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Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future
Of greater significance are the meanings signified by both “Hispanic” and “Latino”—terms that mask the enormous diversity of this eclectic population. As noted in Chapter 2, while united by a common ancestral language, Hispanics diverge in a number of respects. These include national origin, social history, legal status, shades of skin color, socioeconomic status, religion, and political views—just about every element that has bound other immigrant groups in the United States.4 Because nearly half of all Hispanics living in the United States today were born abroad, the Spanish language has proliferated in places where large numbers have settled. Acting as a kind of cultural mortar, the universality of the language has created an illusion of ethnic unity among Hispanics that is belied by their diversity: there is no monolithic Hispanic population with a common history or common problems.
Moreover, it is unclear at this point how enduring Hispanic identity will prove to be beyond the third generation. The extent to which U.S.-born children or grandchildren of recent immigrants from Latin America will consider themselves Hispanic is an open question. Longitudinal studies suggest that only about a quarter of second-generation Hispanics tend to adopt a panethnic identity, although members of this group are much more likely than their parents to accept Hispanic or Latino as a racial (as opposed to ethnic) self-identifier.
ORIGINS OF HISPANIC IDENTITY
Whether the handiwork of legislators or the invention of academics, classification systems create and shape ethnic and racial boundaries. In the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, new social legislation—in particular, grant-in-aid programs that allocated federal dollars on the basis of population formulas—called for more accurate counts of people of Spanish origin.5 In response, the word “Hispanic” was adopted by the federal government to denote those who traced their ancestry to Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Central and South America. In 1976, Congress enacted Public Law 94-311, which both defined (and thus created) the Hispanic population and mandated the collection, analysis, and publication of data on that population.
Laws require implementation guidelines. One such guideline, Directive 15, issued in 1977 by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), standardized the collection and reporting of “racial” and “ethnic” statistics, including data on persons of Spanish/Hispanic origin. Directive 15 not