Hispanic America speaks English
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Of the many immigrant myths promulgated by the anti-immigrant cabal, the most provably false is that Hispanic immigrants (legal and illegally present) absolutely refuse to learn and speak English.

That is not true.

The Hispanic Trends office of the Pew Research Center studies English use by Hispanics and their "shocking" revelations rock a universe of lies.


Its recent study of U.S. Census Bureau data shows that a record 33.2 million Hispanics speak English "proficiently" or "well," which is 68 percent, in contrast to the 59 percent that did so in 2000. Conversely, the percentage of Hispanics who speak Spanish at home is growing smaller by the day. Previous studies by the Rand Corporation validate this study.

In 1980, Hispanics made up but 6.5 percent of the total U.S. population: 14.8 million people. Today, there are 54 million Hispanics and they make up 17.1 percent of the total U.S. population. The effect of such a monumental population change needs some "'splaining."

While much of the current Hispanic population growth is from native births, the exponential growth of the '80s and '90s was fueled by immigrants (legal and illegal). Since 2000, the native-born have surpassed immigrants. Since 2010, that is by as much as two to one.

Fact: The foreign-born Hispanic population was about 1 million in 1960 and is 19 million today. Conversely, there are 35 million native-born Hispanics today, compared to 5.5 million in 1960.

Of those native-born, 89 percent speak proficient English in contrast to the 1980s' 72 percent. Why? Because more native-born live in English-only homes.

A third of Hispanics say they do not speak English at all or not "very well." The key is age. Pew reports that 21 percent of those that do not speak English at all or "well" are over 65 years of age. Women are 57 percent of those that do not speak English.

In this writer's experience, those two percentages are real. When we came to the United States from Mexico, my mother was 17 and spoke no English. My 13-year-old uncle did not speak English and neither did I at age 3. My great-grandmother was 50 and spoke no English.

My mother learned English in the neighborhood movie theater with cousins on either side helping her understand the dialogue. My 13-year-old uncle learned it in school. I learned it on the streets, and then school. But my great-grandmother Maria never learned despite attending citizenship and English classes at night at the local elementary school that I attended during the day. This Pew study shows she wasn't the only "senior" immigrant unable to learn English.

The percentage of Hispanics over 65 years of age that don't speak English at all or "not well" is high. Seniors simply have more difficulty in learning new languages. They depend on their children and grandchildren, who speak both languages.

Education also plays a large part in English speaking for immigrants. Only 15 percent of "less than high school" folks speak English well; that doubles to 32 percent with high-school diplomas and grows to 52 percent with two years of college and 61 percent for those with bachelor's degrees.

Length of residence in the U.S. adds to English proficiency. This is especially true with immigrant children, who almost always speak better English than immigrant adults, no matter how long either is in the country.

Back to the fraudulent myth perpetrated by the anti-immigrant cabal: that the Spanish-speaking immigrants (legal or illegal) refuse to learn English. Wrong!

If they come as children they always speak English better than adult immigrants. The more education they have, the more proficient English they speak. Most second-generation Hispanics speak both English and Spanish; by the third generation, few speak Spanish — thus, the natural rise in English-only homes.

The Hispanic population has exploded since 1980 and will continue to grow so that in a dozen years, it could be 25 percent or more of the American population. According to current studies, poverty among Hispanics, while substantial at 24 percent, is a third less than other minority groups. Spending power is large and growing. Most Hispanic population growth is from native-borns, not from immigration.

Hispanic educational levels are improving every day. For example, in 1980, four-year college attainment was 6 percent. It has risen to 14 percent in 2013; add to that 23.5 percent with two years of college.

My great-grandmother Maria never learned English, but she did see me graduate from college. If she were still alive, she would be proud of the number of University of California-educated great-grandchildren and of one A-student great-great-granddaughter sailing through Harvard University.

Hispanic America speaks English; that is not a myth.

Contreras formerly wrote for Creators Syndicate and the New America News Service of The New York Times.