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The Growth Latinos
By Cristina Benitez

The population of Latiños,
or Latino teens, between the ages of 14-17 will grow 44% by 2005 while the overall teen population in the U.S. will grow only 11%. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Latiños in the U.S. has surpassed the number of African American children for the first time ever, making Hispanics the largest ethnic group in that age category. Today there are 10.5 million Hispanics under the age of 18 in the United States, which is 35,000 more than the total number of African-American minors. The Census Bureau’s projects that in the year 2000, one in six U.S. residents under 18 will be Hispanic. With approximately 70% of the Hispanic population concentrated in the four states of California, New York, Texas and Florida the growth of Latiños, will be profound in areas of high Hispanic concentration.

Latiños live in dual cultures. The Hispanic culture maintains especially powerful family ties and parents traditionally have a very strong influence on the child’s choice of friends, activities and purchasing decisions. Young people live at home longer and often experience conflicts in identifying with their peer group and respecting their parent’s traditional views.

Latiñas, young Hispanic girls, receive conflicting cues about who they are and how they relate in today’s world. Today’s Latiña does not fall into the "traditional role" that her mother lived. The contemporary Latiña sees the value of nurturer or mother, yet she also sees the possibility of having a career. She wants to experience independence but in some families, she still has a family member act as a chaperone, which prevents her from going out on dates unescorted. And yet the tradition of the quinceañera or fifteenth birthday celebration remains very popular today. This coming of age milestone is often a religious service and a lavish party where the young woman’s family presents her to society. The Latiña of the new millennium values many of her feminine traits, yet she is seeking ways to be empowered by her own sense of self worth and confidence.

Latiño growth has big implications: Education
The impact among institutions that serve the Hispanic community, such as public schools, is dramatic. At the Julia de Burgos Bilingual Middle Magnet School in North Philadelphia, Hispanics make up 80% of the population. Surrounded by many adverse conditions, these students are learning how to invest in the stock market, which is building their self-esteem and success in school.

In the Chicago Public Schools, Hispanics make up over 32% of the total student population. Five years ago a program called DIVAS was established to provide young Latiñas role models and develop self-confidence. This 12-week program offers lessons on self-esteem, nutrition, computer skills, health-education and career choices. Across the country many school systems have added a special day, "Día de los Niños" or Children’s Day, on April 30th which celebrates youth. This helps link the Spanish language dominant worlds of millions of U.S. Latino families with their children’s schools in the hopes of reinforcing these relationships.

Big Bolsas –Latiños have big purses…strong buying power.
Hispanic teens spend 4% more per month than the average teen, which amounts to approximately $320 monthly. According to Teenage Research Unlimited, Latiños contributed $19 billion or 13.4% of teen expenditures, which reached $141 billion in 1998. Movies, concerts, music as well as fashion and cosmetics constitute the biggest areas of spending. Moreover, ACNielsen reports that market penetration for items typically purchased for teenagers was an average of 38% higher in Hispanic than non-Hispanic homes.

Teens in general are aspirational about the future.
Latiños see themselves as working harder and being wealthier than their parents. Latiños strive to be "in-the-know", in style and follow both Hispanic and non-Hispanic celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Martin, Oscar de la Hoya and Sammy Sosa. Yet for many Latiños it is their own family member, such as their father, mother, older brother or sister who are their real life mentors and role models. These role models have a powerful influence on Latiños who traditionally respect the older generation, which is part of the Hispanic culture.

Latino teens don’t view themselves as a minority because the world they grow up in is filled with ethnic diversity. Their world is one that is open to multicultural experiences that validate and strengthen their Latino heritage. Today, Latiños are growing up when being Latino is hip and trendy. It is the cool thing to be…and being "cool" is part of being a teen!