Stirring The Nation's Melting Pot

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By the year 2040, there will be 60 million Latinos in the United States.

All they had to do was take to the streets, together, this spring to force the question, yet again, in our immigrant history: is it different this time? Is this invasion a threat? Will we become them or will they become us, asks CBS Sunday Morning contributor Martha Teichner.

The Barajas family, gathered at their house in East Los Angeles for a birthday party, offered a glimpse into Latino assimilation in America.

"Happy Birthday" was sung in English and the name on the cake read "Bobby" not Roberto.

Louis Barajas, Bobby's brother, says everyone he knows comes from an immigrant family. "There isn't a friend that I have that doesn't have parents that came from Mexico," he says.

The Barajas' are the living, breathing embodiment of a statistic immigration analysts consider proof that Latinos are assimilating into American life——from Louis's parents to his 13-year-old daughter, Aubrey.

"I talk to my parents in English. I talk to my grandpa in Spanish," Aubrey says.

By the third generation, the vast majority of Latinos, nearly 80 percent, speak English. Many speak no Spanish at all.

So the good news is that if you look at those numbers, it's clear that Latinos are no different from the immigrant groups who preceded them to this country, but depending on your viewpoint, that's also the bad news, because anxiety over Latino immigration is all about numbers and their impact on American culture.

There are 40 million Latinos in the United States, more than 13 percent of the population.

Just turn on the television: Spanish language broadcasting is a multi-billion dollar growth industry. Look around at the nation's construction workers, janitors, lawn crews and restaurant staff——Latino faces everywhere.

"People always emphasize the Latinization of America, and they don't look at what's happening to the Americanization of Latinos," says Harry Pachon.

Pachon is president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the University of Southern California.
"You can look at where do the loyalties lie. Forty Latinos are Medal of Honor winners. Fourteen percent of the marines are of Hispanic origin. So what is this Latinization going on? It's not a one-way street, it's a two way street," Pachon says.

A White House photo-op last week said it all. The three soldiers, wounded in Iraq, that the president swore in as U.S. citizens: two Mexicans and a Dominican.

"I live among immigrants. These folks had to rip themselves up from another culture, from their families and work in order to achieve a better life. They have voted with their feet and had the faith of the convert," claims Henry Cisneros, the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Clinton administration.

It's in the nation's interest to help them, according to Cisneros, a third generation Mexican-American, who was also mayor of San Antonio, Texas.

"We need to create institutions at our churches, at our neighborhood groups, at our community development corporations and yes, sometimes, government, i.e. the schools that offer an Americanizing curriculum that says, this is the way you become an American," Cisneros says.

Louis Barajas thinks Latinos ought to be doing the teaching.

He went to UCLA on scholarship, got an MBA and went to work doing financial planning for Anglo millionaires.