Jess Nieto, "The Impact of Immigration on Future Public Policy": A paper presentation at the Chicano / Latino / Cubano Experience Conference : Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Centro de Estudios Sobre Estados Unidos, La Universidad de la Havana, Cuba, July 13-15, 1999

"The Impact of Immigration on Future Public Policy"

 A paper presentation at the Chicano / Latino / Cubano Experience Conference : Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow, Centro de Estudios Sobre Estados Unidos, La Universidad de la Havana, Cuba, July 13-15, 1999

Dr. Jess G. Nieto

Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation

1004 H Street, Suite F

Bakersfield, CA, USA 93304


FAX 661-322-3212

E mail:

In modern history, no country has attracted people from around the world like the United States.  In fact, it can be stated that the greatest human migration has occurred to the United States since 1815.  Millions of people have come to this country from all parts of the world.  Because the United States now has a population that reflects these tremendous migrations of people from all parts of the world, the diversity of languages, cultures, and socioeconomic levels has increased rather than decreased.  It is the position of this author that the increase of diversity will continue to add greater numbers of non-white population segments to the United States, and that this international movement of people into this country will not only enrich it linguistically, culturally, and economically, but that it will also create further racial and ethnic tensions and conflict in the future.  These enormous demographic changes will also result in significant public policy issues, debates, and conflicts in the future.

First, the paper will examine a number of historical periods which describe the three major immigration waves that contributed to the wide societal diversity.  During the arrival of each successive wave of immigrants was met with an intense pressure to assimilate, or Americanize, as it came to be known by the beginning of the 20th century. Even though there was intense pressures for assimilation, certain groups unlike the European immigrants, particularly Latino population segments, may have assimilated, but they also have retained unique linguistic and cultural identities.  This historical process which Latinos have experienced has given them a unique American insight as to what this population group desires as they and their offspring, and as we, as a nation, head into the 21st century.

Secondly, this paper will discuss the process by which an ethnic, social stratification system emerged from the major migratory patterns that this country experienced.  A discussion of the development of the historical sequence of intergroup contacts in this country will also describe the creation of a pattern of social “layers,” or a stratification system among this country’s ethnic groups.  This stratification system created inherently unequal and repressive conditions for the majority of ethnic and Latino members of our society. The development of America’s stratification system with the coming of so many immigrant groups to the United States also has witnessed the development of three major layers or tiers of groups where some groups became the dominant groups while other groups became the minority or ethnic groups of this country. The development of interethnic relationships will be discussed, and how the diversity in this country has also contributed to a ranking system in which groups at the top receive a disproportionate amount of this country’s resources, power, and prestige. Conversely, the groups at the bottom of the ranking system receive a disproportionately unequal amount of this country’s valued resources such as its wealth, power, and prestige.  Special attention will be given to the Mexicans or Latinos.

And lastly, the paper will examine the impact that further immigration will have on this country, and more specifically, on future policy matters. Immigration has become an incredibly provocative issue as we enter the 21st century, and the paper will discuss a number of issues that the author feels will constitute major challenges to our future.  More specifically, from an ideological perspective, a major philosophical and ideological challenge faces this country as we enter the 21st century: will we continue to be an essentially assimilationist nation adhering to the historical Anglo-conformity model, or will this country move more towards a cultural pluralistic society?

The Great Migrations

 There have been three great migrations of immigrants to this country starting in 1815.  The greatest migration in the history of the world have occurred in which millions of people came to this country and participated in the development of a new society.  There were many varied reasons for the arrival of such a large number of people to the shores of this country, but in general, there were three major historical factors which facilitated this immense movement of people.  Huge and dramatic changes in agriculture were one of the push factors that changed conditions in Europe.  Improved farming methods contributed to the surplus of food that in turn caused a population explosion.  The development of the potato in Ireland, for example, created a doubling of the Irish population.  In Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, due to the improvement of agricultural production and a surplus of food, the population doubled.  In addition to the improvement of agricultural methods, the farming of larger areas with fewer workers became a reality.  Consequently large landowners consolidated their landholdings and began to squeeze out the smaller farms.  And famine and food shortages, like in Ireland and Germany, also created a massive number of people who were forced to move in order to survive.   America became a strong attraction to these millions of people who were no longer needed or wanted in Europe. 

In America, the growth of cities and the changes taking place in the transformation from an agricultural nation to an industrial one also fueled the “pull” factors which attracted these immense numbers of people.  Since there was plenty of land available, and jobs were so plentiful, there were never any restrictions or problems (until the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882) with accepting new immigrants.  In addition to the numbers of immigrants that came “voluntarily,” there were large numbers that arrived as a result of “involuntary,” reasons.  Africans transported here due to labor demands while the South was developing its agricultural industry created a huge slave society completely dependent on slavery as an institution and the slave trade as a means to keep their society with a ready supply of labor.  Other “arrivals” to this country entered our country through conquest or annexation.  Native Americans were integrated into the fabric of this country against their will.  Intense efforts were initially instituted that attempted the annihilation of these people.  When it became obvious that these people would not easily be destroyed through our “Manifest Destiny,” ideological expansion efforts (ethnic cleansing by 20th century terms), the “any good Indian is a dead Indian,” policy was changed to transform the Indian into a “white” person at least in thought, culture, and language if not in skin color.

The Mexicans living in the territories ceded to the United States as a result of the Mexican War became American citizens, essentially in name only.  The relationship that developed between Mexicans and Anglos in the 19th century was through conflict, conquest, and internal colonialism (Acuña: 1972 and Moore: 1970). 

The first great migration occurred between 1820 and 1889 in which large numbers of people came from essentially western European countries consisting of the Great Britain, Ireland, Germany, France, and Scandinavian countries.  During this first great migration, the total number of people that immigrated here represented the largest in terms of comparison to the then existing total population of this country. 

The second massive migration took place during the period 1890 through 1924.  Immigrants from Eastern Europe (Hungary, Poland, Austria-Hungary), Italy, Russia (mostly Jews), and French Canada came to this country during this period.  It should also be noted that the great numbers of Mexicans that came during the Mexican Revolution of 1910 started during this period. It should be noted that due to the extreme racist tensions of the 1920’s which created the first major immigration legislation in 1924 (which turned out to be highly restrictionist and racist), and the Great Depression, that immigration greatly receded during this period.  It was not until 1946 after the Bracero Program had aided the United States during World War II in bringing guest workers from Mexico that the third immigration wave began.

The third immense immigration wave occurred during the period between 1946 to the present.  People from Mexico, Latin America, the Caribbean, the Philippines, China, Korea, and Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia) came to this country.  Although the great numbers of people rivaled the earlier population waves, these groups exhibited one major difference from the other groups: they were largely “non-white” populations.  And although the earlier waves of people had also troubled the “natives” of Americans because of their poverty, their different culture and language, and their general characteristics, they nevertheless were seen as “white.”  But the new waves of immigrants have been seen as a threat to this country by many groups of people. 

These three major immigration waves added 57 million new people to this country between 1820 and 1990.  These people came not just with their poverty, but also with their dreams, talents, ambitions, skills, and with their language and cultural traditions.  These diverse segments of people brought with them a desire to improve their conditions, and they competed directly with the “native” Americans.  (Nativists can be defined as previous immigrants who feel a superiority to the newly arrived immigrants, and who believe that the United States should be reserved for native-born Protestant whites. Nativists may also propose that all other groups be eliminated from this society.)

Most of the immigrants who came to this country initially clustered together in ethnic enclaves with others from their own background.  By forming ethnic enclaves or communities, they were able to form self-help associations of mutual aid and made significant efforts to preserve their language and their cultural traditions.  And while different waves of immigrants were arriving on our shores, the ebb and flow of immigration tended to coincide with the hot and cold periods of the U.S. economy. 

Before the American Civil War the two largest countries that fed the large waves of immigration to this country were Ireland and Germany.  The potato crop famines in Ireland and Germany fueled large numbers of immigrants to this country.  Because both groups had been politically active in their homelands, they also active in their new homes.  This had the effect of creating hostility against them by nativist Americans.

The development of the industrial sector in America after the Civil War greatly attracted additional numbers of new immigrants to this country.  New groups began to arrive, including huge numbers of Italians who also seemed to threaten the society built by previous generations of immigrants.  Competition for jobs, cultural and linguistic differences, and political challenges to the existing power structure brought new cries of anti-immigration to the halls of state legislatures and Congress. 

Table: Immigration to the US by Decade

Years                        Number                            Rate*

1820-1830               151,824                                1.2

1831-1840               599,125                                3.9

1841-1850             1,713,251                                8.4

1851-1860             2,598,214                                9.3

1861-1870             2,314,824                                6.4

1871-188               2,812,191                                6.2

1881-1890             5,246,613                                9.2

1890-1900             3,387,564                                5.3

1901-1910             8,795,386                              10.4

1911-1920             5,735,811                                5.7

1921-1930             4,107,209                                3.5

1931-1940                528,431                                0.4

1941-1950             1,035,039                                0.7

1951-1960             2,525,479                                1.5

1961-1970             3,321,677                                1.7

1971-198               4,493,314                                2.1

1981-1990             7,338,062                                3.1

Total                    56,994,014                                3.4

* Per 1,000 U.S. population

Source: U.S. Census Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1990 Statistical Yearbook 1991:39,47: U.S. Census Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1991:9.

The Development of a Social Stratification System in America

America has always been a multiethnic society.  Probably every population group on earth is represented.  Within the multiethnic nature of this country, there are many racial, religious, ”ethnic” and cultural groups.  For the purpose of defining “ethnicity” for this paper, it should be noted that the word “ethnicity” or “ethnic” was not in use in this country until the 1960’s.  English language dictionaries did not even include the word.  For the purpose of this paper and also to define what the word grew to mean during the 1960’s, ethnicity has come to define groups that have cultural traits, enjoy a sense of community, involve ethnocentrism, have ascribed membership, and maintain a sense of territoriality (Marger: 1993).

The word minority will also be used at times interchangeably with the word ethnic.  Minority groups in this country have also been defined as those groups which due to their cultural and/or physical characteristics, receive differential treatment or unequal treatment and are the targets of discrimination.  Hence, members of minority groups are apt to receive an inferior education, be discriminated by various societal institutions, enjoy less political power, and receive fewer economic rewards.  They are generally subjected to social injustice and indignities.

In the United States, there emerged a society that was not only multiethnic in nature, but also one in which a hierarchy or power and dominance was established. A strata of groups emerged from the arrival of the various populations that settled in the farms and cities of this nation.  In order to understand the nature of this strata of groups in our society, a brief explanation of how and when these groups arrived is also critical to understanding the relationships that occurred between them.

Ethnic stratification is the product of contact in the social stratification system between the different ethnic groups.  In the United States, the initial contact between the ethnic groups has been through voluntary immigration, involuntary immigration, annexation, or conquest.  Following a period of initial contact between ethnic groups in a society, a period of competition ensued.

After the initial contact and competition, a hierarchy of ethnic groups developed according to the manner in which the different groups first met (voluntary immigration, involuntary immigration, annexation, conquest), and a process of inequality developed according to where in the hierarchy the group was ranked.  Minority or subordinate groups have been ranked below the dominant group, and the dominant group has attempted to maintain maximum control.  And in multiethnic societies, the power of the dominant group has been based on its control of its society’s political and economic resources and its ability to shape the society’s norms and values.  Within the ranking system of our social stratification system, certain groups are at the top and certain groups are at the bottom.  There are three major groupings in the ranking system, according to Marger: 1993.

The top range or group is made up of the descendents of White, Protestant English, German, and other similar groups from Northwestern Europe, including Scandinavian groups.  For these groups, ethnicity plays no important role in their lives.

The second or intermediate group is made up of White Catholics of various national origins, Jews, and many Asians for whom ethnicity continues to play a role in the distribution of the society’s rewards and continues to influence social life.

The bottom range or group of made up of racial-ethnic groups like African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and some Asians.  For these groups, ethnicity continues to play an important role in their lives.

Historically in this multiethnic society, members of the lower range continue to receive unequal treatment.  They receive an unequal amount of this country’s valued resources, such as wealth, power, and prestige.  An examination of this country’s history and social relations reveals that this inequality has not been random but that an established, persistent, and institutionalized process.  In addition, it must be realized that the top range of groups, or the dominant groups, in this multiethnic society have made great efforts to maintain their place at the top of the ethnic hierarchy, and in many direct instances, at the expense of the other ethnic groups.

Prejudice, or the distorted, negative or exaggerated image of another group of people, is part of the dominant society’s tools to enforce and sustain its privileges.  And discrimination is when thoughts advance to the point where behavior in the form of discrimination is used as a threatening, offensive, abusive, or damaging matter against ethnic groups.  Sociologists maintain that prejudice and discrimination are tools used by the first tier to maintain and sustain control of the other layers of society.

In the ethnic stratification system of this country, the WASPs have maintained an ideological framework or ideological belief system to maintain control and to legitimize the system of inequality.  This ideological framework has been used to make everyone believe that the system is open, and that equal opportunities are provided for everyone to succeed.  If a group or individual does not succeed, the ideological system maintains that it is the fault of the group or the person for the failure. All that is needed is hard work, ambition, and the desire to improve ones condition.

The history of our country also reveals that minority groups have attempted to improve their conditions.  But they have been met with intense resistance and opposition.  Marger writes: “Through  immigration quotas and exclusionary measures, Indian removal acts, slave laws, institutionalized segregation, anti-labor regulations, voting restrictions, and an array of other measures, dominant interests have traditionally been protected.  Throughout American history, of course, these policies have all generated great controversy and conflict, and minority challenges have often met with success.  But concessions wrested from the dominant group have always been slow, costly, and incremental.”

Historically speaking, ethnic minorities have not had equal access to our societal resources and rewards.  The opportunity structure is clearly not equal, and the dominant group’s values of individualism, competition, and achievement favor those that are wealthy and have other resources. 


 The initial contact for many Mexicans with the United States was through conflict first in Texas 1838 and then with the Mexican War 1846-1848.  The relationship that developed between Mexicans and Anglos during the 19th century can be characterized by conflict, conquest, and internal colonialism (Acuña: 1972 and Moore: 1970).  Acuña states in Occupied America: “The Mexicans in the conquered territory became victims of a colonial process in which U.S. troops acted as an army of occupation.” Acuña described the relationship between Anglos and Mexicans with the following points:

  • The land of one people is invaded by people from another country, who later use military force to gain and maintain control.
  • The original inhabitants become subject of the conquerors involuntarily.
  • The conquered have an alien culture which the government imposed upon them.
  • The conquered become victims of racism and cultural genocide and are relegated to a submerged status.
  • The conquered are rendered politically and economically powerless.
  • The conquered feel they have a “mission” in occupying the area in question and believe that they have undeniable privileges by virtue of their conquest.

There are critics to the internal colonialism model who maintain that the majority of Mexican Americans and their descendents who came after 1900 more realistically approximate the immigration model of relationships between Mexican American and the dominant society, such as other European immigrants. But Mexicans who have come to the United States are coming to a land that had previously been Mexico.  Mexicans who today come to this country do not feel they are coming to a land that is entirely “alien.”  Culturally speaking, the political map of Mexico and the United States is not the same as the cultural map.  There are Spanish newspapers, radio stations, television networks, and other forms of mass communications that cater to them.  In fact, the majority of the Mexicans who come to this country have had some sort of continuous contact with the region in which their culture still flourishes.  McLemore states: “Aren’t such people more easily nearly “homecomers” than “newcomers?”

Alvarez (1985) states that it is more accurate to consider the people in this movement simply as migrants than immigrants.  There is a big difference between a European immigrant leaving his homeland, crossing a great ocean, and arriving in the United States, and a Mexican coming to a region en el norte with which he culturally and psychologically identifies, has friends and relatives, and where physically speaking, the territory between Mexico and the U.S. is continuous.

According to McLemore, it has been very difficult to accept the immigration model when it comes to Mexican American.  The problem is that members of the host society did not distinguish between the “colonized” Mexicans and the “immigrant” Mexicans.  The latter group could not function into the same kinds of jobs, housing, and subservience as the former.  From this perspective, Mexicans who have come to the United States since the Anglo American conquest – even those who have come since 1900 – have merely joined the ranks of the existing colonized Mexican American minority.  Assimilationists theorists may regard the large population movements of this century as “immigration” if they wish, but the similarities between the Mexican “immigration” and the European immigration are, from this standpoint, largely superficial. (McLemore: 1993).

Implications to Future Immigration

Each of the three migration waves has aroused great fears of nativist Americans concerning such issues as competition for jobs, possible non-loyalty to America, and the effects of foreign “radicalism.”  During the second great migration period, there was heightened concern regarding the physical differences of the new immigrants.  Developments in several fields of science aroused xenophobic fears in the nativist Americans who wished to preserve the white race from the inferior races.  Scientific racism, therefore, entered the picture in the debate over immigration.  The passage of the Quota Acts of 1921 and 1924 essentially restricted admissions on the basis of persons from the different countries who were already here.  These quota acts achieved the desired results of keeping certain types of groups out of the country.

In addition to the quota restrictions, the scientific community also added the use of intelligence tests (IQ) which yielded heated debate and controversy.  When the IQ tests scores of various groups were calculated, it was found that white Americans of colonial or old immigrant groups generally ranked higher than those of new immigrant groups.  It was discovered that whites scored higher than non-whites.  Racist Americans used this flawed scientific as an excuse to stop immigration from countries perceived as having inferior populations. 

As discussed earlier, the third wave of immigration has yielded people that have been largely from Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin America, and Asia.  The immigration from the Caribbean and from Spanish speaking countries has been considerable since the 1960s.

In 1965 the U.S. passed new immigration legislation (Amendment to the INA-Hart Cellar Act) which abolished the national origins quota principle and it raised the annual ceiling to 290,000.  It also set the Western Hemisphere limit to 120,000 and set the limit for each country of the Eastern Hemisphere to 20,000 thus creating a seven –tiered preference system. 

Then in 1986 the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) (Simpson-Rodino Act) provided legalization procedures, employer sanctions, and rules for agricultural workers.  And in 1990 the Immigration Act raised the annual ceiling to 700,000 immigrants, and it revised the naturalization requirements and enforcement procedures.

 The rising levels of immigration reflect the new immigration policy of 1965 and the emphasis that subsequent immigration acts (1986 and 1990) put on family reunification and kinship ties.  Some of the new immigrants are highly educated professionals (the percentage of professionals, managers, and executives ranges between 10% and 20%, depending on the country), while others are unskilled workers including farm workers, political refugees, skilled technicians, or the wives and children of U.S. citizens.  Mexico has accounted for one half of these new immigrants (from Latin America). 

During the latter half of the third great wave of immigration, concerns have been expressed that these new immigrants take jobs away from U.S. citizens.  The cry has also been that these newcomers slow the economy down and that they reduce the overall vitality of the economy.  The results of immense research have yielded impressive data about the positive impact of immigration to the regions where the new immigrants settle.  Latino immigrants tend to find jobs where few U.S. citizens dare to work.  These new immigrants have taken jobs or created new jobs in areas where the overall economy benefited.  Many of the new immigrants take low-wage jobs that have been unoccupied or deserted by nativist Americans, who, in turn move on to better jobs.   These new immigrants, for example, are the single most important consumer base for home ownership in California.  The housing industry of California has been fueled by home acquisition by these new homeowners.  The ripple effect on the rest of the economy is also felt because these families buy household appliances, furniture, and other household goods that in turn fuels the economy.  The positive impact on the economy has been comprehensively documented by a number of research studies.

Another fear that has been expressed by the nativist population is that the new arrivals place a heavy strain on taxes and services.  Critics of immigration declare that education and welfare programs suffer because of these new immigrants.  But reality is actually much more complex.  Research has actually delivered data that point out that immigrants actually pay more into the system than they take out.  Taxes are automatically deducted from their paychecks, the use by immigrants and their families of such things as unemployment compensation, Medicare, food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and Social Security is actually lower than their proportional contributions.  This is particularly true for undocumented immigrants whose use of services is limited by their vulnerable legal status (Bouvier & Gardner, 1986; Simon 1989; Heer 1996).  Research has also pointed out that an immigrant, over the span of his work life, takes out less than he puts into the system.  In essence, there is a windfall for the American economy.

An example of how the dominant tiers of society have reacted against the lower tiers (specifically undocumented immigrants) is California’s Proposition 187 that would deny educational, health, and other services to undocumented immigrants.  Legislation similar to this state initiative has been proposed at the federal level.  Although implementation was blocked by a federal judge, eventual judgment is still to be determined.  Other reactions against current immigration has been the federal efforts to decrease the flow of people across the border by increasing the size of the Border Patrol, using U.S. soldiers to supplement the Border Patrol, and building taller and wider walls along the border.

It is doubtful that these efforts will effectively stop immigration.  The demand for cheap labor, particularly in agriculture and in the factories of American cities, seems too strong to reduce immigration substantially.  Even the use of employer sanctions has not entirely stopped the flow and use of undocumented labor.

The fact is that the immigration to the United States is the process of a centuries old historical process that is an international phenomenon that spans the globe.  The industrial revolution has continued across the globe.  The U.S. and other countries across the world have continued to experience the spread and growth of the industrial and technological revolution.  Immigrants, as always, continue to follow the areas of greater opportunity.  Labor continues to flow from the less developed nations to the more developed nations. This flow is not accidental- it is determined by the differential rates of industrialization and modernization across the world.  Whereas in the 19th century the population movement was from Europe to the Western Hemisphere, today it is largely from the south to the Northern Hemisphere.  And the United States has continued to be the biggest draw for most immigrants.  By 1960 the U.S. had received half of all legal immigrants in the world; by the 1980s the percentage has risen to two thirds.  The percentage is expected to be even higher in the next century. (Rumbaut: 1991)

As a result of the changing demographic factors in the U.S., the racial and ethnic composition of this country could be drastically different in the 21st century, as compared to the 19th and 20th centuries.  (Bouvier: 1992,  Nieto: 1993) The large scale immigration of Latinos and Asians into the U.S. in the last tow decades has made a huge impact on the populations of several states.  This new immigration, mostly non-European in makeup, has reached numbers that approximate the classic immigration of the late 19th century and early 20th century.  From 1960 to 1990, over 15 million immigrants came to the U.S.  During the decade of the 1980’s alone, 7 million newcomers arrived in this country.

The arrival of so many different groups in such large numbers has raised questions about the type of ethnic makeup the United States will have in the 21st century.  According to a number of population projections, by around the year 2050 to 2080 (depending on the different scenarios), the majority of the U.S. population could be made up of non-European stock.  Hence, for the first time since the founding of this country, the dominant physical, cultural, and social fabric could be altered.  This theme has generated much debate and controversy, particularly by those who wish to perpetuate the Anglo-majority dominant society. 

As widely understood by social scientists by now, the United States never had a “melting pot,” but rather the existence of where the Anglo conformity ideology was the reality.  This assimilationist point of view is that in order to be a “good” American, one must become fully Americanized or assimilated.  This Americanization or assimilation had greatly been aided by the socializing role that schools played in American society.  Hence, to become an American meant that someone had to fit somewhat the pattern of life, standards of behavior, and racial type of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP model).  Therefore, assimilation has historically meant the adoption of the behavior, language, customs, values, and norms of the Anglo Americans.  More specifically, sociologists have written that Anglo conformity assimilation occurs when the following points have been met:

  • A minority group’s members exhibit a very high degree of cultural assimilation and, simultaneously, lose all or nearly all of their native culture.
  • The minority’s members exhibit a high degree of secondary assimilation in education, occupations, places of residence, civic participation, and mass recreation; and they participate little or not at all in such activities organized specifically for members of their ethnic group.
  • They exhibit a very high degree of primary assimilation.  They belong to private clubs, and friendship choices are made without reference to race or ethnicity.
  • They exhibit a very high degree of marital assimilation.  Choices of mates are made without reference to race or ethnicity.  (McLemore:1993)

White ethnic groups, primarily from Europe have generally approximated the Anglo conformity model of assimilation.  Groups from the second tier, mostly Jews, Irish, Italians, and other Eastern and Southern Europeans have also achieved high levels of assimilation.  With varying degrees, these groups of the second tier have achieved a certain amount of socioeconomic success and progress.  However, members of the third tier (African Americans,  Latinos,  Native Americans, many Asians and most people of color) have not collectively achieved socioeconomic progress to the same degree as the other members of the first and second tiers. 

Today millions of Americans pay lip service to the ideology or myth, the “melting pot,” where the blending of various cultures and groups would produce the “new American.”  Hirschman stated that “the melting pot is a political symbol used to strengthen and legitimize the ideology of America as a land of opportunity  where race, religion, and national origin should not be barriers to social mobility.” Of course, this belief has been more of a myth than a reality.  But there is now a new reality as a result of intermarriages that had virtually been non-existent prior to the 1960s.  Intermarriage has caused a number of racial, religious, and ethnic barriers to fall.  Intermarriage and new child-rearing practices are creating a new assimilation process as reported in “The New Face of America,” Time Magazine: Special Issue (Fall 1993):

This is not assimilation in the Eurocentric sense of the word: one nation, under White, Anglo Saxon Protestant rule, divided, with liberty and justice for some.  Rather it is an extended hypenation.  If, say, the daughter of Japanese and Filipino parents marries the son of German and Irish immigrants, together they may begat a Japanese-Filipino, German-Irish-Buddhist-Catholic-American child.”

Since 1970 the number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has grown from 310,000 to more than 1.1 million.  The incidence of births of mixed-race babies has multiplied 26 time as fast as that of any other group. 

During the last couple of decades a new debate has arisen.  To challenge the assimilationist ideology of the past, cries for cultural pluralism have arisen.  Within this framework, the Anglo conformity and the melting pot ideologies are not acceptable goals for America.  A true American,  goes  the argument, is a person who not only has mastered Anglo-American culture but also participates on an equal basis in such things as education, politics, and occupation.  The  idea behind cultural pluralism is that America should embody of cultural democracy or the idea that the members of an ethnic or minority group should be accepted as Americanized and assimilated without being required to disappear as distinctive groups.  In addition to people having political rights in a democracy, the idea of cultural democracy also suggests that people have a right to their distinct language and culture.  But at the same time, from a practical and functional perspective, they also have the need to learn the Anglo-American (English) and ways (behavioral or cultural assimilation) in order to survive and be successful in this country. 

A major question for America in the 21st century is, which will be the dominant ideology for the new Americans?  Will it be the continuation of the historic Anglo conformity model, or will it be a new form of “melting pot” or cultural pluralism?  The answer is not yet known, but it is known that major demographic trends have become apparent.  In addition, it can also be stated, that major policy issues have arisen in states like California and Arizona.  Proposition 187 can be seen as a backlash by opportunistic politicians like ex-Governor Pete Wilson, but they are also indicative of the phobic reactions to immigration by the general populace.  This is a classic example of the dominant group convincing a large enough percentage of the population of the supposed “dangers” of (undocumented) immigrants and then voting vindictively to eliminate public services.

Proposition 209, the anti-affirmative action initiative can also be seen in the same light.  The general population felt threatened by the “favoritism” or preferential treatment offered to minorities, and acted through this initiative to remove this public policy program.  The U.S Supreme Court also acted on this matter nailing another nail to the coffin of affirmative action.

Another example of a backlash against minorities, and in this case Latinos, was the anti-bilingual education initiative in California, Proposition 227.  This initiative exemplified the anti-immigration bias and it struck down an educationally beneficial pedagogy from public education. 

All of these examples demonstrate the arising activism of population groups that are fearful of the rising numbers of non-white Americans.  They represent to themselves politically correct forms of protest and dissent.  But at the same time these acts of collective societal behavior do not camouflage the reality of the reactions where large segments of the society’s first tier or dominant groups are attempting to keep their power, influence, ideology, and prestige intact.

The political implications with Proposition 187, for example, also had a galvanizing impact on ethnic and minority voters.  Many persons who had never bothered to become citizens, register to vote, and then participate in elections, did so in record numbers never before seen.  Our Heritage of America offices of citizenship in several states were flooded with requests for assistance for citizenship as were office across the country of other community-based organizations.  This historical process, of course, had incredible and positive effects on local, regional, state, and even national elections.  A number of research efforts have adequately documented the results.

There will continue to be cries that the continued arrival of new immigrants is a threat to the nativist language, English.  Continued efforts attacking non-American languages, and efforts to make English the official language will continue.  The official English proponents also will want to continue to place severe limits on bilingual and multicultural education. Once again, these are merely efforts by the dominant population to fight what they perceive as the erosion of their power, influence, and prestige. 

And America has also seen a frightful increase in “hate crimes.” The list is endless, and just when one thinks there is a major pause, another horrible incident is reported across America.  Beatings, murders, and other forms of physical intimidation have occurred against non-whites in what can only be explained as a dysfuncional reaction to the increase of non-whites and the perceived danger they represent to whites. 

Most of the media attention and publicity have generally been directed to the violent ethnic conflicts and confrontations.  But non-violent conflict “often takes the form of political, economic, or cultural repression of ethnic minorities and includes restrictions on voting, burdensome taxes, exclusion from certain professions, residential isolation, educational quotas, prohibitions on the use of ethnic language, and the restrictions on religious worship. (“Ethnic Conflict And Refugees,” Refugees, No. 93, United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, December 1993.)

The New Intellect of the 21st Century

Within the educational arena of California and the rest of the country, it will be vitally important for our entire society to develop the “new intellect” or the “new brain power” of the next century.  Our future work force will have to be educated to comprehensively understand our future’s majority population. The changes in the demographic fabric of our society are already causing immense changes in the attitudes, needs, and in the challenges confronting us. The impact on public policy matters and issues as we witness the gradual but inevitable “browning of America,” with these enormous demographic transformations, forces us to consider the decisions that must be made in order to respond to these challenges.   It is now widely agreed that due to current demographic projections that within the next three of four decades, the majority of the population of our area, the state, and the region, will be of Chicano/Latino/Mexican background.

There is now a need in our schools, colleges, and universities in developing a comprehensive understanding of our Chicano/Latino population.  We must be aware that the planning for the education and the training of the “intellect” of the next century and the next millenium must commence now.  The new societal “intellect” or “new brain power” of the upcoming century must incorporate the history, the needs, and the comprehensive understanding of this complex segment of the American mosaic. Chicano/Latino Studies classes must be given a priority commensurate with the changing demographics in our community and in California

The education and health of this population will assume gargantuan implications to the rest of society.  A well educated and healthy population will constitute a productive sector of the society as opposed to an uneducated and unhealthy one which would be an economic drain to the rest of the minority white society. Public policy decisions could take into account these issues particularly through the electorate. 

A major segment of today’s workforce, the baby boom generation, will start to retire by the year 2010.  This generation will probably want the same type of retirement benefits that they saw their parents receive. Since older Americans vote more than younger ones, these old baby boomers will probably want to vote for themselves what they consider to be just rewards for their contributions to our society after a life of work and paying taxes and social security.   But it means that the working force and the majority population of the next century, which will be ethnic minorities of which the majority will be Latinos, will be asked to shoulder the retirement economic responsibilities of the retired baby boomers, particularly as it relates to Medicare, and social security.  There could be a profound resentment by the Latino work force to pay a higher percentage of their income for a retired white population which Latinos felt did not treat them kindly in previous decades.  This conflict could be quite severe.  If the Latino majority population is educated and healthy, they will be able to contribute towards the secure retirement and maintenance of this huge population segment.  But if the Latino population is neither adequately educated nor healthy enough to be able to economically contribute towards the well being of our society, the entire state could suffer incalculable consequences.  This scenario has been proposed by writers such as David Hayes Bautista who argue that it is critically important for the state and the region to respond to this potentially disastrous future scenario by developing educational programs to train our 21st century intellect or “new brain power.”

The preparation and education, therefore, of this enormously important segment of the population takes on an incredible urgency at the beginning of the 21st century. One field of study critically vital to the education of la raza is Chicano/Latino Studies.  Chicano/Latino Studies is the interdisciplinary study of the history, heritage, problems, economics, politics, and culture of this American population segment.

Educational institutions of higher education must respond in developing programs and classes that address the future implications of having a population where the majority of the populace is of Chicano/Latino/Mexican derivative.  It is not an exaggeration to say that students with interests in teaching have been greatly aided in taking Chicano/Latino Studies classes.  An example where the increasing diversity in California has impacted policy decisions is seen where the California State Department of Educational now requires current teachers and new teachers entering the teaching profession take courses to obtain the CLAD Certificate (Cross Cultural & Language  Academic Development). 

Other students who will benefit from taking Chicano/Latino Studies courses are those entering a variety of occupations, including urban planning, social work, school administration, business, law, criminology, foreign service, education, and other related fields.  And, of course, majors in other fields such as history, sociology, art, psychology, literature, anthropology, philosophy, and music who wish to add additional scope to their field of study will benefit immeasurably from taking Chicano/Latino Studies classes.

It will be particularly important to recognize that working in a society where the majority of the population will be Hispanos, that Chicano/Latino Studies will be particularly beneficial for those that wish to receive training that will give them cultural and linguistic effectiveness (intercultural effectiveness) to work in the Chicano community in a variety of public institutions and agencies.

There are many ominous signs and patterns still observable regarding the efforts by the dominant society regarding its treatment of its ethnic minorities.  Questions as to how as to how the growing ethnic groups of the future will treat the future numerical minority, white Americans, is still to be seen.  It can only be hoped that the treatment of white Americans by the eventual majority non-whites will be better than the experience the non-white ethnic groups received in the first 200 plus years of this nation.  It is very important for ethnic groups- and Americans in general- to think that ethnic diversity, contact, competition, and conflict will continue.  But rather than hope for an elimination of ethnic and racial conflict in the future, which may be unrealistic, perhaps Americans can hope and work towards developing ways in which our society can manage the conflict better than we have in the past. 


Acuña, Rodolfo.  Occupied America: The Chicanos Struggle Toward Liberation.  San Francisco: Caufield, 1972.

Alvarez, Rodolfo.  “The “Psycho-Historical and Socioeconomic Development of the Chicano Community in the United States,” Social Science Quarterly 53:920-942. 1973.

Bouvier, Leon.  “International Migration: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” Population Bulletin 32 (4):3-40, 1979.

------------, Peaceful Invasions: Immigration and Changing America.  Lanham: University Press of America, 1992.

Gordon, Milton.  Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1964.

 Healey, Joseph F. Race, Ethnicity, Genger, and Class.  Second Edition.  Pine Forge Press.  Thousand Oaks, California, 1998.

Hirschman, Charles.  “America’s Melting Pot Reconsidered.”  Pp. 397-423 in Ralph Turner and James Short, Jr. editors.  Annual Review of Sociology.  Palo Alto: Annual Reviews, 1983.

Marger, Martin N.  Race and Ethnic Relations: American and Global Perspectives, 3rd Edition.  Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1993.

McLemore, Dale S. Racial and Ethnic Relations in America.  Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1993.

Moore, Joan, “Colonialism: The Case of the Mexican Americans,” Social Problems 17:463-472, 1970.

Nieto, Jess G. “Introduction.” In Nieto, Jess and Patricia Rainey, co-editors.  Under Fire: Voices of Minority Males. Vol. 1- Culture Specific Agents and High Risk Health Behaviors and Vol. 2- Cultural Influences and Human Services Issues. Heritage of America Publishing. Bakersfield, California, 1993.

“The New Faces of America: A Special Issue,” Time Magazine (Fall 1993).

United Nations Commissioner For Refugees. “Ethnic Conflict and Refugees.”  Refugees No. 93, December, 1993.

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