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Study: English preferred by Hispanic kids


WASHINGTON - English remains the language of choice among the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, a new analysis of census data shows.
This is occurring despite continuing waves of migration from Latin America and concerns from some analysts that English may lose ground to Spanish in some parts of the United States.
The study, conducted by researchers at the State University of New York at Albany, is the latest foray in a fierce debate about whether the continuing stream of immigration from Latin America will challenge assimilation patterns charted by the descendants of European migrants.
Scholars say that the descendants of most European immigrants who arrived in the late 19th and 20th centuries became exclusively English-speakers within three generations.
In recent years, some people have questioned whether the descendants of Hispanic immigrants will follow suit, given the surging numbers of Spanish-speaking arrivals and the emphasis on multiculturalism and increased globalization.
English monolingualism
The study, which examined data from the 2000 census, found that most Hispanic-Americans were also moving steadily toward English monolingualism. The report found that 72 percent of Hispanic children who were third-generation or later spoke English exclusively.
The report suggested that the trend had generally continued among Mexican-Americans, the country's largest immigrant group, even during the immigration boom of the 1990s.
In 1990, 64 percent of third- and later-generation Mexican-American children spoke only English at home, the study showed. By 2000, that figure had risen to 71 percent.
In 2003, about 33 million foreign-born people lived in the United States, accounting for nearly 12 percent of the population, census statistics show. Fifty-three percent of those immigrants were born in Latin America and half had arrived since 1990.
About 757,000 of Arizona's 5.5 million people were foreign-born in 2003, according to census figures. Of the people in Arizona who were born in another country, about 550,000 were from Latin America, census statistics show.
In Pima County, about 105,000 of the county's 871,000 people in 2003 were foreign-born, according to census statistics. Of that total, about 73,000 were born in Latin America, the census' American Community Survey shows.
Assimilation pressures
Richard Alba, director of the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at SUNY-Albany, says the study suggests that many people have underestimated the pressures of assimilation, which continue to drive immigrants and their descendants toward English as they seek success in the American mainstream.
Even for Hispanics in Los Angeles, a magnet for immigration from Latin America, the pattern of language shifts across generations remained similar to those among Hispanics nationally, he said.
"A number of people, whether from the left or the right, are underplaying the contemporary signs of assimilation," Alba said.
"They are viewing American society as much more fractured along ethnic and cultural lines than really appears to be the case," he said. "There are fault lines, but they are not as deep as people think."
Notable exceptions
Alba uncovered some notable exceptions to the trend, finding that larger percentages of Hispanics maintained bilingualism in the third generation than did their earlier European counterparts.
Such bilingualism mainly occurs in communities along the Mexican border, where Spanish has been widely spoken for generations, and among Dominican immigrants who maintain close ties to their home country, the study found.