¡Viva America!

As Congress struggles to find a compromise on the issue of immigration, the population of the United States is growing increasingly, well, tan. The latest figures show that at least one third of us are other than European white and that portion will likely continue to increase for the foreseeable future.

The Census Department estimates that four states and the District of Columbia already have a majority population composed of African, Asian or Latin heritage. California leads this diversity trend, being home to 21% of the nation’s minority population.

They now constitute 57% of the state's population, including 13.1 million Latinos, 5 million Asians, 2.7 million blacks and 689,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives, according to population estimates taken between July 1, 2005, and July 1, 2006.

Source, Los Angeles Times

Each of the non-white groups reportedly have higher birth rates and noticeably younger populations, as well, meaning that the number of minorities is likely to grow at a faster rate than the white population. The implications of these trends will prove even more difficult to deal with than the current immigration debates.

In general, younger populations of every description tend to have different priorities than their older counterparts. This will increasingly pit the interests of not only different generations, but also different racial and ethnic groupings. The long term consequences are likely to test the strength of America’s commitment to diversity and equality of treatment.

This strain is already showing up as the unstated reason for the emotional component of the immigration debates. While emphasizing the need to enforce the laws and not permit our borders to be ignored, I suggest that at least some of the “heat” in this issue is a fear that “white” America is disappearing.

The united States is not alone in this regard. Several European nations are having to come to terms with the diversification of their population as well, and frankly, none are doing any better than the United States.

The issue in part is whether the dominant culture has a right to maintain itself or whether it must or should adapt to the cultures of other ethnicities. Should “as American as apple pie” be modified to include “as American as enchiladas?”

Here in California we long ago crossed any imaginary line in this regard and we are now the most diverse population on the planet. We are handling it quite well for the most part even though it is far from without incident. The years of “white flight” seem to be ending, in no small part because there is not anywhere is to go to avoid the growth of minority populations.

Los Angeles is home to the more foreign-origin groups than anywhere else in the world. A drive down any major boulevard is like travelling to several foreign countries in the space of an hour.
For some this is problematic, disturbing and something to complain about. For me and most Angelenos it is a source of excitement and pride.

Our lawmakers reflect our diversity and the bouillabaisse of languages heard on the streets and in the offices and places of commerce is invigorating, that is, unless you want things to be “the way they have always been.” For those wanting to hold on to a “Nelson Family” past, the future will be a difficult place.

On a recent subway ride (yes we have a subway in Los Angeles) to downtown I looked at the many varieties of skin tone and ethnicity riding with me. I was struck by how similar we all were when I bothered to look past the surface and regarded each person as an individual. And that, I say, is the transformation that we will need to go through as a nation.

None of us is part of any group, we are each individuals. I don’t think of myself as a racial, ethnic or sexual identity except when someone else starts talking in those terms. I simply do not wake up each day inside each of those divisions. It is time to drop the labels, the groups, the categories when addressing each other. It is time to simply be a human being trying to make it through the day.

No matter what is done by Congress about immigration, we are destined to be increasingly diverse and less white, not only in skin tone but more significantly in terms of the culture, tastes and habits of life. We have always been evolving in this way since the first of us landed on these shores. Why anyone would expect this process to stop now is beyond me.

America is getting tanner. ¡Viva America!

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