Contrary to conventional wisdom, most Latinos do not live in densely packed, highly homogenous, Spanish-language communities dominated by immigrant cultures. Rather, most live in neighborhoods with non-Hispanic majorities.
And many neighborhoods where Latinos make up the majority are surprisingly diverse. Those neighborhoods contain a mix of native-born and foreign-born Latinos, Spanish speakers and English speakers, the poor and the middle class, according to a new report from the Pew Hispanic Center.
The study reveals that some 20 million Hispanics—57 percent of the total—live in neighborhoods in which Hispanics make up less than half of the population, according to an analysis of data from the 2000 Census. In the places were these Latinos live, only an average of seven percent of the residents are Hispanic. This pattern holds for Latino immigrants and low-income Hispanics, although to a somewhat lesser degree.
The remaining share of the Hispanic population—43 percent—lives in neighborhoods where Latinos are a majority. These communities are large, and they are growing faster than neighborhoods in which Latinos are a minority. Between 1990 and 2000, the Hispanic population grew most in big cities which already had large Hispanic populations, such as New York and Los Angeles, and these majority-Latino neighborhoods have spread throughout the country's major urban areas. Although these neighborhoods can be highly visible and sometimes controversial, they are not the norm for the Latino population.
"These findings have important implications for the way we understand the process of assimilation,” said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic and co-author of the report. “Most Latino immigrants are living in neighborhoods where the folks next door are likely to be native-born, English-speaking, non-Hispanic Americans. And, even those living in neighborhoods where most of the residents are other Latinos are being exposed to a lot of English and a lot of non-immigrant Latinos."
The Pew report shows that on a larger geographic scale both immigrant and native-born Latinos have dispersed to states other than those with long-standing Hispanic populations. Overall, the Latino population in the eight states which collectively make up the so-called “new settlement states” grew by 130 percent between 1990 and 2000. These states are Massachusetts, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.
Nearly 4 million Latinos lived in these new settlement states by 2000, and growth in minority-Latino neighborhoods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all growth of the Hispanic population in these states. As of 2000, as many as 3 million Latinos lived in these minority-Latino neighborhoods within new settlement states. On the other hand fewer than one million Latinos in these new settlement states lived in concentrated Latino neighborhoods.
“The Hispanic population in Latino-majority communities is considerably diverse in terms of nativity, language and income,” said Suro. “While low-income, Spanish-speaking, foreign-born Latinos represent a large share of the population in these neighborhoods, they are by no means the majority.”
Some of the major findings of the study include:
The Pew Hispanic Center was founded in 2001 with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center conducts non-partisan research with the goal of improving understanding of the Hispanic population. It is a project of the Pew Research Center.