Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Future Starts Here

White people of European descent will no longer make up a majority of the US population by the year 2042 - eight years sooner than previous estimates. The big change is among Hispanics and Asians, whose numbers are expected to double by the middle of the century to form 30% and 9% of the population. It is projected that black people will account for 15%, a small increase.

The US Census Bureau's latest projections are based on birth, death and current immigration rates. According to the bureau's statistics, ethnic and racial minorities will become the majority by 2042 and account for 54% of the population by 2050.

I'm not terribly hung up on the whiteness, or the genetic inheritance. By a tragic accident of history most Europeans, who have hitherto made up the majority of US immigrants, have been white. It's not their fault.

America has been taking in immigrants and turning them into Americans for two hundred years. But starting - where else ? - in the 1970s, the idea of the melting pot, of integration, became unfashionable. The idea of maintaining and celebrating difference - for the recent arrivals, anyway - became increasingly acceptable. Sounds familiar ?

"In the current immigration wave, something markedly different is happening here in the middle of the great American "melting pot."

Not only are the demographics of the United States changing in profound and unprecedented ways, but so too are the very notions of assimilation and the melting pot that have been articles of faith in the American self-image for generations. E Pluribus Unum (From Many, One) remains the national motto, but there no longer seems to be a consensus about what that should mean.

There is a sense that, especially as immigrant populations reach a critical mass in many communities, it is no longer the melting pot that is transforming them, but they who are transforming American society.


In fact, the very concept of assimilation is being called into question as never before. Some sociologists argue that the melting pot often means little more than "Anglo conformity" and that assimilation is not always a positive experience – for either society or the immigrants themselves. And with today's emphasis on diversity and ethnicity, it has become easier than ever for immigrants to avoid the melting pot entirely. Even the metaphor itself is changing, having fallen out of fashion completely with many immigration advocacy and ethnic groups. They prefer such terms as the "salad bowl" and the "mosaic," metaphors that convey more of a sense of separateness in describing this nation of immigrants."

Hmm. Isn't the "salad bowl" what they've got in Kenya ? Or Bosnia - before the ingredients shook themselves apart ? Or South Ossetia ?

Not that I can quite see how the BBC can separate "whites" and "Hispanics" anyway. While Diego has traditionally been somewhat swarthier than his sherry-swilling, beef-eating cousins, the difference isn't massive as far as melanin's concerned.

Culturally there ARE some differences. Like their Spanish relatives, the Mexicans went in for bloodshed on a fairly hefty scale - indeed you can't but wonder if the persecutions which triggered the Cristero War didn't inspire the slaughter of the faithful during the Spanish Civil War, only a few years later. Indeed, the whole history of Latin America isn't a terribly inspiring one, although some would put that down to the baleful influence of US foreign policy.

There's also the small matter of large chunks of the SW United States being originally Mexican territory. The lovely church we attended at San Luis Obispo last year was founded by the Spanish in 1772. Some Mexicans are calling the repopulation of Texas, California and Arizona la Reconquista. There's mucho talk of "Aztlan" and even "La Raza" - these chaps don't seem to have been told that race doesn't exist.

Like the UK, the US is importing large numbers of people from a very different culture without attempting to integrate them. (Even 20 years back people were moving out of California into Washington State because they didn't like the scale of Hispanic immigration into California, and I was reading complaints in the Seattle press about the influx of Californians. The Californians complaining about Hispanic immigration were of course racist bigots, while the Washingtonians complaining about Californians were concerned citizens seeking to maintain the unique character of their state) .

Just as in the UK, this importation is supported by the major parties of both left (who see more voters) and capitalist right (who see cheap labour). George Bush's amnesty plan for up to 12 million illegal immigrants was torpedoed by his grass-roots supporters - but the plan was championed by his business supporters.

The question is - what will America be like by 2042 ? Will it be less like America, and more like Mexico ? The answer has implications for us.