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 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
updated 2:51 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
updated 4:13 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
updated 7:55 AM EST, Wed December 10, 2014
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
updated 12:34 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
updated 8:42 AM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
updated 12:40 PM EST, Tue December 16, 2014
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT