Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Navarrette: Don't be afraid of America's changing demographics

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
A teacher assists third-grade students in a Chicago classroom.
A teacher assists third-grade students in a Chicago classroom.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • For the first time, minorities will exceed white population in U.S. public schools
  • Ruben Navarrette says that some may fear the change, but the results are positive
  • He says immigrants change America, but America winds up changing immigrants
  • Navarrette: Immigrants reinvent themselves and wind up revitalizing the U.S.

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor, Daily Beast columnist and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette

San Diego, California (CNN) -- For many Americans, the scariest phrase in the English language is "changing demographics."

It's never easy to adjust to change -- especially when the thing that is changing is nothing less than the complexion of the country. America is being transformed before our eyes. In the early years of the 21st century, many white Americans are trembling at the thought that -- within three decades -- they'll be the minority in the United States. The demographic "doomsday" is about 2043, according to the most recent projections.

Ruben Navarrette
Ruben Navarrette

If you're the kind of person who stays up at night worrying about such things -- either because you fear that you will be marginalized in the future, or because you're feeling a little guilty over how African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans have been treated and you're hoping they're not holding any grudges -- living in America at this moment means having to endure one terrifying story after another.

In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that -- because of immigration, and high birthrates among Latinos and Asian-Americans -- whites had become a minority among babies.

In 2013, the headline was that, for the first time, racial and ethnic minorities made up about half of Americans under the age of 5.

Now comes this bit of news, which is likely to send more Americans scrambling for their blood pressure medicine. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, starting this fall, U.S. public schools are projected, for the first time, to have more minority students than whites. At 49.8 percent, whites are still expected to be the largest racial group in the public schools. Yet, minority students will now make up the majority. And about one in four of those minority students will be Latino.

This turnaround has already occurred in some states, most notably Texas and California. And now it's about to happen on a national scale.

The economic, political and social implications of this demographic sea change will extend far and wide.

Race relations in prep schools
AC360 Study: Diverse schools are better
How parents can teach equality

For one thing, the immigration debate will continue to erupt periodically, every few years. After all, what drives much of that discussion isn't concerns about border security or the rule of law. That's just the window dressing. The real fuel is nativist anxiety over the ethnic transformation of our neighborhoods, towns and cities. We'll also keep fighting about language and culture, as one way of life yields to another.

In addition, there will be greater expectations on Latinos in particular -- who now comprise 17% of the U.S. population and who, by 2043, are expected to account for as much as 25% -- to convert those population figures into something more tangible, such as political power. Already, many political observers wonder why one hasn't led to the other. As the numbers increase, that curiosity will become more intense.

Specific to what will be happening in the schools, we can also expect greater demand for bilingual teachers and more resistance from older taxpayers to having to approve additional property tax bonds to pay for what will be a necessary expansion of school facilities in the years to come. That is awfully shortsighted given that the elderly rely on younger workers to pay for their Medicare and Social Security.

It may surprise you to hear it, but I cringe every time I see one of these stories about changing demographics, if it doesn't come with the proper context.

They get people all wound up for no reason, and needlessly pit groups of Americans against one another. They give Latinos, African-Americans and Asian a sense of false hope that, just around the corner, respect and power are on the way and life is about to get better. And they scare the dickens out of whites who, sensing that a storm is on the way, inevitably try to batten down the hatches by passing more restrictive laws.

Good luck with that. There's not much any of us can do to stop these changes from happening.

But there is no reason to fear them either. Immigrants change America, but America returns the favor and changes them right back. For instance, English is the dominant language in the United States, and so many immigrants will wind up speaking English within a matter of months or years. Their children will speak English as their primary language, as the immigrant's native language fades away.

Where some Americans look at changing population figures and see calamity, I only see opportunity. This country continues to draw to its shores the determined and the daring, who come here -- to the land of second chances -- to reinvent themselves and, in the process, wind up remaking and revitalizing the country.

That's not a threat to America. Quite the contrary. It's the very essence of America.

Bring on the change.

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:24 PM EDT, Sat September 20, 2014
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
updated 7:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
updated 11:44 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
updated 9:03 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
updated 11:01 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
updated 9:57 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
updated 11:47 AM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Fri September 19, 2014
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
updated 10:27 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
updated 7:15 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
updated 8:34 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT