Billy Joel. “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” 1989.
In this song, Billy Joel sets out to remind us that every generation faults the last for its current day’s troubles. This vicious cycle of blaming the prior generation is alive and well as much today as when that song climbed the charts over 20 years ago…but there’s something different now, I think.
In the past, this “blame game” sought to make sense of the present day woes by assigning responsibility for those troubles on the generation of yesteryear. Now, it seems the rhetoric of blame has a new target: Hispanics.
Instead of looking backwards to find the culprits for a failing economy, a weakening public education system, an overstressed healthcare system and the ongoing list of present day issues, some Americans are looking around and are uncomfortable with the amount of unfamiliar “foreigners” they see, particularly Latinos. So while many in the broader general market appreciate the influence of Hispanic culture on North America by way of cuisine, music, movies, sports and the like, I’ve observed a concern, even an instinct to blame Hispanics for our country’s challenges.
During the April 17thinstallment of NBC ’s “Meet the Press,” the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, expressed concern about America’s future competitiveness due to disturbing declines in U.S. academic performance indicators. I was struck by this concern because I know that U.S. Hispanics will make up a growing proportion of the U.S. population in the future.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports the Hispanic population has surpassed 50 million and accounted for more than half of the 27.3-million population increase in the last decade.
According to the Population Reference Bureau, by 2035, one-third of all American children and youth will be Latino, and it is projected that by 2050, one-third of the overall population will be Hispanic.
At the same time, a study by World Economic Forum reveals that U.S. competitiveness, as measured by 16 indicators, has 13 indicators on the decline when comparing 2009 to 2010.
So is there a correlation between the decline in American future competitiveness and the increase in the Hispanic population? As Hispanics continue to make up an increasing percentage of the U.S. population, how much of the burden should Latinos bear in influencing this country’s future direction? How much of this “fire” belongs to us?