Writings and observations

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

By July, 2050 – just about 38 years from today – 132.8 million Hispanics will be living in the good old U.S. of A. at which time they’ll make up more than 30% of the entire population. You can embrace that or – in some cases – fear that. But the Bureau of the Census says ‘twill be so.

In Northwest states – Idaho, Oregon, Washington – Hispanics are already the largest single minority group. That’s also the case in 22 other states from coast to coast. Each of the 50 saw major growth in the numbers from the 2000 census through 2010. In fact, at 52 million, Hispanics are the largest minority in the country. Period.
Couple these figures with growth in all other minorities and you’ll find we are living on the cusp of the largest racial and ethnic changes in our history – unless you count when the Pilgrims started pushing local Indians back from the Atlantic shore.

In fact, given officially projected growth in all minorities, the white, Anglo Saxon majority of today will no longer hold that distinction after 2050. We’ll be a nation of minorities with no single majority. Some minorities will be larger than others. But no single majority.

That’s never happened before. And you can already see signs this inevitable sea change of skin color and backgrounds is making some people fearful. Academics and others who study our national culture have been writing of this fear for some time. A few have posited that, because this nation has its first mixed-race president, racial appearance – and the too-often resulting prejudice – has contributed to the unreasonable hatred directed at him by some in our society.
It’s a fear, they say, fed by two major things. One is a feeling – true or not – that a white majority is being replaced in positions of authority. That some – used to being in the majority race and identifying with controlling events – are fearful of losing that power.

The other most cited factor deals with what people look like. Basically, their racial appearance. For example, until most immigrants to this country from Europe start to talk, no one usually considers that person to be in the minority he/she really is. They don’t look – well, different. But Asian or Black or Hispanic – that’s a difference that can be seen. And a difference that can often make some people uncomfortable.

Still, facts are facts. And the inevitability of this country not having a single racial majority in the near future is not open to question.

Let’s go back to the Hispanics. In 1968, President Johnson proclaimed National Hispanic Heritage Week starting September 15th and Congress extended the observance to month-long in 1988. Doubtful many non-Hispanics gave it much thought at that time. Unless they had roots in Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

But now Hispanics make up about 19% of the total U.S. population. Their number increased by 43% from the 2000 census to the 2010 recount. California, alone, has an estimated 14.4 million Hispanics. More than 50% of all Hispanics live in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. And in South Carolina, the Hispanic population increased 147.9% in the years between those census takings. 147.9%!
There are lots of other rather startling findings by the Census Bureau folks. But the point is, how is this nation going to adjust to this remake of our society as we lose a single majority to become a nation of combined minorities? What affects will this new mash of cultures have on business, lifestyles, education, health care, entertainment, agriculture and on and on and on? What sorts of changes are we all going to have to make – or undergo – to accommodate the new realities? All of us? Each of us?

Maybe I don’t fully grasp the life-changing significance of all this because – to me – this is an exciting time to be right in the middle of this ethnic redesign of our country. Being someone with a Heinz 57 racial makeup, I’ve always admired those who have a more simple – more direct – ethnic heritage. One with its own music and history and dress and even language.

We have East Indian friends, for example, who have shared their culture, food and history with us. It’s been a fascinating experience. Years ago, I sponsored a Panamanian friend for U.S. citizenship and learned firsthand of his native language and national history. Beautiful! One of my daughters was married in a Buddhist ceremony and, again, we learned of another minority culture here in our midst.

They’d been near us for years but we gave it little or no thought until our family was drawn into their lives.

Exciting time? Fearful time? This new reality is going to affect each of us. I pray the experience will be more the former and less the latter.

And, one more thing. Living in this country at the moment are 1.2 million Hispanics or Latinos who are veterans of our military. Seems they didn’t have much fear of putting themselves on the line for their adopted country. We need to consider that, too.

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Rainey

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Most of Idaho stable politically: For a couple of decades now its Republican/Democratic votes have varied hardly at all. Idaho generally isn’t a likely candidate for very much change in this year’s elections and the next few beyond.

But there are a couple types of areas that bear some watching. The area of Idaho that is, or ought to be, the most interesting politically is – the suburbs.

Washington or Oregon illustrate what I’m talking about. Oregon was mostly Democratic in much of the 80s; in the mid-90s Republicans staged a comeback, which ebbed into Democratic majorities in recent years though as elsewhere they made some pushback in 2010 (and its state House now is tied between the parties). Washington’s story is similar.

Most of those states changed little in these ebbs and flows. Rural areas were Republican and stayed so. The most urban – close in to Seattle and Portland – were Democratic and if anything became more so. What shifted was the suburbs. In Oregon, the long-Republican second-largest county in the state (Washington) changed sides about a decade ago and has since been reliably Democratic. Most of the people there live in Portland suburbs and smaller urban centers in its orbit – not so different from Meridian and Nampa in Idaho. When Republicans gained in 2010, that happened almost exclusively in Washington County and other suburbs around Portland; the central urban and the rural parts of Oregon barely moved. Again, the same dynamic has happened in Washington state.

Could it happen in Idaho? Point one is that there’s no significant evidence that it has – yet at least.

The real suburban areas in Idaho are two: west and north of Boise and north and west of Coeur d’Alene. Depending on how you count, these suburban areas account for six or seven legislative districts out of 35. The Boise suburbs, including places like Meridian, Eagle, Kuna, Middleton and to some extent he city of Nampa as well, have been solidly Republican … always. Since the New Deal era western Ada has elected hardly any Democrats, just two in 1990 to the Senate, lasting one term each. Few general elections in the area since 1990 have even been competitive, even when the Democrat is running a strong campaign. The same has become true in Kootenai County; more than two decades back, areas like Port Falls were politically competitive, but not now.

There are a few tests of these propositions coming up in this year’s election. The biggest are two legislative races in District 15, which includes part of Boise city (on the west side) but long has had a suburban feel. District 15 has been solidly Republican for decades, the last exception being one Senate term held by a Democrat after the 1990 election. This year, Democrats have a pair of strong candidates running strong campaigns, Betty Richardson, the former U.S. Attorney and congressional candidate, for the Senate, and Steve Berch, who ran a strong campaign (which nonetheless was swamped) in the old District 14, for one of the House seats. There are indications one or both might succeed – not a prediction here of who will win, but a suggestion that these may be really competitive races.

Indications, but not much more. They will be significant test cases. As districts closer in to Boise’s core shifted to competitive (16 and 18) or even Democratic (17) in the last decade, 15 shows some signs it may do that as well. If it does, other suburban districts later may as well. We may learn something interesting about Idaho’s suburbs when we see the results in November from those two races.

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