The views of second-generation immigrants

Pew immigrantImmigrants are in the news with the last election catapulting them into prominence as people began to realize that they are a significant voting bloc and are projected to grow larger as a percentage of the population. The Pew research organization released on Thursday the results of a survey they have done on the views of second-generation Hispanics and Asians as compared to their parents and there are hopeful signs for how social views will evolve in the future.

Compared to their parents, the second generation has larger median household income ($58,000 versus $46,000); more people with college degrees (36% versus 29%); are more likely to be home owners (64% versus 51%), are less likely to be in poverty (11% versus 18%), and less likely to have not finished high school (10% versus 28%).

Interestingly, while much of the xenophobia of some Americans arises from their fear that the increased number of immigrants will change the nature of the country with ‘real Americans’ suddenly finding themselves surrounded by people speaking languages they don’t understand, the survey finds that when it comes to the second generation:

In all of these measures, their characteristics resemble those of the full U.S. adult population … the second generations of both groups are much more likely than the immigrants to speak English; to have friends and spouses outside their ethnic or racial group, to say their group gets along well with others, and to think of themselves as a “typical American.” … place more importance than does the general public on hard work and career success.

At the same time, the second generation immigrants still retain a strong sense of identity with their country of origin, which is not unlike the feelings of earlier generations of immigrants from Europe who still speak fondly of the ‘old country’.

The report provides some interesting history of how immigration patterns changed after the landmark legislation of 1965 “had the effect, for the first time in the nation’s history, of opening U.S. borders on a roughly equal basis to non-Europeans as well as Europeans.” As a result, the third great wave of immigration from 1965 to the present was dominated by people from Latin American and south and east Asia, while the first wave from 1840 to 1899 was mostly from northern Europe and the second wave 1890 to 1919 was dominated by those from southern and eastern Europe.

After their election debacle, Republicans seem to have belatedly realized that running on an openly nativist, immigrant-bashing platform may not have been such a good idea and are now scrambling to change at least the way they talk about immigrants even if they don’t shift much on actual policy. But they have their work cut out for them to win over this group. As the Pew survey says:

Second-generation Hispanics and Asian Americans, as well the first generation of each group, identify more with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party and characterize themselves as liberals at higher rates than the general public. About half or more of the second generation believe that abortion should be legal, and more than two-thirds say homosexuality should be accepted by society.

According to a news report from the Associated Press, the Republican share of the immigrant vote has been in decline.

Since President Reagan garnered 37 percent of the Hispanic vote in 1980, Hispanic support for Republican presidential nominees has generally fallen, reaching 27 percent last November, according to exit polling conducted for the television networks and The Associated Press. The exceptions: 2000 and 2004, when an immigration-friendly Republican, George W. Bush, won after capturing 35 percent and 44 percent of the Latino vote, respectively. Among Asian-Americans, GOP support has steadily dropped from 55 percent in 1992 to 26 percent last November.

Ronald Reagan famously described Hispanics as “Republicans who don’t know it yet.” Conservative pundits have picked up on that theme and are now suddenly talking about how the values that immigrants supposedly hold (hard work, family, religion, entrepreneurship) are more closely aligned with Republican values and that they should be made to realize that that party is their natural home.

This was a dubious proposition at the best of times but what the new Pew survey data suggests is that such a realization on the part of immigrants, if it ever existed, is nowhere to be seen on the horizon. There may be some shift as the second-generation gets older but not much. The views and allegiances that people form in their youth are not easily susceptible to change.


  1. Nathan & the Cynic says

    >>which is not unlike the feelings of earlier generations of
    >>immigrants from Europe who still speak fondly of the ‘old country’.

    Is that a thing? My great grandmother immigrated here with her parents when she was a very young girl and she basically flat out said that the old country was a nightmare and that the best single decision anyone in her family had ever made or would EVER make was to pull up stakes and cross the ocean. No false nostalgia there, that’s for sure.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Immigrants definitely do not feel regret for the decision to come here or they would go back. What they feel is nostalgia for the good things they recall plus a pang for the family and friends they left behind. This dissipates with the next generations.

  3. garnetstar says

    “Conservative pundits have picked up on that theme and are now suddenly talking about how the values that immigrants supposedly hold (hard work, family, religion, entrepreneurship) are more closely aligned with Republican values”

    Um, no. Many first-generation immigrants are poor, and in the US, that tracks with aligninment with the Democratic party’s policies. Second-generation immigrants also tend to track that way, having witnessed their parents’ struggle for economic survival and social acceptance. They may also tend to hold more liberal social values because of their family’s experience of being in one of the bottom rungs of society, thus giving rise to more sympathy with others in that position, such as LGBT and black people.

    I hope the Republicans are not holding their breath waiting for immigrants to realize that that party is their home.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I think the Republicans are looking at the Catholicism of the Hispanic community and hoping that it translates into socially conservative views that align more closely with them. But even this seems a forlorn hope since despite a massive effort by the party and the Catholic Church, Obama still won a majority of the Catholic vote. While white Catholics went for Romney by 56-43%, Hispanic Catholics went for Obama by 76-23%. That alone should tell the party something about how much their platform alienated the Hispanic (and other immigrant) communities.

  5. Nathan & the Cynic says

    That could be the difference here. Courtesy of the Nazis, there were no family and friends left behind for my great grandmother to miss. Or at least not by the time my father was born.

  6. Mano Singham says

    I think that Jews fleeing the Nazis were a very special case. One can well understand why they or their descendants would never want to have anything to do with the country they left.

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