20-somethings leading fusion of cultures
Arizona Republic
Oct. 18, 2005

Yvonne Wingett, Scott Craven and Daniel González

Hit a trendy nightclub, and the young mix of Anglos and Latinos are shaking it to Thalía and Kelly Clarkson. They sport tees saying, "Soy bilingual - Hablo English & Spanglish." After last call, they'll hit Denny's for an Original Grand Slam breakfast and Amado's Mexican Food for huevos rancheros.

For them, it's not a matter of one culture dominating the other. It's about taking the best of both worlds and fusing it into something new, without the hang-ups over race and ethnicity of older generations. It's a world where upwardly mobile Latin men sport polo shirts and fashion-conscious Anglos wear button-up guayaberas.

With the Latino population booming, this hybrid promises to be a big part of the future. The edge can already be seen in a new generation of 20-somethings like Luis Morales and Chris Hickson, who comfortably crisscross the Latin American border through language, food and fashion.

This fusion is inevitable, not just in Arizona but coast to coast: By 2030, Hispanics are expected to account for 20 percent of the U.S. population.
This fusion is hardly new in Arizona, where Latinos have settled for hundreds of years.

But a great wave of immigration from Mexico during the 1990s helped create a critical mass that made Anglo and Latino children mix faster than their parents, who grew up with segregation, desegregation and racial tension.

Raised on The Brady Bunch reruns and rock en Español, 20-somethings learned this cultural balancing act early on.

They came face to face with skin color and accents as teens during that period of immigration and tremendous demographic shifts.

Familiarity led to tolerance. Tolerance to understanding. Understanding to acceptance. In 2005, to be bicultural is to be hip.

Although immigrants remain more comfortable speaking Spanish, their children are quick to acculturate into American society. And American society is adapting to them.

Only 4 percent of first-generation Latinos are fluent in English, reports the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C. By the third generation, that number soars to 76 percent.

Nearly half of Latinos consider themselves "White," a separate Pew study found, suggesting Latinos see race "as a measure of belonging, and whiteness as a measure of inclusion, or of perceived inclusion."

Meanwhile, reggaeton, a mixture of Caribbean reggae and Latin hip-hop, is all the craze with Anglos and Latinos. Puerto Rican artist Daddy Yankee is blowing up the mainstream music charts, and the Scottsdale lounges crank his most famous track, Gasolina. ("¡A ella le gusta la gasolina/Dame mas
gasolina!") ("She likes gasoline/Give me more gasoline!")

Mexican sodas and tortillas are everywhere, no longer limited to half-aisle ethnic sections in major grocery stores. Salsa outsells ketchup, with Americans shelling out nearly $700 million for the spicy stuff last year, according to Information Resources Inc., a Chicago-based research and consulting company.

Morales and Hickson, whose friendship dates to middle school in Tempe, represent this cross-pollination of pop culture and tastes.

Hickson grew up eating Mexican candy and making friends who rooted for the same football team. Morales grew up speaking Spanish at home and English at school, finding his equilibrium on the football field where he mixed with people of all colors.

They became best friends in high school and brothers in college. Their friendship is a microcosm of cultural change that is happening among younger people across the nation. To them, nationality isn't nearly as important as whose turn it is to buy the beer con limón.