Young Hispanics To Keep Shaping U.S. Landscape

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Are young Latinos truly bicultural? Sociologist Ruben Rumbaut of the University of California, Irvine has co-authored a landmark longitudinal study of children of immigrants. Are Latinos holding onto their cultures longer than European immigrants did? As part of the series, "2 Languages, Many Voices: Latinos In The U.S.," he talks to Renee Montagne about the study's findings.


We've just heard how hard Hispanic parents in West Liberty, Iowa are working to make sure their children are Spanish, even as Anglo children also learn Spanish. According to socialist Ruben Rumbaut, if history is any guide, trying to keep immigrant children speaking the same language as their parents is quite a challenge.

PROFESSOR RUBEN RUMBAUT: The first adult generation of immigrants ended up speaking survival-level English with an accent. You know, maybe think of Desi Arnaz in "I Love Lucy." The second generation, they remain bilingual, albeit their proficiency faded over time. And finally, the third generation, grandchildren, grew up speaking English only, perhaps with a few quaint vestiges - muchas gracias.

You know, and the overarching story remains essentially that which we have seen throughout American history; a three generational story of language death, which unfortunately is what has given the United States a reputation as a language graveyard.

MONTAGNE: Well, given that it is such a large and growing population, how are Latinos affecting the American mainstream?

RUMBAUT: It is a very youthful population. The median age of Hispanics or Latinos in the United States today is 27. By comparison, the median age of non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. is 41.

Consider, for example, their impact in the labor market. This young Hispanic population we've been talking about are coming of age in an aging society. The baby boomers, who are overwhelmingly native-born whites, already beginning this year are reaching age 65. So as that tremendous process of baby boom retirements and deaths takes place, they will be replaced by this new, young Latino and Asian populations. They will be increasingly the workforce of tomorrow.

So Hispanics are here to stay. And they're going to continue to shape the American landscape and ways that we don't even fully appreciate.

MONTAGNE: Rubin Rumbaut is a sociologist at the University of California, Irvine.

Tomorrow, will hear how Latinos are reshaping the American landscape through popular culture and advertising.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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