed recently updated figures from the Census Bureau…

Los Angeles, New York and other major metropolitan areas that have long served as gateways and hubs for immigrants still notched small upticks in Latino growth rates at the end of the decade. In fact, the Latino population in the Los Angeles area, which was flat in 2006 at the peak of the housing market nationally, expanded by 1.5% in 2010. New York showed a similar pattern; its Latino growth slowed in the middle of the decade but was up by 2.4% in 2010.

The reason is that many Latinos who had left the big metropolitan areas to find jobs and cheaper housing in smaller cities earlier in the decade returned to those big cities during the tough economic times, Frey said.

The implication here is that economic pressures have slowed these growth rates. A few other thoughts:

1. I’m surprised there are no figures about the overall migration rate into the United States in recent years. Does that factor into this?

2. The Latino population hasn’t declined in these cities but rather has grown as smaller rates. Was the expectation that the growth rate would continue at such a high rate? In other words, is this the economy or also an inevitable/predicted slowdown?

3. Frey argues that cities are still important for minorities. At the same time, we have seen more research in recent years that suggests more minorities and immigrants are moving to the suburbs. So, there are still sizable minority populations in cities that anchor the minority populations even as there is more opportunity and movement to the suburbs?

Changes to American housing going to come from Hispanics and echo boomers?

At a recent conference, several experts talked about how two demographic groups are influential for American housing trends in the coming years:

Most of the country’s population growth is happening in minority populations – the same groups hit the hardest by the housing downturn in terms of lost household wealth and declines in homeownership rates.

“That is where housing issues will be addressed or not addressed,” demographer Steve Murdock of Rice University said. “Hispanics are the key to this growth.”

And echo boomers – members of another group hit hard by the recession as they’ve struggled to start careers – will be the generation driving the next wave of household formation.

“In the next 10 years, the echo boomers are almost the entire story,” said Rolf Pendall, director of the Urban Institute’s Metropolitan Housing & Communities Policy Center…

Cisneros said a Hispanic affinity for owning a home may help moderate some of the drive toward renting. “Somewhere deep in our DNA as Latinos is homeownership,” Cisneros said.

Baby boomers, the group that’s long driven trends, still is doing so, but instead of creating McMansions, they will start to influence building of nursing homes.

I assume Cisneros, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton, means that Latinos have a cultural affinity for homeownership. Thus far, this has not happened so much in the United States: for example, in 2008 the homeownership rate for Latinos was 48.9% and 47.5% for blacks compared to 74.9%. However, in Mexico, the homeownership rate is between 80-90% (2004 figures here, 1999 figures here).

Add this to suggestions from some that Generation Y also wants new kinds of housing (previous posts here, here, and here) and it looks like there might be quite a bit of change in the American housing market in the future. Our current system isn’t too different in houses and layout than it was decades ago.

Difficulty in convincing students of racism and racial inequality

An article about whiteness studies hints at a bigger issue: the difficulty of convincing today’s college students that racism and racial inequality are still problems.

But that progress [end of slavery and Jim Crow plus the election of President Obama] has slanted the mainstream narrative too far into positive terrain, they argue, leaving many to think that racial equality has arrived. Even some young students of color are more skeptical than ever before…

“The typical college student will always say ‘What racial inequality? Look at the White House,’” says Charles Gallagher, chair of the sociology department at La Salle University in Philadelphia. “I have to first convince them that inequality exists.”…

He says he starts the conversation by pointing to research such as a Pew Research Center report published last fall that showed the typical white family has roughly 20 times the wealth of the median black or Latino family. Thanks to the recession, the report said the gap is the largest it has been in a quarter century.

But some believe the idea of racism is shifting entirely. A 2008 poll by USA Today/Gallup and  showed that 40% of adults in America think racism against white people is widespread in the United States. A study published last year said that bias against whites is a bigger problem than bias against blacks.

While some indicators have improved (such as recent measures of residential segregation), there are still plenty of differences between different races. On the whole, life chances are still significantly determined by race. In Divided By Faith, two sociologists describe this as living in a “racialized” society where one’s race and ethnicity has a large impact on even micro-level decisions.

Part of this might simply be the process of continually teaching a new generation of college students. As their context and culture changes, college students arrive in the classroom with different concerns, knowledge, and passions. It would be interesting to track how incoming freshmen classes rate the importance of the issue of race, particularly compared to other concerns (like being able to find a job, terrorism, etc.). Perhaps this is cyclical, dependent on noteworthy events or political debates.

Of course, the world continues to change and academia will continue to shift toward studying newer trends. While the American case has historically been mostly about black-white relations, Latinos are now the largest minority group and how Latinos view themselves is something worth watching. Perhaps the trajectory of “whiteness studies” will change but the issue of race is still salient and is going to be studied for a long time.