Autor: Marek Jáč (Katedra Amerických studií IMS FSV UK)


A great inflow of Hispanic immigrants into the United States after 1990s became one of the most vibrant and social issues in the contemporary USA. Growing number of immigrants of Hispanic origin coming constantly to the UnitedStates triggered concerns over the fact whether Hispanics and especially Mexicans will follow patterns of the previous immigrations groups and will integrate into American society without any reservations. The soundest critique of Hispanic ability and willingness to adopt American identity was Professor Huntington. With his theory, he represents an intellectual circle arguing that characteristics of recent Hispanic immigration are historically unprecedented and sort of unique.

Thus, the major goal of this paper is to closely examine Huntington’s theory and assess the situation of Hispanics in the USA after 2000. Due space limits, this paper will examine only some parts of Huntington’s concerns – namely, political and economic integration of Hispanics into American society, their willingness to learn English and their fertility pattern.There is a bit of problem with terminology. For instance, U. S. Census Bureau is using term Hispanic or Latino origin while Samuel P. Huntington is using only Hispanic. However, other authors almost unanimously are using term Hispanic for people from Central America, Caribbean, and South America. Therefore, this paper will follow terminology of Hispanics in this broad sense.The first chapter of this paper will be focused on the interpretation of key Huntington’s claims related to the Hispanic immigration. The chapter will also include opinions of other authors sharing Huntington’s concerns as well as his opponents. The second chapter will deal with the situation of Hispanics in 2010. The chapter should provide basic statistics about Hispanic population in the USA.

Huntington’s The Hispanic Challenge and the book Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity were used as general sources for the purposes of the first chapter. A very detailed article Mexican Assimilation in the United States by Edward P. Lazear served as a good source for the examination of Hispanic economic integration. Language assimilation (of Hispanics) is deeply examined in the article Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges by Mary C. Waters and Tomás R. Jiménez. Intergenerational Fertility among Hispanic Women: New Evidence of Immigrant Assimilation, a current and very comprehensive article by Emilion A. Parraado and S. Philip Morgan, was a key a source for the description of Hispanic’s fertility patterns. Deborah J. Schildkarut did a great research (not only) about immigrant’s identity and thus her article, Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” is There?, provided a lot of valuable information for the purposes of the second chapter.




Huntington v. others

In 2004, Samuel P. Huntington, an influential political scientist and professor at Harvard, published his cover article The Hispanic Challenge in Foreign Policy. The text of the article is a part of the book Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity where Huntington attempts to identify American identity and its future challenges. The article, respectively the book triggered a wave of debate over the Huntington’s concern about the Hispanic immigration and the all consequences related to that phenomenon.


Huntington’s view

To be absolutely clear, Huntington leaves no doubt on very first page what he thinks about the Hispanic immigration to the USA. He claims: “In this new era, the single most immediate and most serious challenge to America’s traditional identity comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America, especially from Mexico (…); (and) the persistent inflow of Hispanic threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages.“[1]

According to Huntington, American identity is now defined in term of culture and creed. Especially the term creed is important for Huntington. The (American) creed was a product of white Anglo-Protestant culture including key elements: “the English language; Christianity; religious commitment; English concepts of the rule of law (…); and the dissenting Protestant values of individualism, the work ethic, and the belief that humans have the ability and the duty to try to create a heaven on earth.”[2] Professor Huntington is then concerned about the ability and compatibility of Hispanics values with the American ones and about willingness of Hispanics to adopt the American identity and fully integrate to the American society. He fears that especially the immigrants from Mexico will not be following the immigration patterns of the previous immigration waves.[3]

But why Hispanics should not follow the previous patterns and not integrate into the American society as the previous immigrant’s (even bigger) groups did? Unlike the previous immigrants, the Hispanic immigration is sort of “unique” and is without precedent in U.S. history. This “Hispanic uniqueness” (according to Huntington) consists of six factors: “(…) contiguity, scale, illegality, regional concentration, persistence, and historical presence.”[4]

According to U. S. 2000 Census Brief Hispanics composed more than 12 percent of the total U. S. population[5] and, as Huntington points out, they became larger population group than African Americans. Moreover, according to Huntington’s estimation Hispanics may constitute up to 25 percent of the U. S. population by 2050.[6]


The others

As said above, Huntington’s concerns triggered a great debate over the consequences of the Hispanic immigration into the USA. First, we should say that many other authors share Huntington’s concerns and come to the same conclusions. For instance, influential American economist Edward P. Lazear[7] in 2000 claimed that: “(Mexicans) become assimilated into American society much less rapidly than do other groups.” As key features of Mecican’s slower assimilation E. Lazear sees the facts that:

  1. About 50 percent of Mexican immigrants are fluent in English. Among non-Mexican immigrants, the number is about 80 percent.
  2. Non-Mexican (working) immigrants have average wage income of on average $21,000 per year. Mexicans immigrants have income on average $12,000 per year.
  3. The typical Mexican immigrant has less than an eighth grade education while the typical non-Mexican one has a high school diploma.[8]

In addition, Lazar points out that Mexican immigrants came to the USA not on the basis of job performance (as other immigrant’s groups do) but on the basis of family connections. Lazear provides a lot persuasive economic evidence for support of his concerns that Mexican immigrants assimilate slower into the American society and live in more concentrated areas than other immigrants.[9] As a remedy he offers a tighter immigrant policy.

However, not all political and social scientists see Hispanic immigration as a concern, challenge or even a threat to the American nation. Amitai Etzioni, American sociologist of Israel origins, completely disagrees with Huntington’s perception of the Hispanic immigration. He criticizes Huntington that he approaches the topic with prejudice, “manufactures” concerns and creates (as he does in all of his works) “a theory of a fear.[10]

But Etzioni provides little evidence to challenge some Huntington’s claims. For example, when he tries to deal with the willingness of Hispanics to learn and use English he simply refuses any debate or examination over it and insists on the claim that English proficiency of second and third generation of Hispanic immigrants shows comparable results with the other immigrants groups. In general, Etzioni’s unwillingness to challenge concrete Huntington’s claims by counterarguments or some data makes his essay less valuable.


Language assimilation

However, we can find some recent and relevant studies empirically assessing Huntington’s concerns – especially language assimilation, fertility and identity. Thomás R. Jiménez[11] along with Mary C. Waters, two American sociologists, published in 2005 a study assessing Hispanic assimilation. They come to the conclusion that according to the 2000 U. S. Census that the (Gordon’s) three-generation model of language assimilation (of Hispanics) appears to hold for most of today’s immigrants. Even among Mexicans, the third generation speaks mostly English, and from two thirds to three quarters of the third Mexican generation does not speak any Spanish.[12] Well, at least according to Jimenéz and Waters, it seems that Hispanic immigration is not “unique”.



Another Huntington’s concern is the fertility of Hispanics. Professor Huntington stressed the fact that Hispanics, especially Mexicans, might not be following the (historical European) pattern of rapid fertility decline after immigration. It is true that the total fertility rate among Hispanics and Mexicans remains quite high (in comparison of the total U. S. rate). In 2004 the rates were 2.8 for Hispanic women and 3.0 for Mexicans; the total U. S. fertility in 2004 was 2.07.[13] However, as the study of Parrado and Morgans shows, in 1960-1990, the difference in fertility between whites and Hispanics was narrowing by each generation and third generation describes a linear pattern of convergence with whites.[14] The historical empirical evidence shows no extraordinary “uniqueness” among Hispanic fertility. However the biggest influx of Hispanics to the USA started in 1990s and continued through 2000s. And for obvious reasons, there is lack of available data for the description of Hispanic fertility pattern in 1990s and 2000s. So there is still a room for questions whether the “scale and contiguity” will somehow affect the Hispanic fertility pattern. For more data, we simply have to wait for the behavior of the third generation and then make serious analysis.


Political identity

Probably the most concerning claim in Huntington’s theory is that: “a multicultural America will, in time, become a multi creedal America, with groups with different cultures espousing distinctive political values and principles rooted in their particular cultures.”[15] The question is simple will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant values?

In 2007, Deborah J. Schildkraut decided to provide an empirical assessment of such concerns. But first, Associate Professor at Tufts University originally points out that professor Huntington puts stress only on two components of American identity: liberalism (USA as a land of freedom and opportunity) and ethnoculturalism (America as a nation of white Protestants). However two more components need to be taken into account – civic republicanism and incorporationism (United States as nation of immigrants).[16]

Professor Schildkraut takes and interprets data from the 21st Century Americanism survey (conducted in 2004), a national random-digit-dial (RDD) telephone survey with oversamples of whites (non-Hispanic, 1633), blacks (300), Hispanic (441) and Asians (299). The results of the survey do not fit to the Huntington’s concerns at all. Hispanics do not stand out in any component of American identity. They are as supportive as the white are in all four criteria mentioned above. They even provide a greater support in some particular cases (for instance foreign-born Mexicans are the most supportive of an action-oriented civic republicanism).[17]


The Hispanic challenge in 2010

In 2000 Hispanics composed 12.5 percent (35,305,818) of the total U. S. population.[18] According to the 2010 U. S. Census, 308.7 million people resided in the USA of which 50.5 million were of Hispanic (or Latino) origin – Hispanics composed 16 percent of American society. More than half of the growth in the total population of the Unites States (between 2000 and 2010) was due to the increase in the Hispanic population, especially population of Mexican origin, making 63 percent of all Hispanics in 2010, increased its size significantly – from 20,640,711 in 2000 to 31,798,258 in 2010.[19]

It seems that a pace of increase in the Hispanic population is even faster than Huntington’s prediction. If Hispanics added each decade three percent to its share in U. S. population, they would reach 25 percent share in 2040, ten years before Huntington’s estimation. But does this observation represent something warning? In the first chapter we dealt with the questions whether Hispanic support American values and whether they follow patterns of previous immigration groups.

But now let’s take a closer look on the Hispanic immigration from another point of view. Professor Huntington draws a picture of Hispanic immigration flowing into the USA wave by wave denying the Anglo-Protestant culture and lasting to conquer their former land. However, he neglects a kind of push mechanism that NAFTA sparked since its adoption in 1994. The very first intention of Mexican immigration into the United States was economic motivation. Both sides regarded migration of Mexican labour into the United States beneficial. In 1990s the Hispanic immigrants came to the USA without any political program – they were willing to follow American dream anyway.[20]


Regional concentration    

On the other hand it might be true that “contiguity, scale, illegality and regional concentration” since 2000 can significantly affect the ability and willingness of Hispanics to incorporate into American society. Especially regional concentration can trigger more concerns in 2010 than in 2000. For instance, in 2010, over half of the Hispanic population resided in just three states: California (37.6 percent of Californian population), Texas (37.6 %), and Florida (22.5 %). In New Mexico Hispanics composed 46.3 of the state population (953,403/2,059,179). And more than three-quarters of all Hispanics in the United States lived in the West or South. Furthermore some cities and parts of cities become completely populated only by Hispanics. For example, in Los Angles lives 1,838,822 Hispanics (48 percent of total population; but some parts of the city are inhabited only by Hispanics – for instance, in part East Los Angeles live 126,496 people, 97.1 percent of them are Hispanics! Laredo in Texas, among 236,091 people – 95.6 percent of them is Hispanics. El Paso, Texas, 80.7 percent of 649,121 people is of Hispanic origin.[21] For more detailed information about Hispanic population density see figure 1.


Figure 1: Hispanic Population as a Percent of Total Population by Country: 2010

Source: Sharon R. Ennis; Merarys Ríos-Vargas; Nora G. Albert, “The Hispanic,” 10.

These kinds of ghettos are becoming a real and current challenge for U. S. authorities. In these parts of the cities, inhabited only by Hispanics, there is no pressure to learn English, get in touch with ordinary Americans, get a job, adopt American culture and eventually integrate. These communities create their own world. The English is hardly to be heard, illegal immigrants can easily hide themselves there and the rate of crime is skyrocketing. For instance, according to Federal Justice Statistics, 2009, Five judicial districts (see figure 2) along the U.S. – Mexico border accounted for more than half (56%) of all federal arrests in 2009 – (illegal) immigration was the most prevalent offense at arrest and investigation. Drugs were the second offense. Among 29,896 arrested by the Drug Enforcement Administration 13,266 arrested (46 %) were of Hispanic origin.[22]

It seems to be that Hispanic concentration along the border with Mexico is so high that this makes Hispanic immigration “unique” in comparison with historical precedents.


Figure 2: Federal judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border


Source: Mark Motivans, Federal Jusitce Statistics, 2009, 4.



The immigration of Hispanics remains one of the most current issues in the USA. As we examined in the second chapter, the number of Hispanic increased in 2000-2010 by 15 million. Their total share in the U. S. population accounted to 16 percent. Moreover, it seems that the Hispanic immigration is getting more and more regionally concentrated. In California, Texas, New Mexico, Hispanics composed almost 40 percent of the state population. This kind of unique form of immigration leads to the fact that some regions or districts of these states are inhabited almost only by Hispanics For example, in East Los Angeles live 126,496 people, 97.1 percent are Hispanics. How can immigrants adopt the American culture and learn English in this environment? These ghettos hinder the immigration and provide background for criminality. In 2009, illegal immigration was the most prevalent federal offense. Thus, to some extent, the Hispanic immigration can be labeled as historically unprecedented.

But do really Hispanics challenge the American identity? As we examined in the first chapter, there is not enough empirical evidence for Huntington’s concerns about division of the United States into two peoples, two cultures, and two languages. To great extent, Hispanics follow the three-generation model of language assimilation and they express their support for key American values. And in some cases they are even more supportive – especially in their liberal perception of the USA as a land of freedom and opportunity. Moreover, Samuel P. Huntington neglects the fact that incorporationism has always been part of American identity and that each immigrant group maintain some ties with its origin.

It might be good observation that especially Mexican immigrants have income on average $12,000 per year in comparison with $21,000 per year of Non-Mexican immigrants. But can one make a conclusion that Hispanics (or particularly Mexicans) refuse to assimilate into the American society as economist Edward P. Lazear does? This economic argument is not strong enough.

The fertility rate of the Hispanic immigrants has been higher than average U. S. rate. However, we need to wait for one more generation to make any valid conclusions. The historical evidence shows that generations of Hispanics till 1990 followed the pattern of rapid decrease in fertility.

The Hispanic immigration might give rise to casual problems as drug trafficking or illegal immigration, however, despite some alarming situations in ghettos of Los Angeles or El Passo, according to empirical evidence it does not challenge key American values. From the ideological point of view the Hispanic immigration is not a real threat.

Bibliography and sources


  • CIA website, The World Factbook,, accessed March 15, 2012.
  • Ennis Sharon R.; Ríos-Vargas Merarys; Albert, Nora G. “The Hispanic Population: 2010.” U. S. Census Briefs, issued May 2010., accessed March 15, 2012.
  • Etzioni, Amitai. “The Real Threat: An Essay on Samuel Huntington.” Contemporary Sociology, 34:5 (2005): 477-485.
  • Grieco, Elizabeth M. “The Foreign-Born from Mexico in the United States: 1960 to 2000.“ Paper presented at the conference The Hispanic Challenge? What We Know About Latino Immigration, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 2004, 7-16.
  • Guzmán, Betsy. “The Hispanic Population: 2000.” U. S. Census Briefs, issued May 2001., accessed March 15, 2012.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. “The Hispanic challenge.” Foreign Policy, March/April (2004): 30-45.
  • Huntington. Samuel P.  Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
  • Lazear, Edward P. “Mexican Assimilation in the United States.” In Mexican Immigration to the United States, edited by George J. Borjas, 107-122. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.
  • Motivans, Mark. Federal Jusitce Statistics, 2009, U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011,, accessed March 15, 2012.
  • Schilderkraut, Deborah J. “Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” is There?” The Journal of Politics, 69:3 (2007): 597-615.
  • Waters, Mary C.; Jimenéz, Tomás R. “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges.” Annual Review of Sociology, 31 (2005), 105-125.

[1] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Hispanic challenge,” Foreign Policy, March/April (2004): 38.

[2] Ibid., 35.

[3] For more information about immigration patterns see Gordon’s influential books, Assimilation in American life: the role of race, religion, and national origins (1964); America as a multicultural society (1981). The author claims that the third generation of immigrants becomes fully integrated and turns into the core American mainstream.

[4] Samuel P. Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 40.

[5] Betsy Guzmán, “The Hispanic Population: 2000,” U. S. Census Briefs, issued May 2001, 3., accessed March 15, 2012.

[6] Samuel P. Huntington, “The Hispanic challenge,” 38.

[7] Edward Paul Lazear (1948) is an American economist. He graduated from the University of California with master degree in economics in 1971 and received his doctorate in economics from Harvard University in 1974. He is considered as a founder of personnel economics and was chief economic advisor to President George W. Bush in 2006-2009.

[8] Edward P.  Lazear, “Mexican Assimilation in the United States,” in Mexican Immigration to the United States, ed. George J. Borjas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 108-109.

[9] Ibid., 112-113, 121-122.

[10] Amitai Etzioni, “The Real Threat: An Essay on Samuel Huntington,” Contemporary Sociology, 34:5 (2005):477-478.

[11] Thomás R. Jiménez is an assistant professor of sociology at Stanford University. His research and writing focus on immigration, assimilation, social mobility, and ethnic and racial identity. He published numerous publications and articles devoted to the topic of the immigration.

[12] Mary C Waters; Tomás R. Jimenéz, “Assessing Immigrant Assimilation: New Empirical and Theoretical Challenges,” Annual Review of Sociology, 31 (2005): 109-110.

[13]Information from the website CIA The World Factbook,, accessed March 15, 2012. The total U. S. fertility slightly decreased to 2.06 in 2011.

[14] Emilio A. Parrado; Philip S. Morgan, “Intergenerational Fertility among Hispanics Women: New Evidence of Immigrant Assimilation,” Demography, 45:3 (2008): 662-663.

[15] Samuel P. Huntington, “Who Are We,” 340.

[16] Deborah J. Schilderkraut, “Defining American Identity in the Twenty-First Century: How Much “There” is There?” The Journal of Politics, 69:3 (2007): 597.

[17] Ibid., 606-607, 609, 612-613

[18] Betsy Guzmán, “The Hispanic Population: 2000,” 3. In 2000, 281.4 million residents were counted in the United States, of which 35,305,818 were Hispanics.

[19] Sharon R. Ennis; Merarys Ríos-Vargas; Nora G. Albert, “The Hispanic Population: 2010,” U. S. Census Briefs, issued May 2010, 1-3,, accessed March 15, 2012.

[20] Elizabeth M. Grieco, “The Foreign-Born from Mexico in the United States: 1960 to 2000,“ (paper presented at the conference The Hispanic Challenge? What We Know About Latino Immigration,  Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,  2004, 7-16).

[21] Sharon R. Ennis; Merarys Ríos-Vargas; Nora G. Albert, “The Hispanic Population: 2010,” 4-11.

[22] Mark Motivans, Federal Jusitce Statistics, 2009, U. S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2011, 1-3,, accessed March 15, 2012