One of my wife Patti’s and my favorite neighborhood restaurants is Cuquita’s, on Henderson near Belmont. Often, we’ll show up on a Sunday morning so we can get some chilaquiles con chorizo and I can trot out, as Robert Earl Keen sings, “my old broken Spanish.”
Spend a few minutes nearby, or on Columbia Avenue, or on a lot of other East Dallas streets, and you’ll get a glimpse of the demographic trend that will transform Texas in many ways in the next couple of decades.
Estimates are that by around 2005, Texas will be a “minority-majority” state, and that by about 2025 it will have a Hispanic-majority population outright. Signs of this rapid changes are all around us, and not just in ordering off of East Dallas restaurant menus.
For example, this past primary election saw the first ever statewide televised debate between two major candidates conducted in Spanish. It also saw the first nomination by one of the two major parties of a Hispanic candidate for governor.
Both events drew serious national media attention. It’s a safe bet that Tony Sanchez’s won’t be the last such nomination, and politicians all over Texas are scrambling to catch this demographic wave.
There are several things about all of this that are interesting beside that it figures to make Texas more politically competitive in the coming years. It’s fair to say that not just our state, but our city and therefore our neighborhoods will all be a part of this trend.
I get the feeling that most Texans are handling this process of change just fine, which is unlike the case in, say, the California of a few years ago. There, “English-only” initiatives and other controversies brought out a lot of latent hostility and fear on the part of some toward the growing Hispanic presence there.
For whatever reason, Texas seems to have much less angst about this, probably because most Texas who were born here or have been here for any length of time understand how close our historical and cultural links are with Mexico. In fact, my experience in talking with people in or from Mexico has usually been that Texas is viewed as having a “special relationship” with Mexico, not just because of that history but because of family ties and a feeling of being more comfortable here than in much of the rest of the U.S.
Actually, of course, there are plenty of our fellow Texans whose families have been here, speaking Spanish, since as far back as the 1700s. There is also a huge and growing Hispanic middle class despite the stereotype of the recently arrived manual laborer.
It helps, too, to have some familiarity with and appreciation for the language, history and culture and thereby get way past the cliches of talking Chihuahuas flogging fast food tacos and riotous spring breakers in Cancun.
Sure, there are a few people who find all this strange and vaguely threatening, imaging some future Quebec-like scenario and wanting to mandate somehow that everyone should speak English all the time.
What they lose sight of is that Texas is and will continue to be naturally bilingual, as anyone with the ambition and energy to come here to improve their family’s lives knows very well that English is needed for economic advancement.
By the same token, the more of us that are conversant in Spanish, the greater will be our ability to do business with the Spanish-speaking world and to draw more customers and tourists here. Ideally, I believe that all public school students in Texas should learn English, a lot of Spanish, and study at least one other language.
So the political analysts and sociologists will have plenty to write about for the foreseeable future as Texas’ population continues to grow and change.
For most of us, however, we’ll be happy to keep ordering almuerzo at Cuquita’s, look forward to going to events at the new Latino Cultural Center when it opens and otherwise enjoy the added sabor that helps make life in Texas so fun and interesting.
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