Latinos Become California’s Largest Demographic

The skyline of downtown Los Angeles, where African American voters still dominate politics of major neighbourhoods. Photograph: Fred Prouser/Reuters
The skyline of downtown Los Angeles, where African American voters still dominate politics of major neighbourhoods. Photograph: Fred Prouser/Reuters

It is a demographic milestone signalling the changing face of America: this month, Latinos will overtake whites to become California’s largest racial/ethnic group.

They will officially make up 39% of the country’s most populous state, edging past the 38.8% who are white non-Hispanic, and dwarfing the Asian American and African American communities.

Demographic ascendance is producing a fast growing ethnic voting bloc nationwide. The Latino electorate, which cast ballots in record numbers in the 2012 presidential election, is expected to double within a generation. “An awakened giant”, declared the Pew Research Center.

So why, then, are Latinos taking a political hammering? Immigration reform, a priority for the community, is flatlining in Washington. Meanwhile the number of people deported under President Barack Obama is set to reach two million next month, far outstripping deportations during the Bush administration.

Frustrated activists and detainees are marching and fasting to protest what they call abandonment by Democrats and Republicans. Janet Murguía, head of the National Council of La Raza, the country’s oldest and largest Hispanic advocacy group, recently underlined the alienation by calling Obama, a supposed ally, “the deporter-in-chief”.

Stung by the criticism, last week the president met with Latino lawmakers and ordered immigration officials to review deportation practices to see if they could be “more humanely” enforced “within the confines of the law”. The move signalled a possible easing, but fell well short of activists’ central demand, that Obama use executive action to slow deportations.

For all the talk of ascendance, Latinos are learning a harsh truth: the “browning of America”, a phenomenon trumpeted for decades, has yielded slow, uneven results. Hispanic political clout lags at the local, state and national levels.

“Demographic triumphalism masks economic, organisational and structural weakness,” said Roberto Suro, a Latino affairs scholar at the University of Southern California. On election day 2012, there were 53 million Latinos in the US – 17.2% of the population. But they accounted for just 10.8% of eligible voters and 8.4% of actual voters. Furthermore, half lived in Texas and California, which don’t swing in presidential races. Democratic and moderate Republican leaders know all this, and so largely pay lip-service to latino concerns, said Suro. “It’s all about voting, where you vote, and the next election.”

Mark Hugo Lopez, director of the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, said demographic growth did not translate into equivalent political heft. “Latinos are punching below their weight.” There are very few districts where Latino votes could make a difference in November’s congressional elections, he said.

Latinos have seemed on the verge of breakthrough for the past decade. George W Bush courted them in 2004, neutralising though not eliminating the Democrats’ traditional advantage, and snatched battleground states like New Mexico from John Kerry. Bush tried but failed to deliver immigration reform.

Latinos rewarded Obama’s outreach in 2008 by arguably delivering himas many as eight states and 80 electoral college votes. Four years later they helped him keep the White House. A record 11.2 million Latinos voted in 2012, and they broke for Obama over Mitt Romney by a margin of 71% to 27%, keeping swing states like Colorado and Nevada blue.

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The Guardian

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