Opinion: The Alamo Census!

“Here in Texas the number is what, 30%?”

Writing on the blackboard, that is what I asked Professor Nicolas Kanellos over my shoulder as he stood looking at his computer on the other side of the long table.

Together with students and associates gathered in the conference room at the University of Houston, we were analyzing results from the epic census just concluded.

“No, it’s 37.6%,” he answered, surprising both of us. Nearly 38 percent of the total population of Texas is now comprised of people who describe themselves as non-white Hispanic or Latino.

The explosive growth in the Latino population was expected, but is no less impressive for having been predicted. As the actual numbers from the 2010 U.S. Census trickle out at the rate of a few states a week, the data is dramatic in many states, but Texas is the face of America’s future. It has reached the tipping point; there will be a Latino majority here by 2040, (and the nation as a whole by the end of the century, but that’s another story).

Considering the mythical arch of Texas history from Mexican territory to independent Republic to secessionist state to Confederate anchor to Lone Star State, that it should happen here first is appropriate. After the fall 175 years ago of San Antonio’s legendary fortress, which marked the beginning of the end for Mexican-Texas, comes another demographic Alamo; another pivot in history: the eve of a Texas-Mexican majority.

“It’s basically over for Anglos,” was the scary, harsh way Texas demographer Steve Murdock said it to the Houston Chronicle. Which sort of sounds like, ‘Anglos are up the creek without a paddle;’ but Angelo Falcon, the trusty head of the Latino Census Network, says he’s dealt with Murdock, and that the state demographer is not the bigot he seems when that sentence is read in isolation.

Murdock was only telling the Chronicle reporter that the coming majority will be poorer and more poorly educated than the diminishing Anglo population; which will weigh heavily on Texas’ institutions, social structure and economic life.

That burden is undeniable, at least initially. By every measure, the Latino population in Texas and elsewhere has a lot of ground to make up, particularly in education and economics. And if it doesn’t, there will be hell to pay in the form of stressed schools, strained budgets and shrinking public services.

But Mr. Murdock’s actuarial pessimism sells short the immigrant vigor these new Americans are demonstrating. Opening shops, reinvigorating neighborhoods, repopulating church congregations and filling the ranks of groups like the Boy Scouts, they are helping revive depleted communities.

The relative youth of the emerging Latino majority also holds great promise for the United States. Unlike the populations of Russia and Northern Europe, which are aging rapidly, leaving too few workers to support too many retirees, America has this injection of vigorous youth. They will help save Social Security, if only we can educate them and provide opportunity to participate in a recovering economy.

Talking with the mostly young, energized and focused faculty members, graduate and law students gathered in Professor Kanellos’ conference room this week, the most perplexing issue was the mix of hope and hostility the census numbers represent.

Yes, there is pride in our evolving community, but also recognition that like the demographer, many Americans are fearful that the country is changing for the worse; hence the pervasively negative attitudes toward illegal immigration. According to the demographer, 6% of the entire Texas population is undocumented. Yikes. That is an undeniably breath-taking statistic regardless of where you stand on the debate. It is an eloquent argument for enhanced border security, even if you’re for compassion, integration, and eventual inclusion of those already here.

Imagine you’re a fourth-generation Anglo Texan who’s previously all-white suburb is now mostly Latino? Truthfully, it would at least be unsettling.

“The harsh Republican line on immigration is usually depicted as motivated by concern about jobs, national security, drugs or terrorism. But that tune has a persistent undercurrent of fretfulness about race, culture and ethnicity,” said a February 2009 editorial in the New York Times.

“That deep seated fear that the old world is slipping away is the only explanation I can think of for the defeat in Congress of the Dream Act,” I told the University of Houston group. “Why else would someone vote against throwing a life line to innocent children?”

The burgeoning Hispanic population is the 800 pound piñata in the room of American politics.

The 7.35 million Latinos who voted for President Obama represent almost his entire 8.6 million margin of victory nationally. More will vote in 2012. In Texas, the state GOP understands the stakes, and is moving aggressively to moderate immigration rhetoric and recruit Hispanic candidates.

What is needed is a comprehensive approach; a private/public partnership to deal with immigration, guest worker programs, educational outreach and integration. There is no other responsible option. Remember the Alamo Census.

Geraldo Rivera is Senior Columnist for Fox News Latino.