by Mike Swift | San Jose Mercury News
07/29/2007 — Preschool teacher Sara Porras leans down to speak, first in English, then in Spanish, to one of the toddlers she cares for at the Parkway Child Development Center.
"Which one do you want?" Porras says to 2 1/2-year-old Alicia Molina Correa, holding up a game and a puzzle with children on it. "Cuál quieres, el juego o los niños?"
State demographers predict Latinos will be a majority of Californians by mid-century, but in preschool classrooms like Porras', the future is now.
For the first time in modern history, most of the babies being born in California are Latino, according to an analysis of state birth records through 2005 by the Mercury News. Population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau also show that for the first time in 2004 more than half of the children under age 5 in California are Latino.
2004 was the first full year when the number of babies born to Latina mothers nudged past 50 percent of the children born in California; it reached 51.5 percent in 2005. These newest Californians are the leading edge of a Latino demographic surge that will remake the state in unknown ways during the coming decades. But those changes, say demographers, will be driven primarily by the birth of native-born children - not by immigration.
Every toddler in Porras' San Jose classroom one recent afternoon was Latino, and demographers and educators say the state's future quality of life will be determined - starting now - by the quality of education produced inside thousands of similar classrooms. While more Latino babies are being born, state birth records show the transition to a Latino majority among California's youngest children is also caused by a 40 percent drop in the number of children born to white and African-American mothers since 1990.
"The implications for the future are: We aren't talking about an ethnic immigrant community, but an ethnic citizen community," said Harry Pachon, president of the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute in Los Angeles, a think tank that studies issues relating to Latinos.
But with more than 40 percent of Latinos marrying into other ethnic groups, Pachon thinks the emerging majority will remake racial and ethnic identity in California. "It might be that the white category might get a little bit darker in California in the next 20 years," he said. "It's going to be harder to talk about `them,' when it's really `us.' That's what the figures seem to indicate."
Judy Bugarin, a 40-year veteran of early childhood education and director of the Parkway Child Development Programs for Santa Clara County, feels responsible for better serving a student population that is now about 80 percent Latino.
"Our goal is that they become fluent in English by the time they're ready for kindergarten," Bugarin said as she watched Porras introduce children to English by saying each phrase in correct English before repeating it in Spanish. "That's where we're trying to close the achievement gap, by supporting English so they can do well in school."
Changing image: Latino birthrate shaping future
Demographer Bill Frey remembers the photo on a national magazine story about California's economic comeback. The photo - a blond woman on a California beach. That popular image of a native Californian, he says, is misleading.
"It's not the Beach Boys; it's not the Valley Girls," said Frey, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. "It's the Latino youth and it's an important part of California's future."
Nearly 100,000 fewer babies were born to white mothers in California in 2005 than in 1990, a decline of 39 percent. In part, that decline is a function of the demographic waves that run through every population, demographers say. The youngest members of the large baby boom generation, born between 1946 and 1964, are now 43 years old - and for the most part beyond the age of childbearing.
The baby boomers were followed by a much smaller cohort - the "baby bust" of the late 1960s and '70s. For that group of whites and African-Americans now in their prime childbearing years, there are fewer potential parents. Migration of whites and blacks from California to other states also has reduced the pool of potential parents. That demographic trough, coupled with the fact that fertility rates for whites and African-Americans are below the rate of replacement, has combined in a dramatic decline in the number of births for those groups.
Partly because of immigration, Latinos and Asians are less subject to the generational ebbs and flows that whites and African-Americans are. And although their fertility rates in California have been dropping since the early 1990s, Latinas still tend to have more children than women in other ethnic groups - with lifetime fertility rates in 2004 of 2.64 children for Latinas, 1.74 children for white women and 1.77 for black and Asian women, according to the state Department of Finance. Age and education levels are part of the reason, demographers say: Women with more education tend to have fewer children, and education levels among Latinos tend to be lower.
"Many of the new immigrants have lower education levels, and those women in general have tended to have more babies," said William Clark, a professor of geography at UCLA.
Demographers say that two decades from now, as Latino children born this decade begin having families and buying houses, the strength of the state's housing market and economy will rest increasingly on their educational and economic success.
Dowell Myers, a professor of policy and planning at the University of Southern California, has found that Latinos who have a college degree pay an average of 53 percent more for housing than Latinos with a high school diploma.
"If the aging baby boomers want to hold onto their high home prices," said Myers, "they really better hope that the future generation of Latinos is college-educated."
The last year when whites made up a majority of the births in California was 1984, according to Department of Public Health data, and Latino births have outnumbered whites since 1991.
: Birthrate gain
uneven across state
That ethnic transition is happening unevenly across the state, however. In Los Angeles County, the state's largest, birth records show 63 percent of the babies born in 2005 were to Latina mothers. And in Imperial County, on the Mexican border, four out of five births were to Latina mothers.
In Santa Clara County, Latinos are the largest ethnic group among newborns, but still just 36 percent of births in 2005, slightly ahead of Asians at about 32 percent. About 24 percent of the county's births in 2005 were to whites, according to records maintained by the state Department of Public Health and tallied from birth certificates. On California's northern border - Humboldt County - just 13 percent of babies in 2005 were Latino.
Already, a strong majority - about 58 percent - of California Latinos are native-born U.S. citizens, according to 2005 census data. More than twice as many Latino babies are born in the state as enter each year from Mexico through legal immigration. And while the number of Latinos who arrive through illegal immigration is notoriously difficult to track, demographers say that flow will drop as fertility rates continue to fall in Mexico.
"If there are fewer people competing for jobs in Mexico, that would drive up wages and that would mean fewer people migrating to the United States," said Laura Hill, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.
: Latino parents
The surge in Latino births is being felt at places like Familiar Footsteps, a preschool on Cottle Road in the 95123 ZIP code in San Jose, a section of the city where Latino births were up by 48 percent since 1995.
"A cultural mix, that's what it is," said preschool teacher Veronica Ortiz, who does half her instruction in English and half in Spanish.
By late afternoon at the Parkway Center on Fruitdale Avenue, parents are pushing one by one through a metal gate, arriving from work to pick up their young sons and daughters. The federal- and state-funded center serves children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years, providing subsidized early childhood instruction, meals and other services following the curriculum of the federal Head Start program.
The center, which still has about 200 subsidized slots available for the fall, is limited to children from families with incomes below about $48,300 a year for a family of four. But although family incomes are limited, several parents who spoke one recent afternoon said their aspirations for their children are not.
Monica Marin, a native of Mexico who lives in San Jose, sighed with fatigue as she ticked off the things she is doing for her energetic and gregarious 5-year-old son, Jordan, who was born here - swimming lessons, soccer and read-along sessions at the library.
Marin hopes they will all be steps that carry Jordan to a university degree, like the one she earned in Mexico.
"I want," she said, "the same for him."
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