“Official English” efforts and anti-bilingual initiatives won’t halt the spread or acceptance of the Spanish language in this country, a survey of U.S. Hispanic leaders suggests.
Riding a tide of multiculturalism, Hispanics are on their way to becoming the largest minority in the United States by 2010 and a quarter of the population by 2050.
Their burgeoning numbers will be accompanied by increased political clout and growing acceptance of Spanish as the second most important language in the United States, Hispanic leaders predict in a report released yesterday by Public Agenda and the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.
As a result, they also expect a “backlash” of growing anti-Hispanic sentiment.
“Clearly, we’ve already become a much more visible factor in politics and the economy,” the report quotes one leader as saying. “But with that comes another dimension of the problem: Many Americans of good will – not just white supremacists – will become very spooked. There will be more bigotry. . . .”
Even the increased acceptance of Spanish will have a downside for Hispanics, according to another leader: “I think Spanish will become the second language, but reluctantly . . . what happened in Miami – where people were upset about all the Spanish language signs – will be happening a lot more.”
Eric Stone, director of research for the advocacy group U.S. English,
“If by increased acceptance of Spanish that means Hispanics in the United States are less likely to learn English, that will have tragic consequences both for the individuals who cut themselves off from opportunities because of a lack of English skills, and for our national unity.”
“Hispanic leaders appear to be out of touch with the general Hispanic population,” he continued. “Hispanics in California are poised to reject Spanish language education in favor of English immersion for their children.”
Voters will decide Proposition 227, which would abolish bilingual education in California, next month.
The question of what to call Hispanics proved controversial in the survey.
One respondent objected to the phrase “Latin Americans” and said the word “Hispanic” is a term “to fill a U.S. need to categorize and label a group of people the U.S. doesn’t know what to do with or call. It assumes a homogeneity that is not there.”
Among other findings of the survey:
* Domestic affairs are the foremost concern, and improving education was the top priority for 95 percent of respondents.
* Leaders believe Hispanics should be more influential on U.S. policy in Latin American but shouldn’t contradict it.
* They believe the U.S. generalizes about Latin America, although each country is different. “Most Americans think Central America is Iowa,” one respondent said. “There is an ignorance, people don’t pay attention, and this allows faulty policies.”
The New York-based Public Agenda researches average citizens’ views on policy. The Tomas Rivera Policy Institute is a Hispanic think tank with offices in Claremont, Calif., and Austin, Texas.
A total of 454 Hispanic leaders responded to the mail survey late last year. They included journalists, public officials, business leaders, academics and representatives of nonprofit organizations.
U.S. Hispanic leaders’ views on trends most likely to affect their community.
Increased political influence: 87%1
Increased anti-Hispanic sentiment: 80%
Expanded economic opportunities: 77%
Greater attentiveness to Hispanic affairs: 71%
Increased acceptance of Spanish language: 66%
More unified Latino/Hispanic identity: 64%
Percentage saying very or somewhat likely
Source: Public Agenda and Tomas Rivera Policy Institute