Love thy neighbor
Arizona Republic
Feb. 1, 2005
Immigration quarrels tend to lump Latinos into one (non-melting) pot

As this nation of immigrants eyes the latest wave of immigration, some try to characterize the newcomers as somehow different from previous pilgrims.

Hence the stereotype about how Latino immigrants fail to assimilate.

Hence the charge that these folks are so different that they should be viewed with heightened suspicion.

The Pew Hispanic Center has released a study that helps put things in perspective. 

Studying 2000 census data, Pew found that 57 percent of native-born and immigrant Latinos live in areas where they are not the majority of the population. That's up from 39 percent in 1990.

So Latinos don't all stay in little Spanish-speaking enclaves, as critics contend. Another Pew study found that 46 percent of second-generation Latinos spoke only English, 47 percent were bilingual and only 7 percent spoke only Spanish. By the third generation, 78 percent spoke only English, 22 percent were bilingual and none spoke only Spanish.

Along with the acquisition of English, beliefs and ideas changed to reflect assimilation, the study found.

Something else gets lost in the rush to pigeonhole Latino immigrants. That is the fact that many Latinos are not immigrants. Many were born here. As the nation's largest minority, they are a diverse group of people with same breadth of hopes and dreams as other Americans, most of whom also come from immigrant stock.

Nor are all Latino immigrants illegal. There are an estimated 8 million to 10 million illegal immigrants in this country. But there are 40.4 million Latinos here, and 22.4 million of them are native-born, according to figures from Pew.

They are your neighbors.

That's worth remembering.

The debate over immigration has a nasty edge that is likely to sharpen if Congress ever gets serious about dealing with illegal immigration.

Illegal immigration must be stopped. But as that debate goes forward, it is important to this nation's humanity to guard against stereotypes that promise easy, comfortable answers by reducing Latinos to the status of  "other".