Poll: US Hispanics mix hopes, strains

Associated Press | 7/27/2010, 7:04 p.m.

MIAMI - Yadilka Aramboles eyes her three young children playing on the sidewalk and sees college in their future - even though her husband’s modest accountant’s income barely covers the family’s most basic expenses.

“The situation is bad now, but I have faith that this is going to change,” says the 32-year-old from the Dominican Republic. “For me and my children, I aspire to something more.”

Aramboles’ feelings - hopes for tomorrow, tempered by daily doses of financial stress - are a familiar blend for Hispanics in the United States, according to an Associated Press-Univision poll of more than 1,500 Latinos.

But the survey of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing minority also shows a resounding diversity, with views and experiences varying between immigrants and the U.S.-born.

The survey was conducted as America’s 47 million Hispanics face acute economic and political pressures.

The recession that erased millions of jobs has taken an especially heavy toll on Latinos, whose average income is lower than many other groups. And the Hispanic community has been jolted by election-season debate over the country's estimated 11 million illegal immigrants, a debate that has increased in intensity following Arizona’s enactment of a law that requires police, while enforcing other laws, to question a person's immigration status if officers have a reasonable suspicion he or she is in the country illegally.

About three-quarters of the nation’s illegal immigrants are Hispanic, according to the nonpartisan Pew Hispanic Center.

The poll, also sponsored by The Nielsen Company and Stanford University, shows that Hispanics have complex beliefs about how best to fit into America.

Just over half, 54 percent, say it is important that they change to blend into society, yet about two-thirds, 66 percent, say Latinos should maintain their distinct culture.

Gary Segura, a political scientist from Stanford who helped conduct the study, said those two views are not necessarily at odds. He said other, better established ethnic groups cling to their traditions, adding, “Identity is multidimensional, and people can see themselves as Hispanic and as Americans.”

“It’s important to survive in whatever land we’re in,” said Aniela Sanchez, 30, a freelance editor in Passaic, N.J., and child of a Puerto Rican mother and Dominican father. “But every culture has its beautiful mannerisms, songs, food, and you have to take pride in who you are.”

The survey reveals a cautious optimism that brighter opportunities lie ahead - and a conviction that the way to get there is better education.

Just over half expect it will be easier for their children than it’s been for them to find good jobs and buy houses. More than eight in 10 say the most important goal for girls and boys graduating high school is to continue their education, with most saying the aim should be a four-year college. Ninety-four percent say they expect their children to actually go to college - more than double the number  who say their own parents expected them to do so.

“There’s many ways they can succeed here,” Ana Mendoza, 33, of Mission, Texas, said of her four children. To achieve that, she says, “It’s an obligation to finish school.”