September 15th to October 15th welcomes National Hispanic Heritage Month, the celebration of the histories, cultures, and contributions of Hispanic Americans. Hispanics currently make up 17.3 percent of the U.S. population, and by 2065 are predicted to make up 24 percent. Hailing from countries all across Latin America, like Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Peru, Hispanics bring with them their cultures and their traditions and weave it into the American fabric that makes the country richer and more diverse. But even as the number of Hispanic’s continues to increases and even as Hispanic culture is making its way into the mainstream, we are seeing a push back from the Trump administration. Through the repeal of DACA or the rise of white supremacists in the U.S., it may seem like Hispanics are unwanted.
But the term “Dreamer” didn’t come from thin air. Latinos have a knack for pushing through and persevering. It’s that same drive, that ultimate goal of living the American dream, that has pushed Hispanics to leave their mark in the United States. This is why September’s Top of the Month is dedicated to the different U.S. sectors in which Latinos have made tremendous contributions to.
In the realm of business, Latinos play a significant role in the U.S. economy. According to the State of Latino Entrepreneurship 2015 report, created by the Stanford Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative, between 2007 and 2012, the number of Latino-owned businesses grew by 46.9 percent compared to 0.7 percent for non-latino owned businesses. These figures suggest that Latinos play an important role in job creation and economic development but also play a critical role in restructuring their neighborhoods. When a business opens up, it starts by attracting local customers and then it attracts clientele from around the city and before long, more and more businesses start to open and the neighborhood becomes a more attractive area to live in. This snowball effect has helped areas in despair become economically vibrant–just look at Chicago. These figures don’t include what Latino’s, as consumers, add to the economy.
Latino’s currently represent $1.5 trillion of the consumer market, and according to a recent study by the Latino Donors Collaborative, a nonpartisan association of Latino business, political and academic leaders, by 2020 Latinos are estimated to fuel nearly a quarter of all U.S. GDP growth and represent 12.7 percent of the country’s total GDP. According to the same report, if the U.S. Latino GDP was considered an economy of its own, it would be the seventh largest economy in the world in 2015, right behind France and ahead of India and Italy.
Latinos have for some time now left an impression in the U.S. music industry, from Carlos Santana, to Selena Quintanilla (and Selena Gomez), to Shakira, to Jennifer Lopez, Enrique Iglesias, the list goes on. However, the songs that have gotten them recognition in the U.S. all have one thing in common: they’re all in English. Of course this makes sense, the U.S.’s unofficial language is English, but with a growing hispanic population it was only a matter of time before a Spanish sung song made its way to the charts.
Cue in Luis Fonsi’s mega hit “Despacito.” The song has broken Fonsi out of the Latin music sphere, and turned him into an international sensation. The song is now tied as the longest-running number one song in U.S. history and has become the most streamed song in the world. Prior to Despacito, Los del Rio’s 1996 classic “Macarena” was the longest-reigning foreign language song in the United States. More than a decade later, the popularity of Despacito can be seen as a reflection of a changing tide, and one can even say an acceptance to the changing and intertwining cultures in the country. While the inclusion of Justin Bieber gave the song its winning edge, it doesn’t take away from the fact that a Spanish speaking song made it into the American mainstream. But the songs success didn’t end there. It left the door open for other Latin artists to try their luck in the U.S. industry. Just look at J Balvin and Willy William’s “Mi Gente,” which currently sits on the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Maluma’s “Felices los Cuatro” at 70 and Wisin’s “Escapate conmigo” at 75. It is safe to say that Latin music is making its way to the United States fiercer than ever.
Avocados, a staple in most hispanic homes, is making a huge wave in the United States. According to the Agriculture Marketing Resource Center, a USDA Rural Development grant recipient, the average American eats seven pounds of guacamole a year, a 1.1 pounds increase since 1989. One of the most tangible reasons for the Mexican fruits rise in the United States is loosened import restrictions that used to prohibit shipments from Mexico. After NAFTA, the U.S. slowly began to import avocados and by 2014, 85 percent of avocados sold in the U.S. were grown outside of the country. A similar rise to popularity can be seen in tortillas. In 2014 the thin, unleavened flatbread was the third most sold bread product in America.
But besides being a tasty addition to your burritos, nachos or toast, the fruit has also been hailed as having great health and beauty benefits. Avocados have been labeled a “superfood,” for its long list of beneficial nutrients and antioxidants like potassium and vitamin E. For these same reasons avocados are also big in the beauty industry. While major cosmetic companies include them in their shampoos and moisturizers, they are also being used as face masks, anti-aging treatments, to reduce bad breath, among other uses. Larger imports have made the avocado more accessible in the United States, and its beauty and health benefits and the growing popularity of Mexican food have made them an American staple.
Education is an important issue for Hispanics in the United States. According to Pew Research Center, roughly eight in ten cited education as a very important topic during the 2016 Presidential Elections. These sentiments can be seen in the drastic drop of the college dropout rate. In 2014 the college dropout rate decreased from 32 percent in 2000 to 12 percent amongst Hispanics ages 18 to 24. During the same period, college enrollment increased. Thirty-five percent of Hispanics ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in a two- or four- year college. And in 2015, almost 40 percent of Hispanics over the age of 25 have had some college experience. Fifty two percent of U.S.-born Hispanics reported they had gone to college, while 27 percent of foreign-born Hispanics reported some college experience.
But while the number of Hispanics attending and staying in school and attending higher education is increasing, they lag behind other groups in obtaining a four year degree. Just 15 percent of Hispanics ages 25 to 29 have a bachelor’s degree or higher. By comparison, about 63 percent of Asians, 41 percent of whites, and 22 percent of blacks have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Currently the 115th U.S. Congress is the most diverse in history. There are now 39 Hispanic members of the House and Senate, with Hispanics and Asians seeing the biggest growth over time—doubling their representation in Congress since 2001. But despite the increase in Hispanic representation in Congress, Hispanics account for 8.9 percent of the current congress but represent 17.3 percent of the population. The same under representation can be seen in the local and state governments of California and Boston. However, Latinos are slowly rising in the ranks and becoming more active in politics. In 2016 alone, the number of projected Hispanic eligible voters hit a record 27.3 million, higher than any other racial or ethnic group of voters in the country, representing 12 percent of all eligible voters.
A major victory for the Hispanic community came in 2009, when President Barack Obama nominated now Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, making her the first Hispanic justice nominee. Another major achievement came in the shape of President Barack Obama’s administration. Not only was his team the most diverse administration in history, but more young Hispanics had worked under Obama than in any previous administration. The emergence of a fresh wave of young Hispanics in politics didn’t end there, during the same period there was an increased size of Latinos in politics. As a testament to this, the Huffington Post released a list of the 40 under 40 Latinos in American politics. And when it came down to voting during the 2016 election cycle, the Pew Research Center found 44 percent of eligible Hispanic voters were millennials, with 3.2 million young U.S.-citizen Latinos becoming eligible to vote between 2012 and 2016. The figures projected the importance of the Latino vote in U.S. elections, and highlighted the sway Latino youth have and will continue to have in politics.