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Reviewed by:
  • Hispanics in the United States: A Demographic, Social, and Economic History, 1980-2005
  • Brian Gratton
Hispanics in the United States: A Demographic, Social, and Economic History, 1980-2005. By Laird W. Bergad and Herbert S. Klein (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010) 468 pp. $32.95

The principal intent of this volume is to present the sociodemographic characteristics of Latino groups from 1980 to 2005, a task for which the authors are expertly qualified. Bergad and Klein employ a conventional social-scientific frame, parsing the data into ten themes, prefaced by two chapters on the period before 1980. Each chapter provides rich tabular displays with limited discussion; narrative is largely confined to the introduction and conclusion. Utilizing Hispanic identifier and subgroup nationality categories in ipums for the censuses of 1980, 1990, and 2000 and in the American Community Survey for 2005 (and jarringly including Brazilians among Hispanics), they demonstrate what most researchers know, that Latino nationality groups should not be lumped together. As a comprehensive collection of data, the volume fills a gap since the publication of Frank D. Bean and Marta Tienda's Hispanic Population of the United States (New York, 1987).

Scholars have reason to be thankful for the prodigious generation of information and for the comparisons between not only nationality groups, generations, and genders but also six metropolitan areas (and, more rarely, states); the comparative exercises yield useful surprises. In interpreting these data, Bergad and Klein insist that Latino groups be seen as the latest wave in the long immigration history of the United States rather than, as is now the rule, racially defined and disparaged minorities. Moreover, they draw highly optimistic conclusions from the evidence. Thus, the appearance of a vigorous middle class and growing economic inequality in Hispanic groups gives them reason to believe that this immigrant wave will do as well as those that preceded it.

Since this conclusion depends upon historical comparison, the authors' failure to display much command over history is disappointing. [End Page 319] Errors in the first paragraph do not inspire confidence, and such missteps continue in the two historical chapters. The authors appear to be unaware of historical work directly related to their argument, such as Joel Perlman's Italians Then, Mexicans Now (New York, 2005). They locate "a large Mexican population" in the Southwest in 1848 (1), despite acknowledging that it amounted to, at most, 81,000 persons, a population so small and so beleaguered by indigenous polities that it attracted the rapt attention of American expansionists. They blithely repeat the canard that the "the U.S. government actually repatriated 345,000 Mexicans to Mexico" between 1929 and 1932 (33). In a magisterial assessment of the effects of fertility and mortality on early twentieth-century Mexican emigration, they describe that movement of people as purely circular: Young men arrived, worked, and returned home. Yet, by 1930, the Mexican-origin population in the United States exceeded 1.7 million; near sex parity and a rising native-born component promised permanence.

Most important, the authors assume, but do not test, the ahistorical proposition that the current wave is not distinct. They never contemplate fundamental changes in the context of reception in the United States (for example, the decline in semiskilled factory work) nor what fifty years of restriction might have meant for the incorporation of previous immigrants. They do not seriously engage the exceptional features in contemporary immigration that Kennedy posed nearly fifteen years ago in the pages of the Atlantic Monthly.1 For these reasons, the conclusion's impassioned attack on any objection to current or past immigration (an opposition largely equated with bigotry) seems partisan rather than scholarly. Readers of this volume can profitably partake of the material that its authors painstakingly generated for the period from 1980 to 2005, but they should take with a grain of salt their historical observations.

Brian Gratton
Arizona State University


1. David M. Kennedy, "Can We Still Afford to Be a Nation of Immigrants?" AtlanticMonthly, 278 (1996), 52-68.



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