Outside editorial: Melting pot America is still bubbling

Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2008

T he announcement on Thursday that minorities collectively will make up a majority of people in America by 2042 comes at a contentious moment in U.S. history. A bitter and largely negative debate about immigration roils the country. Stoked by angry politicians, the shouting rarely goes beyond variations on the theme of how to send 12 million illegal immigrants back home. Hardly anybody acknowledges that 38 million legal immigrants and their 31 million children already call America home. These people, along with other minorities, will be a powerful force in shaping America's future.

Word to the wise: The future is here; get used to it. The changing demographics and the story that they tell are cause for pride, not panic. America is growing richer in its diversity: Immigrants and minorities will continue to assimilate into the U.S. culture, just as they always have. They will bring fresh ideas, new perspectives, energy and vitality with them.

The census update says that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than half of the U.S. population by 2042, about nine years earlier than previously predicted. The change will be largely driven by Hispanics, whose numbers will nearly triple to 133 million, or about 30 percent of the 2042 population. Asians will nearly double to 9 percent of the population, compared to 5 percent today. Blacks will increase slightly to 15 percent from 13 percent. And far more people will identify themselves as mixed-race, up to 16 percent from 4 percent.

Immigration will continue to contribute to the increasing diversity, but the numbers are mostly being driven by birth and death ratios. Non-Hispanic whites are older, dying more and having fewer babies. Hispanics are younger and, consequently, producing more babies.

What does it all mean? For those of us in South Florida, Los Angeles, parts of Texas and other places, the future America looks like our present. As we have, America will learn how to work, play, educate, build, love, fight and celebrate across ethnic and racial lines. The country will learn to vote using multi-language ballots, decipher cultural differences in medical care, teach children in many languages, make justice equal for all.

Anyone who fears the change that is coming should understand that our country has been in a constant state of flux since it was founded, embracing British, Italians, Irish, Jews, Africans, Spanish, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Haitians and others. Diversity has made America strong, current proof of which is on display at the Beijing Olympics. We should continue to welcome and embrace it.

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