NEW YORK (By Simon Romero and Janet Elder, NY Times) August 6, 2004 – A new survey of the nation’s Hispanics finds they are far more optimistic about life in the United States and their children’s prospects than are non-Hispanics, despite the fact that many are much poorer and many do not intend to gain the full benefits of citizenship.
The New York Times/CBS News poll found that nearly 70 percent of foreign-born Hispanics say they identify more with the United States than with their country of origin. Still, many continue to send money to family members even though they rarely visit their home countries.
Sixty-four percent of Hispanics said there was no specific instance when they felt discriminated against because of their ethnicity. Those who said they had had such an experience said it involved employment or a general sense of exclusion.
The finding was in sharp contrast to that of the poll’s non-Hispanic blacks. Seventy-three percent of them said they had experienced discrimination, while 25 percent said they had not.
Much of the optimism expressed by Hispanics appears to be related to the fact that most, 57 percent, said they were immigrants. Just 39 percent said they were born in the United States, making it clear that the expectation of better economic circumstances for themselves and their children was inherent in their decision to uproot their lives and come to the United States.
Follow-up interviews with some respondents revealed the extent to which economic opportunities had fueled their decision to immigrate. Sixty-six percent of foreign-born Hispanics said they moved north looking for jobs and other opportunities, while only 9 percent said freedoms were an incentive and 6 percent said a search for a different culture or lifestyle encouraged them to come to the United States.
“In Mexico one can study and study but there’s no good work when you finish school,” said Sylvia González, 39, a custodian in Denver who moved to Colorado from the Mexican state of Morelos. “Here we do the jobs that no one wants to do because we know the value of work. Here we understand that the person without a job is the person who does not have the will to work.”
Only 9 percent of Hispanics said they thought immigrants coming to the United States took jobs away from American citizens, compared with 33 percent of non-Hispanics and 34 percent of non-Hispanic blacks. Eighty-two percent of Hispanics said immigrants took jobs Americans did not want.
The Times and CBS News nationwide telephone poll of 3,082 adults included 1,074 Hispanics and was taken over a two-week period, July 13-27. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points overall and four percentage points for Hispanics.
The poll was offered to respondents in Spanish and English. About half of the Hispanic respondents chose to have the poll conducted in Spanish. About a third of those who responded in Spanish said they did not speak any English.
People of Mexican origin account for about two-thirds of the nation’s Hispanics, making immigration flows from Mexico and Mexico’s economic situation strong factors in the fast-evolving Hispanic population, which has become the nation’s largest minority group.
Smaller Hispanic communities link their backgrounds to Puerto Rico or El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Cuba and other countries.
Throughout the poll there were signs that Hispanics who were not born in the United States were even more optimistic than those who were born here. For instance, when asked if life for the next generation would be better or worse than life today, 64 percent of Hispanics born in the United States said it would be better, but 83 percent of foreign-born Hispanics said so.
“Part of the assimilation process is feeling stable enough to criticize the system,” said Gregory Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based senior fellow at the New America Foundation. “There is a sense of ascendancy in places with large numbers of Hispanics, like Los Angeles, that is especially palpable among recent arrivals. Whether that’s transformed into something real or not remains to be seen.”
Only 39 percent of non-Hispanics said they expected a better life for the next generation. In a question about the opportunities for Hispanics to get ahead versus those for other ethnic groups, majorities of Hispanics — both those born in the United States and those born elsewhere — said the opportunities were largely the same.
But 29 percent of Hispanics born here and 36 percent of those who are foreign-born said the opportunities for advancement were better for Hispanics than for other groups. A majority of Hispanics, 60 percent, said it was still possible to start out poor in this country, work hard, and become rich, compared with 72 percent of non-Hispanics.
“Right now I think Hispanics are getting more attention than before, there are more Hispanics getting hired,” said Gloria Guzman, 62, a retired cafeteria clerk in Monahans, Tex. “My daughter doesn’t think there is prejudice and I think there is. My daughter married a white guy. She has not gone through a lot of those things, that’s why my daughter doesn’t think there’s prejudice.”
Differences in responses about discrimination were also pronounced in respondents’ dealings with the police. When dealing with the police on traffic violations or other minor offenses, 58 percent of Hispanics said they thought they would most likely be treated the same as everyone else, 28 percent said they would be given a harder time than others and 7 percent said they would be treated better than most other people.
But for non-Hispanic blacks, encounters with law enforcement are far more negative. Forty-two percent said they would be treated the same as others, 55 percent said they would be treated worse and 2 percent said they would be treated better than most.
Hispanics said they believed the portrayal of the Hispanic experience by the media and in television shows was mostly accurate, but non-Hispanics disagreed. A majority, 64 percent, of Hispanics said the national media did an accurate job of reporting news about Hispanic issues. Non-Hispanics disagreed, with a plurality, 42 percent, saying the media were not reporting these issues accurately.
Language was important, however, in how Hispanics said their experience was portrayed in the media.
Hispanics who mainly watch Spanish-language television and listen to Spanish language radio are more likely to say the news media do an accurate job of reporting Hispanic-related issues than those who get their news from English-speaking programming.
Eight out of 10 Hispanics who rely on Spanish programming said the news media were accurate in their reporting of Hispanic issues. Only 12 percent said the Spanish-language news media were not accurate. That was in sharp contrast to Hispanics who rely on English-language programming, with almost half saying the news media were not accurate is discussing Hispanic issues.
Thirty-three percent of Hispanics said they followed news and events in Latin America very closely and 26 percent said they followed Latin American affairs somewhat closely, higher figures than for non-Hispanics.
“It’s undercovered,” Frank Termini, 57, a school psychologist in Ossining, N.Y., and one of the respondents, said in a follow-up interview. “And that applies to the countries of origin as well as to Hispanics here.”
About half of Hispanics said most of what they watched on television or listened to on the radio was in English as were most of the books, magazines and newspapers they to read.
Hispanics tend to be younger than non-Hispanics and also poorer, the poll showed. Thirty-six percent of Hispanics said they were ages 18 to 29, compared with 20 percent of non-Hispanics and 27 percent of non-Hispanic blacks. Nearly half of Hispanics had total family incomes of $30,000 a year or less, with 19 percent of Hispanics subsisting on less than $15,000 a year. Fewer than 1 in 10 Hispanics had total household incomes of more than $75,000.
One of the most striking differences between Hispanics and non-Hispanics is related to citizenship ambitions. Only 23 percent of foreign-born Hispanics are Americans citizens, compared with 69 percent of foreign-born non-Hispanics. Thirty-six percent of Hispanics said they had no plans to apply for citizenship, while just 7 percent of non-Hispanics said they would never attempt to become a citizen.
Those figures may have more to do with ability than aspiration, immigration experts said, since many Hispanics illegally in the country are not able to begin the naturalization process.
Poll interviewers did not ask respondents whether they were in the country illegally. While estimates vary considerably, about 35 to 45 percent of foreign-born Hispanic adults in the United States are thought to be here illegally, or about 5 million people, said Roberto Suro, director of the Pew Hispanic Center in Washington.