Latino Population Growth and the Arizona Nativism

Texas A&M University social demographer and sociologist Rogelio Saenz has some revealing statistical data in his recent Population Reference Bureau piece titled “Latinos, Whites, and the Shifting Demography of Arizona”: He first notes the dramatic growth in the population of Arizona, bringing the state up to near seven million people today as now the 14th-largest U.S. state. Among these

Latinos accounted for two-fifths of the nearly 3.8 million people added to the state’s population between 1980 and 2008…. The share of Arizona’s growth due to Latinos has grown significantly across the last three decades while the growth due to whites has declined…. The percentage of Arizonans who are Latino increased from 16 percent in 1980 to 30 percent in 2008. In contrast, the share of the state’s population that is white declined from 75 percent in 1980 to 58 percent in 2008.

He also provides this striking chart, which has major political-economic implications:

As he points out about this chart,

Whites account for over half of the state’s population ages 35 and older and make up at least 80 percent of those in elderly age categories. . . . In contrast, Latinos outnumber whites in the two youngest age groups (0 to 4 and 5 to 9). While the median age of the white population is 43, it is only 26 among Latinos.

This racial-age polarization has significant implications. A majority of active voters and political activists now are still white, while the population that will eventually be that majority of voters and activists is not white, indeed is very substantially Latino. Many Arizona whites have also been the ones so aggressively seeking SB1070-type legislation to reduce the (already significantly declining because of the Bush depression) number of Latinos in the state, with some of them supporting violence against these immigrants in the form of armed groups patrolling the border.

One of the sad ironies in all this is that most of the Mexican immigrants, especially the undocumented, in Arizona actually do much work for whites, to make their middle class lives (houses, restaurants, etc) more affordable and thus to buttress white middle-class affluence. One has to wonder who will do much of this hard and dirty work in Arizona if the immigrants are driven out.

Saenz also notes certain critical larger national and international “boxes” within which the Mexican immigration has taken place:

The families of many Latinos in the state have been there for generations. Furthermore, globalization, the expansion of economies across international borders, and the aging of the populations of developed countries all stimulate the movement of people into places such as Arizona.


  1. Seattle in Texas

    State sanctioned terrorism. I suppose nothing new in the U.S., but Arizona is making even some white conservative Texans scratch their heads–that I’ve seen. Arizona is in violation of other terrible human rights issues as well.

    I’ve heard that [most generally] when whites are the majority they generally don’t feel threatened with presence of minority groups…well no, not always true as there doesn’t even have to be any presence to be paranoid(Idaho panhandle and those mountains). But the more those numbers raise, the more flared and paranoid they (whites) seem to get and the only way they know how to confront their own fears, perceived or real, is through various forms terrorism all too often it seems…(my brother was in psychological operations…so terrorism here does not always mean physical violence…in fact, only occasional acts of violence backed with much psychological propaganda…done throughout U.S. history both here and abroad…).

    If they (whites in Arizona pushing for this) were to drive out their undocumented communities, they (the whites) would likely be the first to be begging and pleading them to come back–that’s for sure because of the various comforts and privileges they enjoy from their blood, sweat, and tears. Plus, I imagine the quality of work they do (undocumented workers) would rapidly decline to dangerous levels since they know all the tricks of their trades, which often comes from generations of knowledge and firsthand experience passed down from generation to generation–much that doesn’t come from formal education. Much is valuable knowledge that is taken for granted and actually devalued by the privileged society. For example, Washington undocumented workers are very much in touch with the lunar calender and know precisely how to care for the crops based on unforeseen and changing weather patterns–a type of thinking that is often considered “outdated” by some, “superstitious” and even “uncivilized” by many who are full participants of U.S. society and enjoying the fruits of their labor…quite literally…. But the white business owners let them do their thing with little or no interference as that leaves them predictably certain they will enjoy massive profits off their successful harvests that would otherwise be total failures by others who are out of touch and out of sync with their own natural environments.

    If whites and other U.S. citizens had to take over the work they are currently doing, perhaps some much needed labor movements might surface and former perceived allies would be in conflict leaving the invisible business owners exposed in ways they aren’t right now…. And even if they were then put into the shoes of the undocumented workers, would they come to appreciate the work they did and understand the gross exploitation they endured? Maybe some might. White society enjoys exploiting, but not be exploited. What to say….

  2. Maria

    You raise great points, SeattleinTexas. Who will do the work is an obvious problem that the anti-immigrant folks dismiss by pointing to the number of unemployed Americans who could supposedly do the work; however, 1) it is very unlikely that whites would do the work that has become racialized as foreign work, or 2) if they do they will want three times the money for doing it.

    Another interesting point, made by Joe is that the majority of active voters and political activists are currently still white, but that won’t be so in the near future. To add to this, if you look ahead in just five years, those who are in currently in the ten to fourteen year old category are almost even. If Latinos began voting at greater rates this could encourage non-Latino politicians to be forced to adopt positions that are less hostile towards the Latino community. It could even encourage greater Latino political representation. If Latinos began to vote in higher numbers, if the economy recovers, if the perception that the border is out of control is gone with the passage of immigration reform legislation then maybe, just maybe in a few short years we could see the end of SB1070-type legislation. Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part!

  3. No1KState

    – People in Idaho are watching Fox news make the New Black Panther Party sound like the military-arm of the NAACP. In reality though, they only have a few hundred members. Maybe. Give or take. Mostly take. That’s what’s influencing their fear of change and other.

    – I agree with the insight that SB 1070 could be overturned in a few years. Maybe less. Dems don’t need 100% of white votes no more than Obama did. So long as they continue to receive strong minority support, they’ll be okay. I definitely think these actions are going to drive otherwise disinterested people to the polls.

    If I may, one thing those of us who are active in local politics need to remember is that a good number of the extreme right politicians came out of local politics. They start out on the local school board or sanitation commission or some such other post. And begin gaining enough rapport with enough people to win major state and national elections. Even if in the end, they make themselves appear not to have did their homework, neither for a debate or in high school.

    And speaking of overturning AZ laws, I sure hope someone uses that new ban on ethnic studies against “mainstream” curriculum. You wouldn’t believe what our children is learning in school.

  4. ThirtyNine4Ever

    when reading this article and these posts I’m getting the feeling that many here are pro having an illegal immigrant community in the USA.
    I could not be more opposed to that view. I can’t see how people here can act like that is a good thing.

    • Maria

      Did you miss my statement about the importance of passage of immigration reform legislation. This is to address the current problems in the system that we have now. Whatever the final policy result is I hope we can and should get there in a compassionate and humane way. There is nothing that should present us from doing so unless as others have pointed out, we continue to dehumanize entire groups of people with our language, our thoughts, and our treatment of them. As U.C. Davis law professor Bill Hong Hing states in his dissent in Immigration and America’s Future: A New Chapter, “Showing compassion and fairness in our immigration policies is not a sign of weakness” (p. 152). And I would add, discussing the problems around “illegal” immigration is also not for having a “pro illegal immigrant community” but for having a compassionate immigration policy that is in line with economic reality.

  5. Seattle in Texas

    ThiryNine4Every, I’m not in favor of having illegal immigrant communities and don’t think it’s a good thing either–I’m with you on that. That is precisely why the term “illegal” as tied to socially constructed definitions of citizenship need to be removed. “Legalize” all the workers so they are afforded the same rights and protections that “U.S. citizens” enjoy and are entitled to. But also crack down on discrimination and the legalization on wage slavery.

    Conceptions of even the possibility of human beings somehow being “illegal” is an inherently inhumane concept. And when inhumane concepts are legitimated by society and then implemented into legal system, those who are victims of the inhumane definitions suffer in many ways that those who fit within the boundaries “humane” definitions do not. When society accepts those types of definitions, it legitimates and tolerates human rights violations to varying degrees and at many levels. The issue of “illegal immigration” is only a “problem” because white society makes it one. It doesn’t have to be. But it is.

    With that though, I do want to emphasize that I do not condone or applaud the other end–the “pro illegal immigration” debate either. That’s the flip side of white supremacy–the liberal side, at least I would argue. With that, we are saying it’s okay to allow people to work for less wages, have less or no rights and protections, and so forth. We are saying, “it’s perfectly fine to exploit, alienate, and oppress ‘others’ because we have designated them as being a group of people who fall outside our definitions of who is considered being worthy of being considered fully human.” I don’t take that position either. I’m in favor of banishing the notion of “illegal” as tied to conceptions of citizenship. I’m in favor of anybody who lives and works in the U.S. being paid fair wages and having equal rights and legal protections that U.S. citizens are entitled.

  6. No1KState

    Yeah, I agree with Seattle. There has to be something we can do to ensure these workers have rights, including safety and pay – as well as healthcare, education, etc. Many of them don’t want to be “American,” they just want to be able to having a decent life. Here or in Mexico. Mexico, that’s where they have family and friends and lives.

    My issue isn’t that they’re here or not. My problem is the inhumanity and sub-humanity with which they’re regarded.

    That’s one side. (Side as oppposed to point of which there are several.)

    The other side (for me) is the sheer stupidity!! Concerned about crime connected to illegal drug trading? Then legalize pot and let’s move on. Plus, anybody remember all the complaints about jobs going to Mexico? That whole time, illegal immigration was higher then than it is now. Say who what huh?

    But that’s just a whole ‘nother issue.

  7. ThirtyNine4Ever

    Oh, nevermind then!
    I do agree that it might work to use the “pro-illeagal’ arguments when dealing with biggoted people in the near term in order to stop support for draconian racist laws. Really though the end result of a class inbetween slave and citizen that we have now has to go and working on that might be very important. Kstate:
    Maybe expelling all the illeagals will actually end up sending all the manufacturing and some of the agricultural jobs here to Mexico and boost their economy. At the rate things are going in the US, I wouldn’t be surprised if they surpass us at some point.

    • Maria

      I completely agree that we need to end the in-between position, but how to get there would be so difficult! What does it mean for permanent residents who do not want to become citizens? What does it mean for countries that do not recognize dual citizenship? Some would argue that the long-term resident has to go because it creates a legal underclass. So many tricky issues within a framework of racism because who holds what status. You can bet that those who occupy this middle position are mostly on one side of the color line, though I’m sure it is a complicated picture worth exploring.

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