The New Hispanic America

Posted on December 2, 2018

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A few years ago, I discovered a Hispanic in my home. Awkkk, what’s happening here? The invasion of the Mexican gardeners?

Confession: when I first came to Tuscaloosa in 1972 to teach Latin American history at UA, there were hardly any Spanish speakers in town, other than a few odd balls like me and the profs teaching Spanish.

I always thought of myself as kind of a typical American, like Bruce Springsteen, born in the U.S.A., and even like Springsteen born in New Jersey. My great grandfather fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War and one of my ancestors shot it out with the hated Redcoats during the American Revolution. My Aunt Faith was even a member of the D.A.R. How American can you get?

But, I discovered sometime after the official Census of 2010 came out, that, lo and behold, I am also a Hispanic, since my mother was born in Iquique, Chile.

Now Hispanics, or Latinos if you prefer, seem to be everywhere these days. Their importance to our country was underscored in an article a few weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal. I was really astounded at the piece by Sol Trujillo, chairman of the Trujillo Group, LLD and chairman of the Latino Donor Collaborative.

Trujillo argued, in “The ‘Latino Factor’ Will Save American’s Economy,” that the dwindling American-born population threatens to undermine seriously the country’s growth and prosperity and “if Americans want the economy to keep growing—let alone remain the strongest in the world—we need” to replace the dwindling labor supply.

The “good news is that the solution is right in front of us. Unlike other countries facing a demographic crisis [think Europe] America has an invaluable—and renewable—resource: a young, educated and entrepreneurial Latino population—57 million strong as of 2016 and growing every day.”

Trujillo argues with some hard facts. “In the past five years, Latinos have generated 29% of America’s income growth, more than any other population cohort.” And Latinos are the “new face of the U. S. workforce, making up 70% of the recent growth in the labor market…today, this single demographic cohort would be the eighth-largest economy the world—larger than Brazil, Italy, or Canada, [and] it’s growing faster the U. S. economy as a whole.”

Trujillo recommends ways to capitalize on this phenomenon, not only in training and education, but also in attitudes. In addition to the tech economy’s needs—advanced engineers and coders for example—we also “need farmers to feed them, teachers to educate them, factory works to clothe them, doctors to care for them.”

He suggests “we need to change how we think—and talk—about Latinos in this country. They are not only our neighbors, colleagues and friends [and my gardener!] they are the foundation of what I call America’s New Mainstream Economy.”

On Sept. 4, our own Tuscaloosa News pointed out that “construction firms in Alabama are having trouble filling hourly craft positions.” 75% are having trouble in this area. Future economic growth is dependent on a growing labor pool, and more than 50% of companies said they could not find enough carpenters, laborers, masons, bricklayers, equipment operators, iron workers, roofers, plumbers and painters.

Next time you are near a construction work area, hang around a bit and look and listen. I hear my mother’s language everywhere.

Furthermore, Latinos all share a western hemisphere background including constitutional governments (the ideal if not always the reality) and Christianity, unlike the Moslems pouring into Europe and transforming their culture.

There are minuses as well as plusses of course. We are still not dealing directly with the challenge of immigration—kind of the third, electrified, rail no one wants to touch, while crazies in California wave the Mexican flag and demand more freedom and maybe independence. They need to be instructed on what happened during the American Civil War.

We need some fresh thinking here. Perhaps take a poll of Millennials since they are the leaders of tomorrow. Or ask my friend and fellow gardener Gonzalo why he came to the United States as he helps me weed my gardens and plant my greens.

We Hispanics don’t speak with the same voice, but most of us speak the same language, although I’m always dinging on them to get with the program and learn more English. Es la clave a nuestra cultura gringa I always tell them as we pluck away at the rich crop of weeds I seem to grow with great success, with or without immigrants.

Published as “The New Hispanic America” in The Tuscaloosa News, Oct. 7, 2018.