In areas like Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Chicago and many parts of Texas, it would be hard to miss how enriched our daily lives are with Hispanic influences. But even though those places are blessed with especially vibrant Latino communities, this phenomenon is not limited to large cities. Hispanics have been a force in this country from just about the beginning, and that force is flourishing.
Of course, part of that growth is purely a matter of numbers. The 2010 U.S. Census data showed that the Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million over the last decade to a total of 52 million. What’s more, Latino population growth is now driven more by births, not immigration – making many Latinos natural born Americans. This could explain why Dora The Explorer now outsells Barney and why piñatas are the country’s #2 party favor, behind balloons.
That still doesn’t explain why salsa outsells ketchup, why Gloria Estefan outsells Fergie, why Enrique Iglesias outsells Jay Z, or why tortillas outsell bread. That, my friends, is explained by mutual assimilation. We are becoming part of the American fabric as much as America is embracing our culture. Where once a Latino might have seemed out of place in some communities, it is now rare to see areas without bodegas, carnicerias or some other form of Hispanic representation.
But Latinos, as diverse as they are, have some general characteristics that make their impact on this country even more impressive than their sheer numbers. For one thing, and to put it simply; Latinos have power. Hispanic-owned businesses are growing by more than double the national rate. In ’09 (in the midst of a recession) these businesses generated $345.2 billion in annual sales, up 55 percent compared with 2002. For women, the growth is more impressive: Latinas now own 36% of all companies owned by minority women in the country.
By the time Hispanic Heritage Month swings around again next year, we’ll be just over a month away from electing (or reelecting) the President of these United States, and most pollsters say it will take only 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to sway the election in either direction.
Another exciting development: according to the Pew Research Center, from 2009 to 2010, the number of Hispanic students who enrolled in college grew by 349,000 — so the future is bright too.
The best part of it all is that Hispanics are a young community; the average Latino is only 27.5 years of age, and more than 46 percent are under the age of 25.
So why is everyone invited to this celebration? Let’s come right out and admit it: Latino culture and the food are just awesome. In this great melting pot that is our country, it is completely hip and American to exercise to Zumba, have taco night, listen to Marc Anthony, drink a mojito, and buy a piñata for your kid’s birthday. Maybe that’s why Hispanic culture has gone mainstream so quickly and easily. Salud to that!
The day will come when it will be completely unnecessary to write blog posts explaining why Hispanic Heritage Month is relevant to all Americans or detailing what is so outstanding about the culture. At some point in history, we all came to this country from somewhere else, and we continually renewed its influence with our customs, experiences and our intellect. If you are an American, then you are German, Filipino, and Chinese; you are Korean, African, and Latino. What’s not to celebrate about that? Well, it’s almost here: find some events, mark them on your calendar, and enjoy the Latino inner you.