By Ricky Garza, Communications Coordinator, NCLR
While some pundits worry about what will become of the United States when it finally reaches “majority minority status” in the middle of this century—meaning White Americans make up less than half of the nation’s population—for California the future is already here. Since 2000, California has had a nonmajority ethnic makeup in which Whites composed less than 50% of the population. Now the nation’s most populous state reached another demographic milestone as the number of Hispanics grew equal to the number of Whites this week.
According to the California Department of Finance, Hispanic and White Californians now each make up about 39% of the population, with the remaining population composed of Blacks, Asians, and people of mixed race. This trend will continue, and by early next year Hispanics will be the largest ethnic group in the state, surpassing Whites for the first time since California became a state in 1850. Once this happens, California will join New Mexico as the only other Latino-plurality state.
While this may be disconcerting to some members of the traditional majority, California has nothing to fear as its demographic transition continues. Rather, California’s story is an American story with a modern twist. Over the course of our country’s history, we have welcomed, nearly always with reluctance at first, wave after wave of newcomers, opening the gates of our country to Irish, German, Italian, Greek, Jewish, Asian, and now Latino immigrants. Being home to the nation’s largest share of undocumented immigrants, California stands to greatly benefit from the U.S. overcoming this latest bout of reluctance by allowing this newest group of Americans to gain legal status and formal admission into the fabric of our country.
Contrary to the xenophobic fears of some nativists who describe America as inundated with new immigrants, California’s ethnic shift is emblematic of national trends: it is the result of a decades-long process that is slowly transforming America into one of the most pluralistic societies that history has ever seen. Driven by natural decreases in the White birth rate, a rising number of native-born Hispanic Americans, and immigration from Asia and Latin America, California is a model of the promise of 21st-century America. This America is more diverse politically, culturally, and ethnically, and it is better because of it.Los Angeles is the second-largest city in the United States, an economic powerhouse, the country’s entertainment capital, and a cultural influence on the rest of the world. California is home to eight of the 50 most populous American cities, and the nearly 15 million Latinos who call the state home have contributed greatly to its success. The Latinos of California are diverse, with fourth-generation Mexican Americans working alongside first-generation Central American immigrants and the grandchildren of Cuban émigrés. Each of these groups deserves basic legal recognition in the eyes of the law.
Although the state’s political situation is far from perfect, California continues to function efficiently as the largest American state, consistently positioning itself as the vanguard of innovation. On this Fourth of July, let’s celebrate the America of inclusion that makes this all possible, the one that lets us come together and build a better nation through our varied strengths.
With immigration reform hanging in the balance and the House of Representatives indecisive about whether to even consider a vote, it’s time for the lower house of Congress to do the right thing by allowing our nation’s undocumented immigrants to fully integrate into society. Failure to do so would only hold back history’s next generation of Americans from fully contributing American society as they desperately want to do.