A New Social Movement?

The pro-immigrant marches were notable both because of their size in some cities and because they took place in so many communities across the country. They were also notable because these unprecedented rallies were mainly the result of a grass-roots effort that involved the Spanish-language media, local immigrant rights coalitions, local labor leaders, the Catholic Church, other religious organizations, student groups and many more.

Asked to choose which of two statements came closest to their views, almost twothirds (63%) of Latinos said the immigrant marches were the beginning of a new Hispanic/Latino social movement that will go on for a long time. In contrast, about one in four (24%) described the marches as a one-time event that will not necessarily be repeated. Latino Democrats (65%) and independents (64%) were more likely to take this view than Latino Republicans (52%). But overall—and regardless of income, education, language ability and other factors—Hispanics by a sizeable margin agreed that a new movement would emerge from the marches. There were no significant differences among country of origin groups on this question.

The survey also asked Latinos whether they thought the marches had a positive effect on the way the rest of the American public thinks about illegal or undocumented immigrants, a negative effect or no effect at all. A majority (52%) thought the marches had a positive effect, but almost one in four (24%) characterized the effect as negative. On this question there were significant differences among Latinos, particularly between those who were native born and those who were foreign born. Among native-born Mexicans, for example, only 45% thought the marches had a positive effect on the way the rest of the American public thinks about illegal or undocumented immigrants, compared with 63% among foreign-born Mexicans. Similarly, only 48% of third-generation Hispanics viewed the marches as a positive, compared with 60% among first-generation Latinos. Among those who were English dominant, 32% said the marches had a positive effect on the way Americans viewed undocumented immigrants, compared with 64% among those who were Spanish dominant.

To measure the potential long-term impact of the marches on Latino attitudes, the survey asked: “If there was going to be another of these marches in your home town this weekend, would you participate or not?” More than half (56%) said they would participate in a future march, an indication of how well-received the demonstrations were among Latinos overall.

For Some, United We Stand

Hispanics in surveys routinely describe themselves as culturally distinct from one another, with the country of origin being a significant marker. For example, in this poll, three-quarters (75%) of the respondents say that Latinos from different countries all have separate and distinct cultures while slightly under one-quarter (23%) say that they share one culture. But those fundamental attitudes appear to be shifting, and the events of the spring of 2006 may have accelerated the shift.

In the 2002 National Survey of Latinos, the question on separate cultures produced an 85% to 14% split compared with the 75% to 23% split in this survey. Both in 2002 and in this survey, the native and foreign born had the same views on this question. More significantly, the same basic trend toward a somewhat greater sense of unity is apparent when Latinos are asked whether Hispanics from different countries are working together politically or not.

Latinos were and remain split over whether they see themselves working to achieve common political goals, but the share of Hispanics who see a common effort is significantly higher now, particularly among the foreign born. In 2002 a plurality of Latinos surveyed (49%) said Hispanics were not working together politically and a smaller share (43%) said they were in fact working together to achieve common goals. There was no significant difference in responses between the native and foreign born.

The 2006 survey reveals a somewhat greater sense of solidarity. Now, 58% of Latinos see fellow Hispanics from different countries working together to achieve common political goals, versus 34% who say they are not working together. This is a significant swing in public opinion, and it is evident to some extent throughout the Latino population, with Cubans being the notable exception. However, the perception of common political effort is strongest among Latinos of Mexican origins, with 66% of the foreign born and 56% of the native born agreeing on this greater sense of solidarity.