James Bosquez grew up being singled out by his cousins for only speaking English and prompting surprised looks from his peers for not getting good grades in Spanish class.
The 39-year-old standup comedian says those reactions used to bother him as a young boy, but he learned that not speaking the language didn’t make him less Latino.
Bosquez represents the complexity of Latinos, a diverse group whose presence in the United States predates the country’s current borders.
“We’ve been across the Rio Grande since my great grandmother’s migrated (from Reynosa, Mexico) so we go some four of five generations,” said Bosquez, who now lives in Portland.
The way Latinos self-identify, vote and speak widely varies. They are often the target of anti-immigrant taunts and face economic, health and education disparities. During the Covid-19 pandemic, they have experienced higher rates of infections as well as pay cuts and job losses.
Here’s how Hispanic and Latino communities in America are far from a monolith.
Their ancestors hail from more than a dozen countries
There are 62 million people in the US who trace their ancestry or descent to Mexico, parts of the Caribbean, Central and South America as well as Spain, US Census data shows.
In the 1970s, the federal government adapted the term “Hispanic” to describe this group but a 2019 Pew Research survey found that half of Latinos in the US most often describe themselves by their family’s country of origin or heritage.
While the share of Latinos of Mexican descent is considerably large with more than 37 million people, there are more than a dozen other origin groups. Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans are among some of the largest groups.
They are reshaping states across the country
The Latino or Hispanic population currently makes up about 19% of the US population. Its size is the result of decades of steady growth.
In the past decade, the total Hispanic population grew 23% across the US. In California, the group officially became the largest racial or ethnic group in the state for the first time, data from the 2020 census shows. The group represents 39.4% of Californians, an increase from 37.6% in 2010. The non-Hispanic White population in California was 34.7% in 2020.
While there are large concentrations of Latinos in the Southwest, there are fast-growing Latino communities in the Midwest, along the East coast and the South.
North Dakota, Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee and Vermont have seen the largest growth of the Hispanic population since 2010 compared to other states, according to a CNN analysis of census data.
In North Dakota, the Hispanic population saw an 148% increase — something that experts say was partly the result of the oil and construction industry in the state.
Kevin Iverson, a demographer with the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said the Bakken oil boom attracted thousands of workers, including many Latinos to the state in the past decade.
Latinos are overwhelmingly represented in the mining, transportation and construction industry, Iverson says, and they seem to be second or third generation Americans. They make up to 5% of the state’s labor force, a number that has grown over the past 20 years from zero, he said.
They are younger than the average US population
When you think about Latinos, think about youth.
At least a third of Latinos in the US are under 18 years old and 41% are between the ages of 18 and 44, according to Census data.
The Hispanic population has the youngest median age — 29.8 years — of any major racial or ethnic group in the country. The median age for non-Hispanic White people is 43.7 years, and 34.6 years for non-Hispanic Black people, according to data from the 2019 American Community Survey.
Ana Gonzalez-Barrera, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center focusing on Hispanics, demographics and immigration, said most young Latinos were born in the US and they are more multiethnic and multiracial.
“A lot of people when they think about Hispanics, they think about immigrants and they think about Spanish speakers but young Hispanics for the most part they speak English,” Gonzalez-Barrera said, adding that there are more Latinos being born in the US than those coming from abroad.
Young Latinos are more likely to have higher educational attainment, are fully proficient in English and have more opportunities opening for them compared to older Latinos, Gonzalez-Barrera said.
Historically, college enrollment among White non-Latino students has been higher than any other demographic group in the US, but Latino students have made big inroads in part because of their youth.
From 2000 to 2018, the number of Latino students rose to 3.4 million from 1.4 million, marking the highest growth in all race and ethnic groups, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, some Latino students have been forced to decide between staying in school and working to help their families survive the economic recession, leading to a decline in enrollment and retention, according to Excelencia in Education, a national organization focused on accelerating Latino students’ success in higher education.
They are a complex and powerful voting bloc
Latinos are a complex and diverse electorate with the power of influencing key elections and their support varies in different parts of the country.
Hispanic and Latinos were particularly influential in the last presidential election, where turnout increased in five swing states that flipped from former President Donald Trump in 2016 to President Joe Biden in 2020. However, strong Hispanic turnout also helped Trump keep Florida and Texas, where counties with large Hispanic populations voted Republican in historically high numbers.
In California, Latinos make up an estimated 30% of all eligible voters, a significant portion that can easily make or break the success of any Democratic politician. Earlier this month, a mix of campaigns, super PACs and organizations from both parties worked for weeks to turnout Latino voters for the election to recall California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
“You can’t win California without reaching out to Latinos, so from the get-go there was an effort to connect with Latinos and Latino leaders to emphasize how important the recall was,” Angelica Salas, the head of CHIRLA Action Fund, an immigrant rights organization that worked against recalling Newsom told CNN at the time.
Advocates and experts said the Latino voters played a major role in Newsom’s defeating the effort to remove him from office. Data from the UCLA Latino Policy & Politics Initiative shows that a significant number of Latino voters chose no in Orange, Merced and Madera counties, which are considered traditional Republican strongholds.
They are a fast-growing group of entrepreneurs
Latinos are building businesses at a faster rate than the national average. Yet, they struggle to secure outside financing.
The number of small Latino-owned businesses has grown 34% over the last 10 years, compared to just 1% for all other small businesses, according to the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative (SLEI).
Between 2012 and 2017, the number of Latino small businesses increased in 45 states, according to a SLEI report.
In 2018, there were more than 331,000 Hispanic-owned businesses, which made about 5.8% of all businesses. They had an estimated $455.6 billion in annual sales and had about 3 million employees, according to the Census Bureau’s Annual Business Survey.
The Covid-19 pandemic was a major blow for most small businesses and those owned by Latinos and other people of color were hit hardest, according to an analysis from the 12 banks of the Federal Reserve.
Last year, the Federal Reserve conducted a survey of nearly 10,000 small businesses and found that people of color had more trouble than other applicants in getting approved for financing.
Only 61% of Latino-owned firms surveyed received all the funding they requested through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which offered forgivable loans to small businesses to make payroll and pay some operating expenses. Among White-owned businesses, 79% reported getting their full ask.
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