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Investigations: Pastora San Juan Cafferty

image: Research headerHispanic lessons The label "minority" is wholly inappropriate when applied to the Hispanic population in the United States, says Pastora San Juan Cafferty, a professor in the School of Social Service Administration and the Center for Latin American Studies. Hispanics now constitute 11 percent of the nation's population, she notes, and are projected to constitute one--quarter of the population by 2050. But, she argues, it's not just the numbers that make "minority" so misleading, "it is also the many ways that the diversity of the Hispanic population mirrors our whole country's diversity."

image: Pastora San Juan Cafferty (photo by Yarka Vendrinska)In Hispanics in the United States: An Agenda for the Twenty--first Century (Transaction), Cafferty and co-editor David W. Engstrom, AM'83, PhD'92, an associate professor of social work at New Mexico Highlands University, call for U.S. policy makers to consider Hispanics as a microcosm of American society and to recognize that the challenges facing Hispanics also face society as a whole.

The U.S. Hispanic population is often regarded as a homogenous one because of its shared Spanish language, notes Cafferty, who emigrated from Cuba when she was 8 years old. But in fact, she says, Hispanics are racially very diverse. If they migrated from the Caribbean, she explains, they may be of European descent, or of European and African, or just of African descent. Hispanics from North America and from Mexico may have a very strong Native American background as well as European.

Moreover, Cafferty says, the primary issues facing U.S. Hispanics--health care for infants and children, education, and labor-market participation--are matters important to the whole American population. "Because Hispanics are the youngest group in our society, and given our labor market and Social Security structure, Hispanics will be disproportionately supporting the rest of us in the next century," she said in an interview with the University's Chronicle. "So we're all better off if Hispanics fare well educationally and in the labor market."

Hispanics in the United States, due out in January 2000, expands on such themes. Cafferty and Engstrom have compiled essays by social workers, lawyers, economists, and others with insights into the demographics, characteristics, and concerns of U.S. Hispanics. As editor, Cafferty says, she tried to stay away from admonishing or exhorting public-policy makers. Rather, the essays are meant to raise questions about how policy makers have addressed the social problems of the Hispanic population. The writers, she says, also approached their subjects--which include Hispanic history, employment issues, and political involvement--with an eye toward creating a policy agenda for the next century, not just presenting data analysis.

In her own essay, Cafferty, who has a doctoral degree in American literary and cultural history from George Washington University, examines language retention within the Hispanic community and the many issues surrounding that loyalty, including bilingual education. She asserts that Spanish retention remains high among Hispanics because of the proximity of immigrants' homelands, the pervasiveness of Hispanic heritage, and the segregation patterns that have kept some Hispanics isolated in social and economic ghettos. Yet Hispanics speak English as much and as well as other ethnic groups, Cafferty says, and have been falsely placed in the center of the English-only debate within U.S. schools and government.

Cafferty's previous books and articles have similarly sought to broaden decision-makers' knowledge of immigrant populations. "The misconceptions that Hispanics somehow are a unique migration, do not learn English, are recent immigrants, are all Catholic--all these mythologies make for confused public policy," she says. "We must get away from stereotypes when setting a political agenda and define the social problems, not respond to the stereotypes."

For her next project, Cafferty plans to return to her literary roots and explore diversity within popular fiction. --Molly Tschida

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  DECEMBER 1999

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