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Roberto Rivera

Will El Norte Change or Be Changed?

When it comes to immigration, it's not just the economy, estupido!

In a recent cover story in Parade magazine, journalist and papal biographer Tad Szulc told Marcelino Ramos, a 59-year-old Mexican immigrant, that "ustedes son el futuro de America."

In case you never took high school Spanish, or have forgotten what you learned, that's Spanish for "you are the future of America." And, the you in ustedes is America's rapidly growing Latino population.

Most Americans are aware of this increasing Latino presence. What they may not be aware of is that, according to the Census Bureau, Latinos already constitute the largest "minority" group in the United States, and that doesn't include the nearly 4 million illegal immigrants or the 4 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico.

And the numbers will get even bigger. Within six years, the higher-than-average Latino birth rate, combined with legal and illegal immigration, will swell the number of Latinos in the United States to 50 million. That's right; more than one in six Americans will be of Latin American origin. The question is: How are these demographics going to change America?

To paraphrase the preacher, there is no end to the writing of books (and articles) about Latino immigration. The problem is that most of those who have written on the subject clearly have an ax to grind. There are studies and counterstudies on whether immigration is economically good or bad for America. However, this is one case where it's much more than the economy, estupido. It's a debate about culture. And here the two sides couldn't be further apart.

One camp views Latino immigration through a color de rosa lens. On the popular level, there are magazines written for and about Latinos where every woman looks like Salma Hayek and every man looks like Jimmy Smits. Every Latino featured is a professional and a pillar of his community.

You read paeans to the strong sense of family and commitment to tradition on the part of Latino immigrants, such as Szulc's article. The not-so-subtle message is "we need these folks ...

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