Recently, the idea that Latinos shouldn’t receive focused political attention because eventually, like Italian and Irish immigrants before them, they will eventually assimilate and become “white” has been tossed around. Particularly, this idea has been tossed around by Jeb Bush. In an editorial in HispanicallySpeakingNews, Nicolas Mendoza notes:
It’s instructive that the Irish and the Italians are the examples of immigrant assimilation that Bush uses. What about East and South Asian immigration, or Arab immigration? It would be hard to make a case that any of these groups, who have all had distinctly successful economic assimilation histories, are considered or will ever be considered “white”…while it’s heartening that there are Republicans willing to praise the successful assimilation of Hispanic immigrants, the underlying political issue that remains unexplored by members of the GOP is their party’s continued reliance on racial polarization as an electoral strategy. Even as successive generations of darker-skinned Hispanics lose their accents and fully assimilate in their own way into American culture and society, they probably still won’t be considered white.
I think this debate is backwards from the get-go. It’s not just that Latinos are going to become white, but that the U.S. will — culturally and genetically, as well as politically — become more Latino. When you have such a large percentage of your population, 1 out of 6 by some estimates, you can’t get off by just saying that Latinos are going to become white.
Let’s go back to the Irish example. How did St. Patrick’s Day become a national holiday? It wasn’t because Irish immigrants simply became white, but rather, because they mixed in with everyone else in such a way as to nationalize an important cultural holiday. What about Italians, did pizza (I know it’s an Americanized food, but for the sake of example) just become a national staple because Italian immigrants forfeited their culture to “become white”? Not really.
The debate on Latinos in the U.S., and their effect on the national and political direction of the country isn’t going away anytime soon. For that reason it’s important to look at the assimilation process as a two-way street because, quite frankly, that’s what it is.[Photo Courtesy iStockPhoto]