The Census updates released during the past couple of weeks paint a dynamic and powerful picture of the growing influence of Latinos in the U.S. According to the official government numbers, Latinos are driving as much as half the growth of the entire U.S. population, surpassing original estimates.
Latinos Take Washington
But perhaps the most important development coming out of this decennial population count is the stronger Latino political clout as Washington and the rest of the country get ready for the 2012 President election. Next year will signal the strongest political year yet for Hispanics whose voting prowess will surpass the 20 million mark.
The double-digit growth of Hispanic voters in the past ten years is driven mostly by U.S.-born Latinos. Equally significant is that much of the Latino growth is coming from States like Florida, Texas, Nevada and Washington, which have gained electoral votes based on a population surge driven by Latinos. Simply put, Latino votes will make election-day television maps a lot more contested and interesting going forward.
A New Face and Voice
The growth of U.S. born Latinos is important not only from a political perspective but also from an important social and cultural perspective as native born Latinos leverage their mainstream exposure and influence to re-frame the broader story of Latinos in the U.S. The most important shift I envision is one around the assertiveness and visibility as the community steps more boldly on the mainstream stage.
The following are some trends presented by the Census that will become bigger during the next ten years and signal the next wave of Latino presence in the U.S.
A New Latino Mainstream
1. Latinos in the heartland. While Latino population growth will continue in key states like California and Texas, an interesting development is the meteoric population growth in non-traditional Latino states like Indiana and Ohio. Expect some speed bumps along the way, but overall this paves the way for a true national Latino presence. Interesting things will come from this, such as the rising popularity of country music among Latinos. So a Latino Garth Brooks should not be a surprise in the years to come.
2. A multigenerational experience, with second-generation U.S.-born Latinos leading growth and influence. The Latino experience is an immigrant experience, with the expected all-American cycles of recent arrival sacrifices and subsequent native-born successes. This multigenerational dynamic will see more U.S. born Latinos creating a new identity and opportunities, while still nurturing their connection to their broader Spanish dominant base (many of them parents, and family). Spanish-dominant and recent arrivals Hispanics will still play a significant if somewhat lesser role, and they will benefit from the greater access procured by a new generation of U.S. born Latinos.
3. They get political. The rise in U.S. born Latinos and greater turnout in elections in key states will usher a tidal wave of new Latino leaders at the regional and national level. Some young political stars on the rise to keep an eye on include San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro as well as Junior Senators Marco Rubio from Florida and Jamie Herrera from Washington. Latinos will need this representation as the community, despite their progress, still faces daunting challenges around lack of education, access to quality healthcare, and jobs as they've been hit hardest by the recession.
4. They're in the game. Republican successes in the past mid-term elections (record number of Latino Republicans elected) will force the party to address the immigration conundrum, bring more Latinos on the forefront, and overall develop a more nuanced approach to engage them. This in turn will put Democrats somewhat on the defensive in order not to lose a group that's been consistently loyal. Be on the lookout for more Latino political appointments. And a VP or Presidential offering might not be too far off in the future.
5. Latinos in the Media. A big challenge in presenting Latinos in a more complete fashion has been the lack of Latino representation in the newsrooms. Look for media organizations struggling to grow audiences and evolve business models to cater more to English-dominant Latinos looking for more relevant stories and better representation of their ilk. Also look for Spanish language media like Univision to explore ways to leverage their brand equity and create English content for Latinos and crossover audiences.
6. Stronger crossover appeal. The 1990s ushered the so-called Latino pop explosion of Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez. Expect a lot more of this as Generation Dora (one out of every four kids is Latino) grows up and impact entertainment and consumer marketing with their unique culture and talents. Expect a lot more Latino-influenced products, entertainment properties and more. Corporate America should find ways to tap into this energy as they craft brand stories and experiences.
The trends listed above are just some of the ways Latinos will be helping to redefine the ever evolving American landscape. This is not different from what groups like the Irish and Italians have done over time. The different with Latinos is the size of their population and the continued fresh cultural energy from Latin American. Detractors should fear not, all indicators point at Latinos assimilating to the mainstream in a healthy fashion while still bringing the best of the culture for all to enjoy. Cheers to that!
* population data via U.S. Census, Pew Hispanic Center.