Hispanics and the American Dream
President of the Center for Equal Opportunity in Washington, D.C., Linda Chavez is also the author of Out of the Barrio: Toward a New Politics of Hispanic Assimilation as well as a weekly column for USA Today. She often writes for other publications, including Reader’s Digest and the New Republic, and she regularly appears on The McLaughlin Group, CNN & Co., Equal Time and The NewsHour with Jim Lebrer.
In the past, Ms. Chavez has served as White House director of public liaison, executive director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute, and editor of the American Federation of Teachers’ quarterly journal, American Educator. She is currently at work on her second book, which examines the impact of the feminist movement on social policy.
In this month’s issue, Center for Equal Opportunity President Linda Chavez shatters the myth that Hispanics are a permanent underclass and describes the largely untold story of their successful assimilation into American society and their important contribution to our economy. Ms. Chavez participated in Hillsdale College’s Shavano Institute for National Leadership seminar, “The future of American Business,” in Chicago last May. This seminar was sponsored by the Edward Lowe Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to free enterprise education.
The more than 21 million Hispanics now living in the United States are fast becoming the nation’s largest minority group. Some demographers can already see the day when one of three Americans will be of Hispanic descent. Will this mean a divided nation with millions of unassimilated, Spanish-speaking, poor, uneducated Hispanics living in the barrios? Well, here is one reply:
Each decade offered us hope, but our hopes evaporated into smoke. We became the poorest of the poor, the most segregated minority in schools, the lowest paid group in America and the least educated minority in this nation.
This pessimistic view of Hispanics’ progress offered in 1990 by the president of the National Council of La Raza, one of the country’s leading Hispanic civil rights groups-is the prevalent one among Hispanic leaders and is shared by many outside the Hispanic community as well. Hispanics are widely perceived as the dregs of society with little hope of participating in the American Dream.
The trouble with this perception is that it is wrong. The success of Hispanics in the United States has been tremendous. They represent an emerging middle class that is a valuable addition to our culture and our economy. However, their story has been effectively suppressed by Hispanics advocates whose only apparent interest is in spreading the notion that Latinos cannot make it in this society. This has been an easy task since the Hispanic poor, who, although they only constitute about one-fourth of the Hispanic population, are visible to all. These are the Hispanics most likely to be studied, analyzed, and reported on, and certainly they are the ones most likely to be read about. A recent computer search of stories about Hispanics in major newspaper and magazines over a twelve-month period turned up more than 1,800 stories in which the words Hispanic or Latino occurred in close connection with the word poverty. In most people’s minds, the expression “poor Hispanic” is almost redundant.
IMPRIMIS, November 1996 Volume 25, Number 11