Sometime during 1996, at the very latest, Latinos surpassed Blacks as the second largest ethno-racial group in New York City. (They long have been the largest census group in the Bronx.) There were no street celebrations in El Barrio or Washington Heights, nor did the mayor hold a press conference from the steps of Gracie Mansion. Indeed, most New Yorkers remain oblivious to this demographic watershed, which was first announced in an academic working paper.footnote1 Yet it was an epochal event all the same: comparable to the numerical ascendancy of the Irish during the 1870s or the peaking of black migration to New York in the early 1960s.
It also mirrors a decisive national trend. Salsa is becoming the predominant ethnic flavour—and rhythm—in other large metropolitan cores. In six of the ten biggest cities—New York, Los Angeles, Houston, San Diego, Phoenix, and
In the broader census of cities of 200,000 inhabitants and over, nearly two-fifths now have larger Latino than Black populations. Although urban centres where Latinos are in the majority, or are the largest minority, are concentrated in the south-western tier of states, Spanish-surname populations have also been growing in hothouse fashion in cities where there is a negligible historical Mexican or Spanish connection, such as Atlanta, Milwaukee, and Washington, dc. Another spectacular example is Las Vegas, the nation’s fastest growing metropolitan area throughout the 1990s. Thirty years ago, the desert glitterdome had hardly any Latino residents, and the casino industry relied upon a segregated Black population for its supply of poorly paid maids and janitors. Today, Latinos outnumber Blacks in both ‘back-of-the-house’ occupations and the general population. Extrapolating from current school-age demographics, Latinos will become the majority in the city of Las Vegas within a decade.footnote3
This far-reaching ‘Latinization’ of large and medium-sized American central cities is being driven by a formidable demographic engine: a Spanish-surname population that is increasing by one million annually, or five times faster than the general population.footnote5 While nativist hysteria has focused on supposedly ‘unrestricted’ immigration, the growth of the Latino population (32 million in 2000) is equally the consequence of higher fecundity in the context of larger, more successfully maintained two-parent families, especially amongst those of Mexican origin (two-thirds of all Latinos). Even if all immigration were terminated tomorrow, the dramatically younger Latino population (median age 26) would continue to increase rapidly at the statistical expense of ageing, non-Hispanic whites (median age 37).footnote6 ‘Jose’, as a result, is now the most popular name for baby boys in both California and Texas, and Southern Californians are more likely to greet each other with ‘Que tal?’ than ‘Hey, dude’.footnote7 More importantly, Spanish-surname children already account for a bigger share of the national school-age population than African-Americans, and are expected to displace Blacks as the largest minority some time in the year 2000—far ahead of earlier predictions. Indeed, the present demographic momentum will ensure that, by 2025, there will be 16 million more Latinos (59 million) than African-Americans (43 million). From then until the mid-century, according to the Bureau of the Census, Latinos will supply fully two-thirds of us population growth. Shortly after 2050, non-Hispanic whites will become a minority group. These are millennial transformations with truly millennial implications for us politics and culture.footnote8
Latinos, moreover, have a striking preference for big cities that contrasts with the crabgrass prejudices of an overwhelmingly suburban nation. (Only Asian-Americans are more urbanized.)footnote9 With the partial exception of Mexicans, who also invigorate small-town life from California—which had 72 Latino-majority cities in 1990footnote10—to Iowa, all major Latino groups are heavily concentrated in the twenty