I. Overview

Most Latino immigrants maintain some kind of connection to their native country by sending remittances, traveling back or telephoning relatives, but the extent of their attachment varies considerably. Only one-in-ten (9%) do all three of these so-called transnational activities; these immigrants can be considered highly attached to their home country. A much larger minority (28%) of foreign-born Latinos is involved in none of these activities and can be considered to have a low level of engagement with the country of origin. Most Latino immigrants (63%) show moderate attachment to their home country; they engage in one or two of these activities.

Latino immigrants who have been in the U.S. for decades and those who arrived as children are less connected than those who arrived more recently or migrated as adults. There are also significant differences by country of origin, with Colombians and Dominicans maintaining more active connections than Mexicans, and with Cubans having the least contact.

Whether Latino immigrants maintain active, moderate or limited connections is an important marker of their attitudes toward the U.S., their native country and their own lives as migrants. Those with the highest levels of engagement have deeper attachments to their country of origin than immigrants whose connections are less robust. They also have more favorable views of their native country in comparisons with the U.S. Nonetheless, a clear majority of even these immigrants see their future in the U.S. rather than in the countries from which they come.

Most Latino immigrants reveal moderate levels of engagement with the home country—both in the extent of their transnational activities and in their attitudes. They maintain some connections to the country of their birth through such activities as sending money or phoning regularly. And their opinions blend optimism about life in the U.S. and positive evaluations of some aspects of American society (notably political traditions) with less favorable comparisons to their native land on other aspects (such as morals). Their attachments and identities are a mix of views that might be expected of people navigating an emotional terrain that encompasses two nations. That mix differs in several important respects, with people who have been in the U.S. longer being more ready than recent arrivals to declare this country their homeland and to describe themselves as Americans.

The Pew Hispanic Center’s 2006 National Survey of Latinos collected data on a variety of transnational activities and a wide range of attitudes and beliefs. This report is based on a new analysis of that survey data, which for the first time examines the extent to which Latino immigrants with different characteristics maintain connections to their native lands and assesses how different levels of transnational activities are associated with an immigrant’s views on key subjects. The analysis thus explores the question of whether maintaining connections to a country of origin is associated with more positive or negative views of the U.S., a greater or lesser sense of attachment to this country and a stronger or weaker sense of identity as an American.

The 2006 National Survey of Latinos was conducted by telephone among a random sample of 2,000 Hispanic adults from June 5 to July 3. The respondents include 1,429 foreign-born Latinos whose activities and attitudes are explored in this report. Respondents could choose to be interviewed in English or Spanish. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.8% for the full sample and plus or minus 4.4% for the foreign-born sample. Fieldwork for the survey was conducted by International Communications Research, an independent research firm headquartered in Media, Pa. (See appendix for detailed methodology. The full dataset is available for download at www.pewresearch.org/hispanic.)

Major findings include:

  • Although transnational activities are a central characteristic of the Latino immigrant experience, only a small share of the immigrant population regularly engages in all three of the activities measured in the survey. Only one-in-ten (9%) of all Latino immigrants send remittances, make phone calls at least once a week and have traveled back to their country of origin in the past two years. Meanwhile, nearly three-in-ten (28%) do not engage in any of these activities. Most Latino immigrants (63%) engage in one or two of these activities.
  • Just over half of all Latino immigrants (51%) send remittances (money sent to relatives in their country of origin) and 41% talk by telephone with a relative or friend there at least once a week. However, these activities are much more common among recent arrivals than among those who have been in the U.S. for many years. Among those in this country for less than 10 years, 63% send remittances and 62% phone at least weekly. Among those here for 30 years or more, 36% send remittances and 19% call at least weekly.
  • Travel back to countries of origin follows a different pattern. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of all Latino immigrants have made at least one trip to their native country since moving to the U.S., and 29% have traveled in the past two years. The share making trips in the recent past is higher among immigrants with long tenure than among the recent arrivals. Acquiring U.S. citizenship, which is more common among those with more years of residence, is associated with higher levels of recent travel.
  • The extent of engagement with the home country varies by country of origin. Larger shares of immigrants from Colombia and the Dominican Republic travel back and make frequent phone calls than those from Mexico and El Salvador. Levels of remittance sending are similar for Mexicans, Dominicans and Colombians but higher for Salvadorans. Cubans, who face significant legal restrictions on contact with their native land, have the lowest level of engagement among the major Hispanic country of origin groups.
  • Two-thirds of Latino immigrants (66%) say they plan to stay in the U.S. for good, but this intention varies significantly depending on how long an individual has been in this country. Among those here for fewer than 10 years, 51% say they plan to stay, a stance shared by 85% of those who have already been here more than 30 years.
  • Half of Latino immigrants (49%) say that their country of birth is their “real homeland,” while more than a third (38%) look upon the U.S. in that way. This measure of attachment also varies according to the amount of time someone has been here. More than twice as many immigrants who have been in the U.S. for fewer than 10 years (69%) cite their country of origin, compared with those here 30 years or more (32%). Among Latino immigrants who are not U.S. citizens, 59% say their country of origin is their real homeland, compared with 33% of those who have become U.S. citizens.
  • Higher levels of engagement with the home country are associated with weaker attachment to the U.S. across several indicators. Immigrants engaging in more transnational activities are more likely to say that their country of origin is their real homeland, for example. Those with high engagement are also less likely to say that they plan to stay in the U.S. for good, but a clear majority of even these immigrants (67%) still see their future in the U.S. rather than in the countries from which they come.

A Note on Terminology

The terms Hispanic and Latino are used interchangeably in this report.

About this Report

Based on data from the 2006 National Survey of Latinos conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center, this report provides new findings on the extent to which foreign-born Latinos engage in a variety of transnational activities such as remittance sending and travel back to their country of origin and on how such activities relate to their attitudes toward the United States.