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Study Indicates Hispanics Successfully Integrating Into US Society - 2003-01-31

Hispanics are being successfully integrated into U.S. society, according to a new study of Spanish-speaking immigrants. But Hispanics retain distinctive attitudes, even after several generations.

Immigration from Latin America surged in the 1980s and '90s, changing the character of some southwestern U.S. cities. Los Angeles, for example, is at least 45-percent Hispanic. Some people wonder if the new immigrants are adapting to U.S. life or changing the country.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. It has been called a "melting pot," where distinctive flavors blend to create something new and different. Other say a "mosaic" is better metaphor. Each shade remains distinctive while adding to the picture, just as most Americans retain a part of their heritage as they adapt to the new culture.

Roberto Suro, who heads the University of Southern California's Pew Hispanic Center, says that however the process is characterized, Hispanic immigrants are adjusting to U.S. life, even as they arrive in large numbers. "A key question at a time of large-scale immigration is whether immigrants and their offspring are assimilating to American ways," he says. "In some very important ways, assimilation, amalgamation, the melting pot, whatever you choose to call the process of change, is indeed still very powerful in this country."

Mr. Suro discussed results of a new survey of 3,000 Hispanics, which he calls the most comprehensive recent assessment of that population. The study shows that, with successive generations, Hispanics are becoming more like Americans of other ethnic backgrounds. By the third generation, two-thirds of Hispanics speak English as their primary language, and one in three U.S.-born Hispanics speaks little or no Spanish.

Moreover, English-speaking Latinos have different attitudes from their Spanish-speaking parents, says Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation, which co-authored the study. "And what that means is we are seeing that in many cases native-born or English-speaking Latinos express views and opinions that are much closer to non-Hispanic whites than they are to their foreign-born Spanish-dominant counterparts," she says.

For example, Hispanics increasingly express the view that workplace success requires long hours on the job at the cost of one's personal life, an opinion often found among other Americans.

Assimilated Hispanics are also far less fatalistic than recent immigrants who, the survey shows, often say there is no reason to plan for the future because they cannot control it. English-speaking Latinos, like most other Americans, express a greater sense of control over their destiny.

But some distinctive Latin attitudes survive through the generations, including a focus on the family. Ms. Brodie says Hispanics also tend to trust the U.S. government and are willing to pay high taxes for more public services. "On these questions, both those Latinos who were born in this country or outside of the country, whether they have been here a long time or a short time, whether they speak English or Spanish, they are much more likely to hold similar views, especially in comparison to non-Hispanic whites," she says.

Now numbering 37-million, Hispanics have become the largest U.S. minority population. They make up one-third of the people of California, and in 20-years are expected to be the dominant ethnic group in the state.

As the survey findings were unveiled at a Los Angeles briefing, talk turned to politics.

Analyst Mark Baldassare finds that California Hispanics, like their cousins in other states, also tend to trust big government. Mr. Baldassare is research director at the Public Policy Institute of California. He notes this positive view toward government often leads Hispanics to vote for Democrats, the party that sees the government's role as providing a social safety net for those less fortunate.

But in some places Republicans have had success in courting Hispanic voters. Republicans dominate in Florida among Cuban Americans, immigrants who tend to be pro-business and anti-communist, and view the Republicans as stronger on these issues. Texas Republicans have also found success by stressing issues like education and family values, themes that resonate in Latin cultures.

But Mr. Baldassare says that elsewhere in the United States, especially in California, recent Hispanic immigrants are at the bottom of the wage scale, which further draws them to the Democrats. "The average Latino Californian, and it is similar for the [rest of the] United States, has lower income, lower education, needs more help from government," he says. "And that is one of the factors that has driven Latinos to the Democrat party, whose message has been one more of government activism, and away from the Republican party, whose message has been one of lower taxes and less government."

Latinos, like African Americans, often report discrimination, with about 40-percent calling it a "major problem."

Mollyann Brodie of the Kaiser Family Foundation explains the survey results, saying "not only do Latinos think that discrimination from outside people and groups is hurting Latinos' ability to succeed in the United States, but we also documented that they think that Latinos discriminate within their own community, and Latinos discriminating against other Latinos is a problem.

Latinos report discrimination according to country of origin, with Colombians and Dominicans more than other groups calling discrimination by Latinos a major problem. Hispanics also report discrimination based on their low incomes and low levels of education.

But three-quarters believe their children will get a better education, have better jobs, and make more money than they did.

Hispanics are slightly less confident that their values will be passed down to successive generations as their children adapt to their new country. Fifty-six percent believe their children will have the same moral values as they do. More than 40-percent worry that they will not.