The fast-growing U.S. ethnic group isn't an ethnic group at all. It's a mishmash of many different groups. Herewith, a guide to the nation's 17 major Latino subcultures
BY LINDA ROBINSON
he growing proportion of Hispanics in the U.S. population constitutes one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in American history. The number of Hispanics is increasing almostfour times as fast as the rest of the population, and they are expected to surpass African-Americans as the largest minority group by 2005. It's projected that nearly I of every 4 Americans will be Hispanic by the year 2050, up from 1 in 9 today. Yet other Americans often have no clear idea of just who these 29 million people are.
One reason is that the label Hispanic obscures the enormousdiversity among people who come (or whose forebears came) from two dozen countries and whose ancestry ranges from pure Spanish to mixtures of Spanish blood with Native American, African, German, and Italian, to name a few hybrids. While most are bound by a common language, Spanish, many Hispanic-Americans speak only English. This diversity helps explain why Hispanics' political clout remainsdisproportionately slight. Hispanics even disagree on what they want to be called; most identify themselves by original nationality, while others prefer the term Latino.
A common Latino subculture doesn't really exist in the United States. True, there are some pockets of pan-Hispanic melding in major cities, and occasional alliances are struck on specific issues; with time, the differences may merge intoa shared Latino identity. But for the present, it makes more sense to speak of Hispanics not as one ethnic group but as many. Mexicans are the largest, at 63 percent of the total Hispanic population, yet even they vary by region and experience.
How many Hispanic subcultures exist in the United States today? Ethnologists are bound to differ on this question, but U.S. News puts the number at 17. Wehave taken into account the largest communities as well as the smaller (yet, in our unscientific judgment, most culturally distinct) ones. What follows is an overview and taxonomy of the 17 major Latino subcultures in the United States, listed by geographic region.
Hispanics represent 30 percent of the population in California today and by 2020 are projected to outnumbernon-l-Hispanic whites there. Many Latinos, of course, migrated to California back when it was still a part of Mexico. But more than 80 percent of Southern California's Hispanics came after 1970. In 1996, newly naturalized Latinos voted at higher rates than the general population. The galvanizing event was 1994's passage of Proposition 187, which sought to end school and health services for illegalimmigrants. (A federal judge has blocked implementation of Prop. 187; the matter is expected to be appealed up to the Supreme Court.)
1. Immigrant Mexicans. Newcomers to Los Angeles traditionally settle in enclaves like East L.A., but in the past decade they've also poured into low-income black areas like South Central and Compton as well as Huntington Park, a formerly Anglo neighborhood that had becomea ghost town. Ahora es Me.xico," says a man standing with his son at the corner of Florence and Pacific while his wife buys tamales and chicken in mole from a huge takeout store. "None of this was here when I came 15 years ago;' he says. nodding at the Spanish-named car dealerships, shoe stores, bridal shops, and supermarkets stretching for blocks.
2. Middle-class Mexicans. Many MexicanAmericans in California have moved up the socioeconomic ladder, sometimes in a single generation. Overall, two thirds of Latinos in the United States live above the poverty line; half of Southern California's native Latino families, and one third of those from abroad. are middle class. New arrivals often hold two jobs, leveraging themselves or their children into such middle-income occupations as...