December 27, 2004

Dispersal and Concentration: Patterns of Latino Residential Settlement

II. Introduction

Throughout U.S. history, as well as in many other nations at various times, some commentators have expressed concerns that immigrant populations tend to cluster in ethnic communities where they cling to native languages, cultures and political beliefs. For example, Samuel P. Huntington, a prominent political scientist at Harvard, argued in Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity that previous waves of immigrants to the United States had scattered across the landscape rather than concentrating in homogeneous enclaves. This, he said, was both an essential element of the national heritage and a critical factor in the nation’s historical success in absorbing immigrants, concluding, “The Founding Fathers were right. Dispersion is key to assimilation.” Huntington worried that contemporary “Hispanic immigration has deviated from the historical pattern of dispersion” in a manner that will slow or even prevent assimilation.1

Latino population growth in the past decade has been characterized by countervailing trends of concentration and dispersal. We find that most Latinos live in neighborhoods that are not predominantly Latino. In 2000 more than half of the Hispanic population—20 million people—lived outside of concentrated Latino neighborhoods, while fewer—15 million— lived in concentrated Latino neighborhoods. However, we also find that the rate of growth has been faster for Hispanics in majority-Latino neighborhoods. On a larger geographic scale, we show that over the past two decades both immigrant and native-born Latinos have dispersed to states other than those with long-standing Hispanic populations, here called the “traditional Hispanic states.” Overall, the Latino population in the eight states that collectively make up our “new settlement states” grew by 130 percent between 1990 and 2000. Nearly 4 million Latinos lived in these new settlement states by 2000, and growth in minority-Latino neighborhoods accounted for nearly three-quarters of all growth of the Hispanic population in these states. As of 2000, as many as 3 million Latinos lived in the minority-Latino neighborhoods within new settlement states. On the other hand fewer than one million Latinos in these new settlement states lived in concentrated Latino neighborhoods.

  1. Huntington, Samuel P. Who Are We: The Challenges to America’s National Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004. p.192-195