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William Wilberforce, the British parliamentarian and abolitionist, told his colleagues, “Having heard all of this, you may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.”

Sunday, January 20, 2008

ARE LATINOS MINORITIES?

Latinos are now America’s largest minority.

I have one question.

Why?

No, not the numbers. I understand about the birth rate and the immigration. I know that there are 37 million Latinos in America and 36 million blacks and that there are more Latinos than blacks. The numbers are easy.

What I don’t understand is why Latinos are a “minority.”

Italians aren’t. Germans aren’t. Poles aren’t.

Why are Latinos?

Why has one group immigrating to this country from a non-English background been partitioned into minority status while others have merely learned the language and the culture and fit in?

What’s different about Latinos?

Personally, I don’t think there is a difference.

Except in attitude.

I think Latinos are minorities in America because they want to be. And because they typically make choices which assure and perpetuate their “minority” status.

Of course, “Latino” is a very small word for a large and varied group of people. From dozens of countries and scores of cultures, they are very different types of people. And their experiences in America have tremendous variability. My opinion is based on a generalization, but it is a largely accurate generalization.

And that is that Latinos tend to cling to Spanish as their prime language. They also strongly identify with their family’s nation of origin and cling to its traditions and attitudes.

Which won’t work.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when in America, do as the Americans do. Or forever be a minority.

That may not sound hospitable, but it’s the way it is.

Many nationalities and language groups have immigrated to the United States. Yet they are not minorities. Even if they are darker skinned. Some Italians, for example, are as olive-skinned as some Latinos. Yet Italians became a successful part of the American mainstream within a generation.

That is because they became American.

They learned the language and, though they retained significant aspects of their culture, their allegiance and identification became American.

If Latinos are to stop being minorities, they must do the same.

They must learn English. They must master English. They cannot and will not advance without doing so. No one or no group can.

But instead of promoting English, many Latino interest groups demand government and business services be provided in Spanish. That effectively segregates Latinos from both society and success.

Additionally, many Latinos retain a primary personal identification with their family’s home country. Even, sometimes, after two and three generations in this country. Heritage is good, but the past can’t be master of the present. And where you’re from is not as important as where you are.

Many people of Irish, German or Italian descent are very proud of their heritage, and yet they are Americans first – in every way. Newly arrived Latinos must strive to be the same.

And if they do, they will be better for it.

More importantly, America will be better for it.

If Latinos stop being “minorities” and become a part of the mainstream – as some already and successfully have – the nation will be strengthened and pushed forward by their vitality and virtue. But if they remain minorities, the country will be increasingly divided and group priorities will continue to interfere with national interests.

It may seem a minor distinction, but it’s not. Much is riding on it.

The goal cannot be to Hispanicize America, but to Americanize Hispanics. That may sound culturally arrogant, but it’s a reality. We’re looking to strengthen America, not build another Quebec.

Which may sound like chastising. But it’s not. It’s the sound of opportunity.

Because as long as Latinos are an American minority they will never fully realize the American dream. But when they wade into the mainstream and play by its rules, bringing their own particular strengths, they will rise to the heights of every part of American society.

Many Latino cultures place a premium on two foundations of American culture: Work and virtue. In this country, good people who work hard come out on top.

There is no reason Latinos can’t do that in increasing numbers.

But first they will have to stop being Mexicans or Puerto Ricans or Peruvians. They will have to stop being Latinos.

In the same way that Germans and Italians had to stop.

Like their neighbors, they will have to become Americans.

Not minority Americans.

Just Americans.


- by Bob Lonsberry © 2008

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