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Counties See Minorities Become the New Majority - Part II

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Counties See Minorities Become the New Majority - Part II


Counties See Minorities Become the New Majority - Part II

Counties See Minorities Become the New Majority - Part II

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Robert Bruegmann is a professor of urban planning at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Bruegmann talks about the changing cultural face of America's suburbs.


We've been talking about how immigration is changing America. I'm talking with residents of two communities in transition. Census data predict that by 2050, minorities will account for half the U.S. population. Increasingly, many immigrants are bypassing the cities for the suburbs.

Here to put all of that in perspective is Robert Bruegmann. He is a professor of architecture and urban planning at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He joins us from the studios of KCPW in Salt Lake City. Professor Bruegmann, welcome.

Professor ROBERT BRUEGMANN (Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Illinois): Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And the census data tell us that minority groups are growing, but, you know, that's been happening for a while. What makes these numbers so significant?

Prof. BRUEGMANN: Well, I think it's the different pattern that's very interesting, that earlier in the century, the pattern for immigration was from Europe, primarily. And even though the numbers were larger as a percentage, I think that what's happened now is they're from all over the world, and they're not just coming to the inner city. They're going almost directly out into the suburbs, which is very surprising considering that the pattern in the past had always been to arrive at the port of entry very close to the central city.

MARTIN: Is - the people who moved the suburbs first and bypassed the cities entirely, are they different from the people who go to the cities in terms of sort of their incomes, what they do?

Prof. BRUEGMANN: I think that there is a difference. I think that what we're seeing currently is that we have a lot of immigrants of the traditional kind who were very - had very little money. And very often, these are from Mexico, for example. But we also have a different kind of immigrant today - a very well trained immigrant from, particularly, places like the Indian subcontinent, where they already have a considerable amount of expertise, of job background. And they're the ones, I think, that are more likely to go to the suburbs. But I think that, actually, what's happened is just that we're so much more a suburban nation, so much a higher percentage of the population lives in the suburbs that it's almost inevitable that this would have happened.

MARTIN: And I don't know if you've been following this story as we have of the way some communities have been reacting negatively to their immigrant populations. And it's just interesting that in a lot of these communities, the immigrant population is very high. I mean, in some places, it's almost like 45 or 50 percent of the population. And not only that, these immigrants have created their own sort of economic activity - you know, stores, movie theaters as one of the - our guests mentioned earlier, that she lives in a community now where you can go and see Indian movies or movies in Hindu or Urdu.

I was wondering if you had an opinion about that, because, traditionally, of course, the attitude is that, you know, immigrants - that people resent immigrants because they're draining public services. But in these cases - places, it's very obvious that immigrants are also bringing a lot of economic activity. So what do you think the resentment's about?

Prof. BRUEGMANN: Well, I think that a part of this is just numbers. We had a huge percentage of immigrants of the early 20th century. In fact, the numbers, the percentages are even higher than today. It was 14, 15 percent. Today, we're no more than 12 percent immigrant - foreign-born, that is. I think that there always was a major problem in the United States trying to accommodate so many people from abroad. But I think that - to put this in perspective, I think that this unfortunately probably doesn't reflect the fact that, for the vast majority of immigrants, they come to the United States, they fit in rather easily, and can make this enormous contribution.

So, yes, it's true that the friction now seems to be at the forefront of people's minds. But I think maybe that's - that doesn't really reflect the overall picture, which has been that the United States has worked, as it has always worked in assimilating in an absolutely astonishingly efficient way, tremendous numbers of people.

MARTIN: If minorities account for half the U.S. population in, essentially, a generation or two, do you that that will change the way we think about that topic or we think about diversity in this country?

Prof. BRUEGMANN: Well, remember that that minority or that immigrant, by 10 years later has children that are in the public schools, will be considered a very much part of the United States. So the numbers that we're seeing -although they're larger than you saw in 1900, 1910 - it's still a smaller percentage then. So I have no doubt that we'll be able to see a similar kind of process where people become part of the mainstream.

MARTIN: Robert Bruegmann is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He joined us from the studios of KCPW in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Professor Bruegmann, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Prof. BRUEGMANN: Thank you very much for having me.

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