Redefining America: Key Findings from the 2006 Latino National Survey
Latinos constitute 13.2 percent of the United States population and their proportion of the population is expected to reach 22.5 percent by 2030. While 2/3 of Latinos are foreign-born, the high Latino birthrate means that the second generation is growing faster than the first; that is, more Latinos are being born in the United States than are immigrating to this country. The 2006 Latino National Survey, which included 8,634 respondents from 15 states, was the first such national study since 1989 and indicated the great changes in the Latino community since that year. In a program organized by the Division of United States Studies, the researchers released their first report of key findings from the survey.
One question addressed by the LNS was how Latinos identify themselves: as Americans? as Latinos? as members of particular national groups? Prof. John Garcia reported that 2/3 of the survey's respondents identified themselves with the United States. The respondents reported multiple identities, with Latino being only one of them. When forced to choose only one identity, the number of first generation of immigrants who answered "American" was low but it increased greatly for Latinos born in this country. High percentages thought of themselves in a pan-ethnic context, and the doubling of such identification since 1989 holds implications for the possibility of Latinos as a political force. Interestingly, a higher sense of pan-ethnicity was found among women, among Latinos/Latinas who identified themselves as Democrats and moderates rather than as liberals, and among those with more years of education, more involvement in community activities, and more regular media use.
Addressing the question of racial identity, Prof. Valerie Martinez-Ebers reported that 67.2 percent of the respondents identified themselves as of "some other race" rather than white or black, and 51 percent said that Latino/Hispanic is an entirely separate race. In looking at factors that inform racial identity, the survey found a correlation with skin tone. Those who said they were of a lighter skin tone were more inclined to consider themselves white and to have a particularly strong identification with being American.
Prof. Luis Fraga reported that registered Latinos overall and Latinos born in the United States described themselves as Democrats rather than Republicans by a rate of two to one. Respondents who were naturalized citizens, however, were equally divided between the parties, and 25.7 percent described themselves as independents. While the Iraq war was cited by a plurality of the respondents – 30 percent of Latino citizens and 33.2 percent of non-citizens – as the most important issue facing the nation, they called illegal immigration the greatest issue of concern among Latinos, with education and schools following close behind. Democrats had greater confidence in their party's ability to handle the issues of most importance than did Republicans. Overall, their responses suggest there is issue consistency among Latinos, but they diverge on the solutions.
Do Latinos see themselves as competitive or having commonalities with other racial groups? States such as Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and Iowa are emerging as the new frontier for the Latino population, which prompted the exploration of Latino inter-group relations in these states in comparison to states which have traditionally held large Latino populations. Respondents in seven states (three states that traditionally have large Latino populations and four non-traditional states), as Prof. Rodney Hero reported, thought they had more in common with African Americans than with whites. While replies varied from state to state, 46 percent to 57 percent said they had "some" or "a lot" in common with African Americans in the areas of job opportunities, educational attainment, and income. Only 25-28 percent saw "strong" competition with African Americans in getting jobs; 25-27 percent saw such competition in access to education and quality schools, and 28 percent found it in access to city or state government jobs. In answer to the question, "How much does [Latinos] doing well depend on African Americans doing well?," over half the respondents replied "some" or "a lot."
Speaking about "the decline of transnationalism," Prof. Michael Jones-Correa noted that immigrants to the United States generally loosen connections with their home countries over time. The survey demonstrated that Latinos are following this precedent. Contact with family and friends, remittances to home countries and plans to return to the country of origin decline markedly the longer Latinos stay in the United States as well as across generations. Seventy-five percent of Latino immigrants report Spanish as the primary language of media use during their first year in the United States. From that point on, the use of English increases dramatically, with a large majority emphasizing the importance of speaking English (as well as looking white and being Christian) as part of being American. Prof. Jones-Correa speculated that this is a result of Latinos eventually becoming socialized in the United States. Without giving up their heritage, what Latinos want, simply, is to be American.
For more information about the Latino National Survey, please see:
Drafted by Acacia Reed and Philippa Strum
Philippa Strum, Director, Division of U.S. Studies 202-691-4147