In spite of hardships, Hispanics pin high hopes on life in the US
WASHINGTON, DC - Daily life for Marlen Lopez sounds anything but easy: The 33-year-old undocumented worker cleans offices to pay her bills and hasn't seen her 8-year-old son since she left El Salvador three years ago. Yet Lopez is happy with her job, hopeful about the future and confident her son will one day graduate from college in the United States.
For Lopez, as for many other Hispanic immigrants, optimism about life in the U.S. appears to be partly a product of what they see in the rearview mirror.
An Associated Press-Univision poll of more than 1,500 Latinos finds that Hispanic immigrants, many of whom faced huge problems in their homelands, have more idealized views of the U.S. than do Hispanics who were born in America.
It's an oft-told story in U.S. history, one of immigrants drawn to the land of opportunity and happy with the contrast to their old life. But also one of ethnic groups that settle in only to confront social and economic hurdles that persist from one generation to the next.
For Lopez, life in the U.S. so far has met the expectations she's built up since she was a young girl in El Salvador. In one week of cleaning offices, she earns double or triple what she made in a month as a grocery store cashier back home. And she's working much shorter days now, as she prepares to bring her son and father to the U.S.
"One hopes for the best and sometimes you don't get it, but I'm good where I am," Lopez, who lives in Columbia, Md., tells a reporter in Spanish.
The poll, also sponsored by the Nielsen Co. and Stanford University, turned up stark differences between the hopes of immigrant parents and U.S.-born Hispanics for their children: 77 percent of foreign-born Hispanic parents believe it will be easier for their children to find a good job, compared with 31 percent of U.S.-born Hispanics. Likewise, far more Hispanic immigrants believe it will be easier for their children to buy a house and for their children to raise a family than do Hispanics born in the U.S.
And because the nation's 47 million Hispanics are the country's fastest growing minority, questions such as where they will work, whether their kids go to college, whom they will vote for and more have huge importance to the country as a whole.
It turns out that those born abroad hold higher hopes even though they worry more than U.S.-born Hispanics about jobs, bills, college savings and other expenses, the poll finds.
Gary Segura, a political scientist from Stanford who helped conduct the poll, attributes the differences in expectations to "adverse socialization." Recent immigrants, he said, "might find their life in the U.S. to be superior to the life that they left." But as time goes by and things don't work out as well as expected, he said, the outlook begins to dim.
The country's economic downturn has taken an especially harsh toll on Hispanics, according to the poll, with 6 in 10 saying it's hard for them to get ahead financially and nearly half or more expressing intense worry over losing their jobs, paying bills or saving for college.
And those financial pressures act as a brake on Latinos who place huge importance on the value of a college education. A whopping 94 percent of Latinos in the poll expect their own children to go to college. Yet Census figures show that only 13 percent of Hispanics have a bachelor's degree or higher.
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