Hispanics are Nassau County’s fastest-growing ethnic population, County Executive Laura Curran noted in mid-September, the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated each year since 1988, and before that as Hispanic Heritage Week, beginning in 1968.
From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, we recognize the many rich cultural and economic contributions of Hispanic people to the United States. The celebration was first signed into law as a week by President Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, and expanded to a month by President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.
In 2016, the Herald explored Hispanic immigration to our region in a series, “The Changing Face of Long Island,” and we wrote this in a December editorial that year: “There is much talk about how Long Islanders are leaving for elsewhere because of the high cost of living. The Island, however, actually saw a net gain in population because of immigration. Suffolk’s population remained largely unchanged between 2000 and 2012, while Nassau’s increased by roughly 78,500 people, according to census data.
“Immigrants have been arriving on Long Island for more than six decades, but the pace of immigration has accelerated within the last 10 years, with an average of 20,000 Long Island immigrants annually receiving citizenship.
“Immigrants, it appears, are bypassing the big cities and settling in the suburbs. That’s a good thing for Long Island.”
We should now add this: There is a false impression that most Hispanics are immigrants. While that might have once been true, it no longer is. Most Hispanics in the United States were born here and are American citizens, having become deeply ingrained in the fabric of American society.
According to the New American Economy Research Fund, a bipartisan, nonprofit immigration advocacy group, there are 58.8 million Hispanic Americans in the U.S. Just over two-thirds of them — or 39.2 million — were born here, while 19.6 million were born outside the country.
Combined, Hispanic immigrants and U.S.-born Hispanics now comprise 18.1 percent of the U.S. population. By 2050, the Hispanic population in the U.S. is expected to double, to 106 million, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
In 2017, Hispanic households earned more than $1 trillion and paid some $252.2 billion in taxes, including $165.9 billion in federal income taxes and $86.3 billion in state and local taxes, the NEA Research Fund found.
At the same time, today’s most recently arrived Hispanic immigrants are better educated than those who landed here only a decade ago. Between 2005 and 2010, only 15.1 percent of Hispanic immigrants held a bachelor’s degree. Between 2012 and 2017, 28.5 percent did, roughly in line with the overall U.S. population.
Despite all of this, Hispanics are frequent targets of discrimination. A recent report by the Hispanic Marketing Council noted, “Fifty-five percent (but only 15 percent of non-Hispanics) said Latinos encounter frequent discrimination, while 67 percent of Hispanics strongly or somewhat agree that as a group they are discriminated against more than other ethnic minorities.”
In particular, we must recognize that America’s Hispanic population is not monolithic — it is diverse, with a variety of cultures according to people’s countries of origin. A Mexican American, an Argentine American and a Dominican American might share the same Spanish language, but their cultures of origin are very different.
We saw the issue recently play out in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s film adaptation of his Broadway sensation “In the Heights,” a musical that speaks to the hopes and dreams of Hispanic people living in the close-knit New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights, overlooking the Hudson River, in view of the George Washington Bridge.
The film, released on HBO Max, was widely praised for its artistry, but criticized because it failed to include dark-skinned Afro-Latinos, who comprise a significant portion of Washington Heights’s actual population, among the film’s leading characters. That is, the film treated Hispanics as members of a single culture.
Miranda took to Twitter to acknowledge the psychic pain the film may have caused, writing, “I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling still unseen in the feedback … Without sufficient dark-skinned Afro-Latino representation, the work feels extractive of the community we wanted so much to represent with pride and joy. In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short.”
There is a lesson here that all of us can take away: We must see Hispanic Americans as individuals, each with his or her own heritage that contributes to the American landscape, including here in Nassau County, one of the most diverse places in the nation.
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