Posted on January 11, 2012

What’s to Become of Hispanic Identity?

David Morse, AdAge, January 10, 2012

A paper published in the journal Social Science Research raises important questions regarding the ongoing assimilation of Hispanics in the United States and its implications for the future of multicultural marketing.

Research by two University of Southern California sociologists shows that 6% of respondents reporting Spanish or Latin American ancestry in a 2006 survey conducted by the U.S. Census answered “no” when asked if they identify themselves as Spanish, Hispanic or Latino. The authors, Amon Emeka and Jody Agius Vallejo, suggest that this might be early evidence of “ethnic attrition” or assimilation among Hispanics.

With three-quarters of today’s Hispanics either immigrants or second-generation, theories abound of how today’s immigrants and their children — who are mostly non-white — will assimilate (or acculturate). But most empirical evidence is based on early 20th century immigrants, who were mostly white. Since it’s impossible to ask this particular group of survey respondents why they said that they were not Hispanic, the authors developed a regression model to predict variables associated with non-Hispanic identity. While education, income, age and gender were significant predictors of Hispanic identity, more powerful predictors were mixed ancestry, English-language exclusivity and race.

Not surprisingly, respondents of mixed ancestry (Latin American/Spanish and something else) were less likely to say they were Hispanic. Similarly, non-Spanish speakers were significantly less likely to call themselves Hispanic. However, the biggest eye-opener centered on race. Respondents of Latin American/Spanish ancestry who identified their race as white, black or Asian were several times more likely to identify as non-Hispanic than those who said that their race was mixed or “some other race.”

The authors conclude that this may reflect a “racialized notion of Hispanicity” among Latin American descendants, who think of white, black, Asian and Hispanic as mutually exclusive racial groups. It is a mind-boggling conclusion, given that in the 2010 U.S. Census, 53% of those who self-identified as “Hispanic” indicated that they were white, 3% black and 1% Asian/Pacific Islander.


Sociologist George Yancey predicts that in coming decades Hispanics and Asians will assimilate into the mainstream, creating a new “black/non-black” divide, similar to what occurred in the early 20th century, when newly arrived ethnic groups were widely thought of as non-white. Others envision a divide between whites, Asians, lighter-skinned Hispanics and lighter people of mixed race on one side, and African Americans, darker Hispanics and darker people of mixed race on the other. {snip}