RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
All right, we know that Latinos make up one of the fastest-growing racial or ethnic groups in the U.S. But a new finding from the Pew Research Center suggests that the Hispanic population may not actually get as big as predicted. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang explains why.
HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Here's the key finding. About 1 in 10 adults with Hispanic parents, grandparents or other ancestors do not consider themselves Hispanic or Latino.
MARK HUGO LOPEZ: This is not a small phenomena. It's possible it'll continue to grow.
WANG: Mark Hugo Lopez is one of the researchers behind the study, which estimates this group includes close to 5 million people. Many of them say their background is, quote, "mixed" or their Hispanic roots are, quote, "too far back."
LOPEZ: They may not identify with all that's happening around an awareness of what Hispanic identity means, the politics associated with that and perhaps other aspects of Hispanic cultural identity, such as going to church or being a part of a quinceanera. Those things are just not part of their lives.
WANG: You may have heard of the phrase demographics are destiny, but when you're talking about racial and ethnic identity, you should never discount fluidity. That's what Lopez says some demographers may not have prepared for. Pew predicted that Latinos will make up a quarter of the U.S. population by 2065, but those projections are based on some assumptions, like that the rates of people of Hispanic ancestry self-identifying as Latino are fixed into the future. Lopez says this study shows that what it means to be Latino today is shifting.
LOPEZ: If people are trying to assess if somebody is truly Hispanic, one of those first things that does come up is, do you speak Spanish?
WANG: Take, for example, one of the Republican presidential debates last year with Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. When Cruz said...
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TED CRUZ: Marco went on Univision in Spanish and said he would not rescind President Obama's illegal executive amnesty...
WANG: And later, Rubio replied...
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MARCO RUBIO: Well, first of all, I don't know how he knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish. And second of all...
RUBIO: The other point that I would make...
CRUZ: (Speaking Spanish).
RUBIO: (Unintelligible) Ted Cruz...
LOPEZ: I think that that's what was happening with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Who is the more truly Hispanic candidate, and who's closer to their roots?
WANG: Mark Hugo Lopez says according to Pew's study, about 7 in 10 Latinos say to be considered Hispanic, speaking Spanish is not necessary. The survey results do emphasize one deciding factor for Latino identity. The further away people with Hispanic ancestry are from immigrant roots, the less likely they are to identify as Latino.
JODY AGIUS VALLEJO: It could mean that some people have a narrow idea of what it means to be Latino, and because they don't fit a particular stereotype you see in the media or espoused by politicians might make - some would think or feel that they aren't Latino.
WANG: Jody Agius Vallejo is a sociologist at the University of Southern California who served as an early consultant for Pew's study. Her research has focused on how Mexican-Americans have integrated into U.S. society.
VALLEJO: Many of my respondents who grew up in middle-class households without speaking Spanish or who didn't travel to Mexico frequently and who had lighter skin come to see themselves as closer to white, in part because they don't experience as much discrimination.
WANG: One of the questions Pew's survey asked people with Hispanic ancestors was, how would most people describe you, for example, if they walked past you on the street? Of those who identified as non-Hispanic, the majority did not say Hispanic or Latino. Instead, they said white. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News, New York.
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