Are Mexicans The New Italians?

Last week, NYT columnist David Leonhardt enthused:

Hispanics, the New Italians 

By DAVID LEONHARDT 

Published: April 20, 2013

With the arrival of millions of Latinos in recent decades, there have been multiple reasons to wonder if they would assimilate and thrive — including legitimate economic issues that go well beyond ethnic stereotypes. Unlike previous generations of immigrants, today’s can remain in daily telephone and video contact with their homeland. And unlike those in the past, today’s immigrants face legal obstacles, and their pathway to a middle-class life involves college tuition. A decade ago, the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington described the newfound issues with assimilation as simply the “Hispanic challenge.” 

Yet as the Senate begins to debate a major immigration bill, we already know a great deal about how Latinos are faring with that challenge: they’re meeting it, by and large. Whatever Washington does in coming months, a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.  

They have arrived in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English. The grandchildren look ever more American. 

“These fears about immigrants have been voiced many times in American history, and they’ve never proven true,” Alan M. Kraut, a history professor at American University, in Washington, told me. “It doesn’t happen immediately, but everything with Latinos points to a very typical pattern of integration in American life in a generation or two.”

This Mexicans-are-the-new-Italians theory (I reviewed Michael Barone`s version in 2001) is the kind of thing that sounds totally plausible to New York pundits. After all, there were practically zero Mexicans in the U.S. until, like, a couple of years ago, right, so how can you not believe it?

But doesn`t anybody in New York or Washington know anybody in Los Angeles? Doesn`t Mr. Leonhardt or Dr. Kraut have, say, an aunt in Encino who could give them some insight based on generations of experience?

Let`s take a statistical approach. There were 4,644,000 Hispanics in Los Angeles County according to the 2010 Census. The 1980 Census found 2,066,103 Latinos in Los Angeles County, and in 1970 there were 1,288,716. So they`ve been here a long time.

Also, the motion picture industry is in Los Angeles County. Naturally, that raises the question of what percentage of the approximately 1,150 people invited over the last decade to join the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences (and thus be eligible to vote for Oscars) have Spanish names, either surnames or first names? Diversity is our strength, so Hollywood must be rapidly diversifying, right?

Being an Academy member is kind of a weird thing in that some of the members are among the most famous people on earth, some are moguls, and some are obscure craftsmen. For example, when I was 15, my driving instructor was a member of the Academy. His day job was teaching driver`s training and coaching the wrestling team at a public high school, but he moonlighted as a character actor and stunt man (Yakuza henchmen, ninjas, and Japanese corporate executives were his specialties — he wasn`t the most skilled actor, but he was an extraordinarily tough looking guy who in real life was immensely affable, which is a good combination in a business where how much people like you matters a lot) in enough movies to be invited to join the Academy. (I believe my driving instructor was only the fourth East Asian in the Academy, following James Wong Howe.) A lot of members are technicians who are even more obscure. Still, all else being equal, being in the Academy is better than not being in the Academy, so it`s a good measure of social and economic status and achievement.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Oscars film academy may expand its ranks

The move would aim to add diversity to the mostly white, mostly male academy.

By Nicole Sperling 

April 26, 2013, 4:11 p.m. 

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is aiming to expand and diversify its ranks by relaxing a cap on membership that has restricted new admittances since 2004. 

The academy has about 5,800 voting members; in recent years, fewer than 200 people have been invited to join annually. The number of openings is essentially determined by how many members have retired, resigned or died. …

Rules state that there are three ways to become eligible for admittance: an Oscar nomination, a recommendation from two members of the applicant`s branch, or an endorsement by the branch`s membership committee and staff. …

Sound branch member Don Hall, who is on the Board of Governors, said it`s a good move that will allow a greater number of accomplished people in his technical field to be recognized. “We can now invite in others who haven`t won awards but are just as deserving,” he said. “Without the quota, we can get them in.” 

The academy has periodically faced calls to diversify its ranks. A 2012 L.A. Times study found that nearly 94% of academy voters are white and 77% are male. Blacks make up about 2% of the academy and Latinos less than 2%. 

 

Accompanying the article is a table of the 1,197 invitations to join the Academy from 2004 through 2012. (A few of those are writer-directors listed twice, so let`s call the denominator 1,150 new members).

I went through the whole list looking for Spanish names. I found 40, or 3.5% of 1,150. I don`t promise that I`m an expert on Spanish names, but I looked up many of the obscure ones ending in vowels. They were much more likely to turn out to be Italian rather than Spanish. (Italians seems to be doing pretty well at getting into the Academy.)

Most of those, about 28 out of 40, however, are people who were born and fully raised abroad (10 Spaniards, 4 Argentines, and so forth). For example, director Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs) was born in Colombia and raised in Mexico. By the way, his father is Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez (kind of like how move director Duncan Jones` dad is another 1970s icon, David Bowie).

Most, such as Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal, became prominent in their home countries` cinemas before trying their hand in Hollywood.

So these foreign elites aren`t representative of mass immigration at all.

Only a dozen — just 1% of the last 1,150 people added to the Academy — appear to be Latino-Americans in the sense either of being born here or at least having gotten here by high school.

For example, character actor Miguel Ferrer has a Spanish-surname but was born in Santa Monica. His Puerto Rican-born father Jose won the Best Actor Oscar over 70 years ago, and his singer mother Rosemary Clooney was George Clooney`s aunt. Zoe Saldana, who was so fetching as the 10` blue princess in Avatar was born in America but largely raised in the Dominican Republic. Andrew Jimenez, a Pixar animator, grew up in San Diego and went to UCSD. He speaks with no discernible accent, so I`m guessing he was born here.

Others were born abroad but got here young enough to be somewhat affected by growing up in America, so I classify them as also Latino-American.

For example, I went to Rice U. with Elizabeth Avellan, who was added to the Producers branch of the Academy in 2005. She grew up in Venezuela, where her grandfather owned the first private TV network in the country, but came to the U.S. when she was 13. (She married director Richard Rodriguez of San Antonio, and kept us apprised of her hubby`s meteoric progress in the Rice alumni newsletter. They have five children: Rocket Rodriguez, Racer Rodriguez, Rebel Rodriguez, Rogue Rodriguez and Rhiannon Rodriguez.) So, I count her as one of the 12 Latino-Americans because she got here before age 18.

Makeup / hairstylist Mike Elizalde was born in Mexico, but came here with his parents when he was five. He and documentary maker Lourdes Portillo were the only individuals I could find who were conventional first generation Mexican immigrants.

And there are six others who appear to be Latino-Americans or at least there is no evidence that they fully matured in some other countries.

But barely over 1.0% is remarkably small.

But how can anybody in New York or Washington notice?