When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity (PEW HISPANIC STUDY)

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By Paul TaylorMark Hugo LopezJessica Hamar Martínez and Gabriel Velasco (Pew Hispanic Center)

Nearly four decades after the United States government mandated the use of the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” to categorize Americans who trace their roots to Spanish-speaking countries, a new nationwide survey of Hispanic adults finds that these terms still haven’t been fully embraced by Hispanics themselves. A majority (51%) say they most often identify themselves by their family’s country of origin; just 24% say they prefer a pan-ethnic label.

Moreover, by a ratio of more than two-to-one (69% versus 29%), survey respondents say that the more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S. have many different cultures rather than a common culture. Respondents do, however, express a strong, shared connection to the Spanish language. More than eight-in-ten (82%) Latino adults say they speak Spanish, and nearly all (95%) say it is important for future generations to continue to do so.

Hispanics are also divided over how much of a common identity they share with other Americans. About half (47%) say they consider themselves to be very different from the typical American. And just one-in-five (21%) say they use the term “American” most often to describe their identity. On these two measures, U.S.-born Hispanics (who now make up 48% of Hispanic adults in the country) express a stronger sense of affinity with other Americans and America than do immigrant Hispanics.

The survey finds that, regardless of where they were born, large majorities of Latinos say that life in the U.S. is better than in their family’s country of origin. Also, nearly nine-in-ten (87%) say it is important for immigrant Hispanics to learn English in order to succeed in the U.S.

This report explores Latinos’ attitudes about their identity; their language usage patterns; their core values; and their views about the U.S. and their families’ country of origin. It is based on findings from a national bilingual survey of 1,220 Hispanic adults conducted Nov. 9 through Dec. 7, 2011, by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. For a full description of the survey methodology, see Appendix A. (In this report, as in all Center reports, the terms “Hispanic” and “Latino” are used interchangeably).

Among the report’s key findings:

Hispanics and Identity

  • When it comes to describing their identity, most Hispanics prefer their family’s country of origin over pan-ethnic terms. Half (51%) say that most often they use their family’s country of origin to describe their identity. That includes such terms as “Mexican” or “Cuban” or “Dominican,” for example. Just one-quarter (24%) say they use the terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” to most often to describe their identity. And 21% say they use the term “American” most often.
  • “Hispanic” or “Latino”? Most don’t care—but among those who do, “Hispanic” is preferred. Half (51%) say they have no preference for either term. When a preference is expressed, “Hispanic” is preferred over “Latino” by more than a two-to-one margin—33% versus 14%.
  • Most Hispanics do not see a shared common culture among U.S. Hispanics. Nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say Hispanics in the U.S. have many different cultures, while 29% say Hispanics in the U.S. share a common culture.
  • Most Hispanics don’t see themselves fitting into the standard racial categories used by the U.S. Census Bureau. When it comes to race, according to the Pew Hispanic survey, half (51%) of Latinos identify their race as “some other race” or volunteer “Hispanic/Latino.” Meanwhile, 36% identify their race as white, and 3% say their race is black.
  • Latinos are split on whether they see themselves as a typical American. Nearly half (47%) say they are a typical American, while another 47% say they are very different from the typical American. Foreign-born Hispanics are less likely than native-born Hispanics to say they are a typical American—34% versus 66%.

The American Experience

  • Hispanics say their group has been at least as successful as other minority groups in the U.S. Most Hispanics (55%) say their group is about as successful as other racial and ethnic minority groups in the U.S. More than one-in-five (22%) say they have been less successful, while 17% say they have been more successful.
  • The U.S. is seen as better than Latinos’ countries of origin in many ways—but not in all ways. Fully 87% of Latino adults say the opportunity to get ahead is better in the U.S. than in the country of their ancestors; some 72% say the U.S. is better for raising children than their home country; nearly seven-in-ten (69%) say the poor are treated better in the U.S.; and a plurality of 44% say moral values are better here than in their homelands. However, when it comes to the strength of family ties, a plurality (39%) say the home country of their ancestors is better, while 33% say the strength of family ties is better in the U.S.
  • Most Hispanic immigrants say they would migrate to the U.S. again.Some 79% of Hispanic immigrants say that if they had to do it all over again, they would come to the U.S. When asked why they came to this country, more than half (55%) of immigrant Hispanics say it was for economic reasons, while 24% say it was for family reasons.  CLICK HERE to visit site and download study!

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