Millions of Americans counted in the 2000 census changed their race or Hispanic-origin categories when they filled out their 2010 census forms, according to new research presented at the annual Population Association of America meeting last week. Hispanics, Americans of mixed race, American Indians and Pacific Islanders were among those most likely to check different boxes from one census to the next.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Italians, Jews, and other immigrants from eastern, central, and southern Europe were often considered “non-white” by many Americans. By World War II the melting pot had worked its magic, and “white” came to mean something very new. In California today we have people whose existence would have seemed inconceivable 125 years ago: Jewish-, Greek-, Arab- and Italian-Americans who are all called “Anglos.”Those earlier waves of immigrants, by the way, were also going to pull America to the left. Socialism, many hoped and others feared, was going to be the result of the mass immigration of darker, poorer, culturally different immigrants into a society teeming with Gilded Age inequality and stark social conflict. But by the 1980s, the descendants of the immigrants were often “Reagan Democrats,” and their political views continue to evolve.Now with more U.S. Hispanics being born in the U.S. than immigrating from abroad, we are beginning to see a similar process at work. Nobody really knows how American society will be reshaped by the latest waves of immigration, or how the immigrants and their kids will be reshaped by life in the United States. But if the past is any guide at all, those who look to immigrants to fundamentally reshape American politics and culture are likely to be disappointed—as will be the fears of many who think that everything special about American life is about to be washed away.