A majority minority nation: that’s what the U.S. Census Bureau is projecting by the year 2042, according to new figures released last week. By midcentury, according to the government’s projections, Hispanics, Asians and blacks will outnumber non-Hispanic whites by about 32 million.
The statistics make for interesting headlines - and, no doubt, cause heartburn in certain circles - but the fact is: they are more or less meaningless. The problem in all such predictions is that they don’t take sufficient account of intermarriage and assimilation.
From our Founding as a nation, there have been those who worried that “foreigners” would overwhelm us and change our national character. Benjamin Franklin warned in 1751: “Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglifying them?”
It’s true, Germans are our largest ethnic group today - numbering 43 million in the last decennial Census - but so what? Despite German language schools - which enrolled as many as 600,000 students in 1900 - and even some efforts by German emigres to form a German ethnic state in Texas or Wisconsin in the 19th century, Americans of German ancestry all speak English today and are entirely integrated into the American mainstream.
Similar worries emerged in the early 20th century, when millions of Southern and Eastern Europeans flooded our shores. Madison Grant, a Yale-educated lawyer and leader in the eugenics movement, predicted, “in large sections of the country the native American will entirely disappear. He will not intermarry with inferior races and he cannot compete in the sweat shop and in the street trench with the newcomers.”
But Grant turned out to be spectacularly wrong. The progeny of those Italian, Polish and other immigrants succeeded in learning English, improving not only their own economic standing but that of all Americans. They also intermarried to an astonishing degree. Nearly three-quarters of young Americans of Italian ancestry were married to spouses of non-Italian ancestry in 1990 and the figures for Americans of Polish descent were even higher, according to sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee in their book, “Remaking the American Mainstream.”
And the same holds true for Asian-Americans and Hispanics today. Intermarriage is becoming the norm. About one-third of married Asian American males are married to non-Asian women, as are nearly half of Asian American females. Among U.S.-born Hispanics, the number is similar, with about one-third who are married to non-Hispanic spouses. And the number is higher among college-educated Hispanics, especially women, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
But I don’t need to consult a demographer to know what is happening in terms of intermarriage and assimilation in the United States; I can look at my own family. I am the daughter of a father whose family came to New Mexico from Spain in 1601, and a mother whose ancestors came from England sometime before 1800 and from Ireland in the mid-1800s. I married a man whose Jewish ancestors came from Poland and Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. One of our sons married a woman whose ancestors are Scots-Irish and German. Another of our sons married a woman whose mother was born in Ecuador and whose father came from Cuba.
Our eight grandchildren are a perfect reflection of the American Melting Pot. But in order to create the new American majority minority the Census Bureau has concocted, each of these children would have to be classified as Hispanic, even those who are only one-eighth Hispanic.
Isn’t it time we quit obsessing about race and ethnicity? America has successfully integrated millions of people from every region of the world. Every indication is that we are still doing so. The naysayers keep being proven wrong when it comes to the great American assimilation machine. Come 2042, these “majority minority” predictions will look as silly as Ben Franklin’s worries about Germans do today.
Linda Chavez is a nationally syndicated columnist.