Latino majority nears

To see the face of America in the 21st century, look south of the border, because the influx of Latinos is continuing to outpace that of all other groups.

Nearly 20 people contemplated the effects of that influx on America in the 21st century when they convened at the White Dog Cafe the evening of April 13 for a discussion on "Diversity, Immigration and the American Population in the 21st Century." The event was the third of five discussions at the restaurant based on the work of the Penn National Commission on Society, Culture and Community.

Led by Commission member Drew Gilpin Faust, Annenberg Professor of History and director of women's studies, the group discussed the merits of assimilation and diversity. First they watched a video of a talk given to the Commission by essayist and commentator Richard Rodriguez, who predicts an America in which people with Spanish-speaking backgrounds will be the majority.

"The American conversation [on diversity] ... has been conducted in white and black," Rodriguez said. "I represent an intrusion into that conversation."

Then Rodriguez turned the conversation to the heart of the matter.

"We speak more easily about our diversity than we do about the fact that I might become you, or that I might come dating your daughter, or that you might become my next door neighbor, or that we might eat the same food, or that we might be the same people, or that I might be in love with you."

Commission Assistant Director Michael Strong said, "He's talking about sex."

Faust agreed. "It's going to be biological rather than intellectual." She said Rodriguez shook up people's assumptions.

The group at the White Dog were indeed shaken. Avowed supporters of diversity, they began to talk about the many cultures coming to American shores, and cultural traditions they may bring with them that mistreat women and otherwise violate human rights.

The group didn't comment when Michael McElreath, a graduate student in history, called for "massive miscegenation. Let us all be one people."

One people was nice, but so was "richness of difference," said Kitsie Schelter (CW'63,CGS'95).

The final Commission discussion will be about "Public Talk: How Can We Do Better," May 4, at 8 p.m.

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Originally published on April 29, 1999